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Support systems for young LGBTQ people

Online meeting places and support groups are breaking down the barriers for young LGBTQ people forming early relationships.

Early romantic relationships are an important learning phase for everyone. They help us figure out how we relate to others, understanding our needs and desires, and recognising what does and doesn’t work. These early relationships play a big part in how we navigate future relationships [1].

If you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or any other status than cisgender hetero, you may find that there are additional obstacles to meeting potential partners and forming those first relationships [2].

One of the first barriers you might face is a lack of potential partners, with a smaller pool of people to choose from. You might also find it harder to be open about your sexuality, making potential partners that bit harder to find [3].

And, despite efforts to drag public attitudes into the modern age, young LGBTQ people do still risk facing stigma and discrimination. If you don’t yet feel able to talk about your sexuality with your friends and family, you may find yourself without a support system [4]. Looking for support online can start to remedy this.

A good support system is really important. Young LGBTQ people are more likely to report problems with mental health, emotional wellbeing, and substance use [5]. Having close and supportive relationships – friends, family, and romantic partners - can protect against this [6], so if you can talk to someone you trust, do.

If this is impossible in your community, or with the people around you, you may be able to find support more safely or comfortably online.

Making connections

Perhaps the most obvious use of online communities is dating. Online dating can give you a safe space to explore the different aspects of your identity, gender, and sexual desires, helping you put together a picture of how you want to present yourself to the world [7]. The anonymity of online dating can help you feel a bit more comfortable about meeting and getting to know people [8].

Another positive by-product of online dating is that you become part of a community. This can give you a boost in self-esteem and a sense of belonging [9], and can also lead to you forming positive relationships offline [10].

As well as providing a direct route to meeting partners, online communities have also proved important in searching for information on sexual health – more so for LGBTQ than heterosexual young people. This can include contacting doctors and therapists who are sensitive to LGBTQ matters, and finding support groups [7].

So, if you’re young and you’re exploring the often baffling world of relationships, you might find it helpful to seek out information, advice, and even communities online. There are others out there going through similar experiences to yours, and many people who can support you.

It may also comfort you to know that this phase won’t necessarily last. There is further research to suggest that many young LGBTQ people might not actually experience that much trouble in finding romantic partners, despite the seemingly limited pool available [11]. One study even showed they were more likely to have had a recent romantic partner than their heterosexual counterparts [12].

Research also suggests that same-sex relationships are very similar to those of mixed-sex couples [13]. This means that much of the relationship support and advice available will be relevant to you.

Here at Click, we do our best to make sure the information on offer is relevant to as many people as possible. If there’s anything we’re missing that you’d like us to cover, please let us know. Thank you.


[1] Collins, W. A., Welsh, D. P., & Furman, W. (2009). Adolescent romantic relationships. Annual review of psychology60, 631-652.

[2] Mustanski, B., Birkett, M., Greene, G. J., Hatzenbuehler, M. L., & Newcomb, M. E. (2014). Envisioning an America without sexual orientation inequities in adolescent health. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 218–225.

[3] Lever, J., Grov, C., Royce, T., & Gillespie, B. J. (2008). Searching for love in all the “write” places: Exploring Internet personals use by sexual orientation, gender, and age. International Journal of Sexual Health20(4), 233-246.

[4] Detrie, P. M., & Lease, S. H. (2007). The relation of social support, connectedness, and collective self-esteem to the psychological well-being of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Journal of Homosexuality53(4), 173-199.

[5] Heck, N. C., Flentje, A., & Cochran, B. N. (2011). Offsetting risks: High school gay-straight alliances and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. School Psychology Quarterly26(2), 161.

[6] Peplau, L. A., & Fingerhut, A. W. (2007). The close relationships of lesbians and gay men. Annu. Rev. Psychol.58, 405-424.

[7] DeHaan, S., Kuper, L. E., Magee, J. C., Bigelow, L., & Mustanski, B. S. (2013). The interplay between online and offline explorations of identity, relationships, and sex: A mixed-methods study with LGBT youth. Journal of Sex Research50(5), 421-434.

[8] Garofalo, R., Herrick, A., Mustanski, B. S., & Donenberg, G. R. (2007). Tip of the iceberg: Young men who have sex with men, the Internet, and HIV risk. American Journal of Public Health97(6), 1113-1117.

[9] Bargh, J. A., & McKenna, K. Y. (2004). The Internet and social life. Annu. Rev. Psychol.55, 573-590.

[10] Bargh, J. A., McKenna, K. Y., & Fitzsimons, G. M. (2002). Can you see the real me? Activation and expression of the “true self” on the Internet. Journal of social issues58(1), 33-48.

[11] GLSEN, H. I. (2005). From teasing to torment: School climate in America—A survey of students and teachers. New York: GLSEN.

[12] Korchmaros, J. D., Ybarra, M. L., & Mitchell, K. J. (2015). Adolescent online romantic relationship initiation: Differences by sexual and gender identification. Journal of adolescence40, 54-64.

[13] Roisman, G. I., Clausell, E., Holland, A., Fortuna, K., & Elieff, C. (2008). Adult romantic relationships as contexts of human development: a multimethod comparison of same-sex couples with opposite-sex dating, engaged, and married dyads. Developmental Psychology44(1), 91.

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