As I see it, one of the most important factors in shaping the health of LGBTQ individuals is connections to supportive communities. Without doubt, many LGBTQ people face overwhelming loneliness and isolation, amplified by family rejections and friendships that are shattered when these important people realize their loved ones’ sexual or gender identity. Virtual or online communities do not replace important person-to-person relationships, or face-to-face socialization, but they can fill in a huge gap, and provide a literal life-line for someone who is struggling with isolation and loneliness.
Online communities can take many forms, and they do not necessarily require special skills — just a commitment to make it work! Often they start with just a handful of people who are connected in person, but who want to reach out to others in a specific geographic area, or who share a common interest. Here are a few examples that might inspire you to start your own community!
Email lists have the advantage of managing various factors such as who can join, who can post, whether or not posts are screened (moderated) before posting, and members controlling their own personal information and preferences. They are accessible to anyone with an email address. The San Francisco Bay Area has several email lists that serve to notify people in the area of LGBTQ events, messages asking for assistance, rooms to rent, recommendations, etc. The two that I subscribe to are BA-Sappho, hosted privately by Queernet.org – an organization that serves a host of LGBTQ communities – listed here. The BA-Sappho list is described as a list for lesbians in the bay area, but I find that in fact it posts lots of information that could interest other queer groups as well. Another email list I manage is LezDyke, focusing on promoting and encouraging social support in face-to face encounters among older lesbians. We post information about events that are geared to the interests of older women, invitations to participate in more personal social encounters that are intended for friendship – not dating — reaching out to other women to meet for coffee, dinners, movies, etc. BA-Sappho allows political and religious-type postings, whereas LezDyke does not. Both lists allow limited discussion, but discourage hostile, protracted, and divisive interactions.
Facebook groups and pages have the advantage of being easily discoverable by a wide audience world-wide. A page is similar to an individual’s profile – it is a profile of a entity that exists somewhere (virtual or otherwise) and provides visibility worldwide – sports teams, businesses, clubs, professional organizations — and on and on. A celebrity, a sports team, a club, etc. might have a web page of their own, but also a Facebook page that can attract a broader audience. People can “like” the page to get notices posted on their own Facebook new feed about the entity they are interested in.
A Facebook group, by contrast, is where people can actually join a group, and the group can post events, photos, documents and lots of information of interest to group members. It is harder to stay connected to the group compared to an email list, and people have to have a facebook account to join and to get information on their news) or private (someone has to approve members before they can join). Facebook offers lots of advantages over an email list. The LGBTQ Bay Area Group is a great example — this is a group to encourage and support the LGBTQ arts communities. If you search Facebook for “LGBT” (with or without Q), or “LGBT ______” (you fill in the blank), or any of your preferred LGBTQ-related terms, you are likely to find more than you thought existed. If you don’t that is a clue to start your own!
So I encourage you to start interacting with other LGBTQ communities online. They are like any other group you join- you can become involved a lot, only occasionally, or as a “lurker!” But getting involved gives you a connection to people with whom you share something important, and at some point might become very important to you! And if you can’t find exactly the right group for you, consider starting one! It is helpful to have at least one or two “co-organizers,” which gives you a community of 2 or 3 who can share the responsibilities of the group and provide the kind of encouragement and support to carry on through the best and worst of times!