Closing Rural America's LGBTQ Tech Gap


with Christopher Wood of the LGBT Technology Partnership and Institute


May 31, 2018

The internet has changed the way the world exchanges information. And for the LGBTQ population, the internet can be a lifeline and an important resource for identity and community formation, connections to local LGBTQ organizations, and vital online support spaces. Digital access can be limited, however, especially in rural America.

Christopher Wood, Executive Director of the LBGT Technology Partnership and Institute, discusses how this technology gap impacts LGBTQ Americans in rural areas, along with efforts to boost digital inclusion.

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: According to the report Vision for Inclusion: An LGBT Broadband Future, 80 percent of LGBTQ Americans participate on social media. That´s compared to just 53 percent of the general public. But why is social media adoption for this population higher? And what challenges exist for those who live in areas with limited digital access? Hi. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Paul Lisnek, and with me to talk about how the digital divide impacts LGBTQ communities in rural America is Christopher Wood. He´s executive director of LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute. Chris, good to see you.

Wood: Well, I´m glad to be here.

Lisnek: So, there is a distinction between people who live in rural versus urban areas. Some of it might be maybe folklore, but why the difference?

Wood: It´s very different because of just the connections and the connecting speeds. There´s not the fiber in rural areas that there is in urban areas. So, just the sheer technology is different in those areas.

Lisnek: I know in rural areas, there´s a 1 in 4 chance of not having access to this, so let´s talk about young people for a little bit. It´s so critical for them to get access to this. Why?

Wood: Most students nowadays have to use that technology, or use that connection, to actually complete and finish their homework. It´s required by most schools nowadays. But, on top of that, there´s the complexities of identifying. If you identify as LGBT, most times, you´ve researched that or tried to figure out what that means for you. And most ways that that happens is at a public school or a public library, because that is the first connection point that they have with working with that technology.

Lisnek: But there´s a problem there, because when you´re in a public school or a public library, and this isn´t just a rural comment, there are filters, there are blocks, so these young people who are trying to find themselves and identify themselves often can´t get to those websites that might be helpful.

Wood: That´s very true. So, the digital divide gets more complex as we dig deeper into it. Universal Service Funds, which is a little fee that tacks on to everybody´s bill, is a fee that´s taken to go ahead and make sure that public schools and libraries have connections and Internet, as well as other technologies. And when they put that in, the filters that are put in place are actually governed by the local CTO, so there´s no set standard. So, it´s really up to that CTO to determine what is blocked and what is not. So, a helpful resource like The Trevor Project or something that´s life-saving could be blocked when, in fact, it doesn´t need to be.

Lisnek: And, obviously, part of this, which is about social identity and being able to find yourself, but, you know, there are some other areas like health information, so important for young people and not so young people getting access to that.

Wood: Absolutely. So, about 25 percent, or just under a quarter, of youth are actually out to their families and feel secure in being out to their families. About 75 percent, or three-quarters, are not out, but yet, they hear these slurs and negative things about LGBT. So, automatically, that puts them at a risk, and most of them, around 60 percent, are not out to their doctor. So, if they have a question about healthcare, the place they´re going to go is online, because they´re going to try to find that first by themselves. I really feel that one of the things that LGBT Tech really is focused on is actually working on Capitol Hill to ask the questions of both legislators and the FCC to make sure that we´re thinking about this holistically. It doesn´t just impact the LGBT communities. It also impacts other minority communities that don´t have access. And that digital divide is real.

Lisnek: Very much so. You´ve got so many statistics, so much to share, but I also know there´s some 2018 numbers. Let´s put some of those on the table. What have we learned recently?

Wood: So, that quarter that are out to their family and feel safe, that is the most recent number -- a 2018 youth report that came out by HRC and the University of Connecticut. And also, that three-quarters number, the fact that about three-quarters of youth that responded to that survey really did not -- have heard negative things in their communities in both rural and urban. And the numbers that are coming out are showing that the connection is vital, the connection to support of networks is vital, as well as the ability to go ahead and rely on those school support networks, as well as their families, if they are accepting.

Lisnek: There are efforts underway to resolve this divide.

Wood: There are. We have individuals at the FCC working to bridge this digital divide. As part of the digital inclusion committee at the FCC, we´re working very hard to look at how this impacts communities across the country and come together as a group and as a society to really push that along, along with the things that are happening on Capitol Hill around net neutrality. They´re trying to include a lot of this stuff in there to make sure that people are protected around their data, people are getting access to things that they need, including technology, but also have the resources to learn about computers and getting access along the way. So, that digital divide, we´re trying to close it, but we´ve got a long way to go.

Lisnek: Chris, thank you. And we need to obviously keep our eyes on the data as it comes out every year in this area. Christopher Wood with LGBT Technology Partnership, we appreciate your time. And thank you for watching, as well. If you want more conversations with leaders in your community, across our country, all you got to do is visit I´m Paul Lisnek. Bye-bye.

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