LGBTQ+ Online Security: Complete Guide

The internet paved a great medium for LGBTQ+ people worldwide to connect and share their stories. Sadly, the digital world isn’t the safe space people hoped it would be. LGBTQ+ members are at an increased risk of cyber threats and online harassment.

This issue might get some visibility during Pride Month, but people are quick to forget that LGBTQ+ people face discrimination and unique challenges all year long. Depending on where you live, your online threats range from childish trolls to law enforcement. If you are in doubt, check out resources by your local LGBTQ+ organizations, or human rights groups that specialize in LGBTQ+ issues in countries where non-heteronormative behavior is illegal.

Before that, let’s have a look at the general challenges the LGBTQ+ community faces online, and see what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Online Risks for the LGBTQ+ Community

The online world comes with many cyber threats, but LGBTQ+ folks are at an increased risk of targeted harassment. Experts estimate LGBTQ+ youth are twice more like to be cyberbullied, while their adult counterpart fear real-life repercussion like losing a job or facing discrimination among their peers.

Let’s have a deeper look over the challenges the LGBTQ+ community faces online.

Trolling

Trolling requires no particular skills, so it’s the most prevalent form of online harassment. Trolls take many forms from young children seeking their peers’ validation to fake accounts with bad grammar to targeted harassment campaigns.

If you’ve ever seen Jimmy Kimmel’s segment Celebrities Read Mean Tweets, you’ll know exactly what trolling looks like.

Despite these celebrities downplaying the tweets for entertainment, trolling is really damaging to our mental health. Trolls will make mean or abusive remarks towards their victims’:

➡️ Appearance

➡️ Intelligence

➡️ Background

➡️ Race

➡️ Financial status

➡️ Sexuality

➡️ Gender and/or gender expression

According to a survey by Netsanity, 58% of LGBTQ+ youth reported dealing with hate speech online, and 35% even received online threats.

Cyberbullying

Bullies target, threaten, and intimidate people that are more vulnerable than them. Cyberbullies use the same tactics except that they make use of the digital sphere to harass and demean their victims. This mostly occurs in text form through private messages, posts, and comments, but it can involve visual media like memes, altered images, and video footage.

Cyberbullies use social media, online forums, online communities, and fake accounts to:

⚠️ Spread malicious rumors

⚠️ Verbally abuse people

⚠️ Send threats

⚠️ Throw around insults

⚠️ Impersonate someone to extort private information

⚠️ Cyberstalk their victim

Anyone can be a victim of cyberbullying, but it’s estimated LGBTQ+ youth are at greater risk of having mental health problems as a result of cyberbullying when compared to other minority groups. According to the CDC, more than one in five teens who don’t identify as heterosexuals have experienced online bullying.

Despite the effects of bullying, a lot of countries don’t have comprehensive anti-bullying laws. Those that do have outdated policies that don’t include digital bullying. Unless cyberbullying gets particularly egregious to fall under hate crime, there’s little to no legal protection for the LGBTQ+ community.

Doxxing

Doxxing is one of the oldest yet most effective forms of online harassment. It’s when someone goes after you by publishing your personal information for everyone to see. This can include details like:

➡️ Your full legal name

➡️ Your deadname

➡️ Your address

➡️ Your email address

➡️ Your social media accounts

➡️ Your phone number

➡️ Your compromising photos

➡️ Your private social media posts

➡️ Your gender identity 

➡️ Your sexual orientation

Doxxers focus on contact details to get strangers to pester and harass their victims. People often doxx members of the LGBTQ community with the intention of forcibly outing them. This can have a devastating impact on LGBTQ+ individuals.

In 2020, a transgender beauty influencer from Morocco encouraged her Instagram followers to set up fake profiles on the gay dating apps. By posing as gay or bisexual men, these women exposed closeted men. They shared the men’s private details through Whatsapp in a country where being gay is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Twitter user incasavoice bringing awareness to the practice of catfishing gay men

Reportedly, the victims of this crusade had death threats and forced evictions to deal with as an aftermath.

Catfishing

Catfishing happens when someone takes on a fake identity online with the intention of manipulating you or luring you into doing something you wouldn’t normally do. Catfishers do this to appear more attractive and appeal to victims. The usual M.O. includes:

⚠️ Fake or stolen pictures

⚠️ Lying about their age or even gender

⚠️ A made-up background

⚠️ A fake persona

Catfishers are most commonly found on dating apps. Considering that Psychology Today revealed that around 53% of Americans lie on their dating profiles, it’s no wonder that scammers find their prime ground on matchmaking platforms.

Catfishers range from bored young kids that want to troll you to skilled cybercriminals that want to steal your financial details or money. Victims of catfishing find themselves at an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and even paranoia as a result. For the LGBTQ+ community, catfishing can also pose security risks.

In 2018, four men from Frisco, Texas were charged with hate crimes after they set up fake profile on Grindr to go after gay men. They kidnapped, beat up, robbed, and degraded their victims. In 2021, 19-year-old Talent A’christian Bradley was accused of killing two men he met on Grindr.

Perhaps the most horrifying of them all is the case of Stephen Port, the so-called Grindr Killer. During Port’s 16-month killing spree, he lured men via Grindr into his apartment where he plied them with a fatal dose of GHB, psychoactive drug.

It’s a scary world out there. You need to take measures to protect yourself both online and offline. While I’m not much of a self-defense expert, I can share 9 easy tips to protect yourself from cyber threats.

9 Security Tips You Should Always Abide By

Good cyber hygiene is extremely important. For LGBTQ+ people good knowledge and security tools are a must to be safe online.

1. Don’t Overshare

What’s on your mind? or What’s happening? on your social media feeds are there to get you posting and keep you engaged. They even have an algorithm that encourages you to post as frequently as possible to stay visible and gain a following.

That said the more details you put out there, the more you make yourself vulnerable to doxxers and cyberstalkers. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind.

👉 Don’t feel pressured to share or post pictures of yourself if you don’t feel comfortable to.

👉 Disable location auto-tagging on social media sites.

👉 Report accounts that reupload your pictures without consent.

👉 Don’t share your home address or phone number through social media.

👉 Be careful who you talk to about your private life online.

👉 Be mindful of your surroundings during video calls.

👉 Never share your bank account or credit card details online.

👉 Be careful who you confide in through private messages.

2. Enable Privacy Settings

Privacy settings allow you to control what information you share. You’ll find these settings everywhere from internet-connected devices to social media platforms to browsers. By default, these services will have you share as much data as legal bindings allow. This helps them get statistics about how you use the service and what would keep you engaged longer. Some services even sell your information to advertisers and analytics agencies and turn a profit.

👉 Disable location settings. At the very least, let the app only access your location while you’re actively using it.

👉 Check the company’s data sharing policy. If you live in a country where LGBTQ+ is criminalized, take into account how much data you feel comfortable putting out there.

👉 Enable content filters whenever applicable. Some social media sites give you the option to filter out posts or comments that contain certain keywords.

3. Be Cautious with Dating Apps

Online dating is complicated as it is, but LGBTQ+ members face even more challenges. On regular dating apps, you might find yourself a target for homophobes and bigots, while LGBTQ+ dating apps are a breeding ground for scammers and trolls.

How can you be sure you’re talking to a genuine person? Here’s how.

🚩 Run a reverse image search. It’s the easiest way to spot a catfish. If their picture is a stock image or another person than they’re claiming, report them and cut off contact. If you’re still unsure, don’t hesitate to ask them for a selfie. If they repeatedly refuse, be suspicious.

🚩 Be wary if they make a move too fast. Proclaiming their undying love after a few chats? Making long-terms plans after a couple of weeks? Giving you cute pet names after a couple of days? These are classic signs of a romance scam. If they start pressuring or guilt tripping you into doing something for them, it’s best to cut off contact.

🚩 Look the person up on other social media. It’s an easy method to check if you’re talking to a real person. Their bio or profile picture can sometimes give a few hints if they’re really LGBTQ+ or if they’re on a witch hunt. Be careful not to overdo it though. Don’t become a cyberstalker.

🚩 Propose a FaceTime call or a video chat. Scammers and catfishers refuse to videocall. Usually this is because they’re impersonating someone they’re not. While it’s valid that some people are still closeted and might fear their relatives and friends overhearing, propose a role play. Pretend you’re an interviewer, a classmate, or even a wrong call.

🚩 Be careful where you meet. When meeting strangers, the police generally advise going to crowded well-lit places. For LGBTQ+ people, this isn’t always a viable option, especially if your country has anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Let someone you trust know where you are at all times, and don’t be afraid to back out if you feel unsafe.

4. Don’t Hesitate to Use the Block Option

Blocking people on social media is sometimes necessary. Consider it a form of self-care for your mental wellbeing. Most social media websites and forums now give you the option to block users and prevent them from interacting with you.

Start by blocking:

🚩 Trolls

🚩 Mean pranksters

🚩 Bigots

🚩 Harassers

🚩 Predators

🚩 Scammers

🚩 Spammers

Your social media experience will significantly improve.

5. Use a VPN to Encrypt Your Data

A VPN stands for virtual private network. It’s a security tool that allows you to hide your IP address and redirect your traffic through a remote server. This process also encrypts your connection, which makes your browsing information unreadable to anyone but you.

To protect your entire digital life, you’ll need a multiplatform VPN. You need to encrypt your data on your laptop, phone, tablet, whatever internet-connected device you use to make sure no one sees your browsing history. You can try out CyberGhost VPN completely-risk free with a 45-day money-back guarantee, to make your VPN journey smoother.

6. Take Data Breaches Seriously

Having your private information caught up in a data breach is a privacy disaster. This puts you at a great risk of identity theft, cyberstalking, and financial fraud. For LGBTQ+ folks, a data breach can also lead to forcible outing, which can have disastrous consequences.

I know it’s impossible to keep an eye out on the news or your emails in hopes that you’ll stay up to speed with the latest data breaches. Luckily, there are services out there that will automatically alert you if your email address is ever revealed.

I recommend CyberGhost ID Guard. Here’s how it works.

  1. Get CyberGhost VPN
  2. Login with your username and password in your online account
  3. Go to My ID Guard CyberGhost VPN's data breach notification feature called ID Guard
  4. Type in your email address
  5. Click on Activate
  6. Open your email to verify your email address
  7. Follow the instructions in the email

In the event that your email is compromised, CyberGhost ID Guard will notify you immediately.

7. Never Reuse Passwords

Speaking of data breaches, let’s talk passwords. During a data breach your password can get leaked which means multiple parties can access your account. This spells bad news.

Now take into account the fact that the average person reuses their password 14 times. This means that the average person uses a similar if not the same username and password combination around 14 times. A data reach can easily turn one compromised account into 14 compromised accounts.

Best case scenario? You’re looking at cyber bullies messing with you and advertisers targeting you. Worst case scenario? You’re likely to be a identity theft victim.

It’s best to create a separate password for every online account you use. Which brings us to the next tip.

8. Use Strong and Unique Passwords

Qwerty and 12345 are easy to remember, but they’re the worst passwords to use in terms of security. To create a strong password cyber security experts recommend using:

💡 At least 16 characters

💡 Lower case and upper case letters

💡 Numbers

💡 Symbols

The best password might look something like N!`C(z;QsGbfpM7(

It’s a bit of an eye sore, but it’s the best way to secure your accounts. Sure, they’re not at all easy to remember. In this case you can use a password manager to store all your unique passwords for you. 

9. Manage Your Friend or Follower List

Facebook claims it’s connecting you with friends. Tik Tok prides itself on an algorithm that brings people with similar interests together. The reality is much different. Social media platforms use a Recommended channels or People you might know feature to recommend accounts you might know or be interested in. This is probably how your aunt’s annoying friend found you.

This feature might sound great in theory, but it led to people sending and accepting random friend requests out of habit. Accepting random requests isn’t a good idea. They might not even be real people.

Hate following has also become a trend in which people follow accounts they find morally apprehensive, disgusting, or simply rage-inducing. Hate followers simply get a kick out of gossiping, judging, and abusing others. This can range from silent stalkers to trolls.

Curating your friends list is paramount both to your mental well-being and to your security. Check out your friends list from time to time and see:

❌ Who you haven’t interacted with in a long time

❌ Who touts anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric

❌ Who posts and/or share bigoted messages

❌ Who holds views that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe

Decide whether you want to unfriend or silently shadow ban the people in question.

With followers it’s hard to tell who’s a shy fan and who’s a silent stalker. If you have reason to suspect your followers are harassing you, consider:

🚨 Limiting who can comment on your posts

🚨 Creating a content filter to weed out rude comments

🚨 Blocking trolls and cyberbullies

🚨 Taking a break from social media

🚨 Filing a police report if things get out of hand

Depending on your following size and community, you can also try publicly addressing the harassment. Despite what cyberbullies might make you think there are supportive people out there, and you don’t have to feel alone in your struggles.

What Can LGBTQ+ Allies Do to Help?

There’s no one “right” way to show your support for the LGBTQ+ community, but if you’re not sure where to start, here’s a few general tips.

🏳️‍🌈 Ask your LGBTQ+ friends and family. It’s probably the easiest way to find out how you can be a good ally. They might not be comfortable answering every question, but they’ll be better suited to point you in the right direction for information.

🏳️‍🌈 Be open to listening and learning. The world still views LGBTQ+ people differently, so they’ll have their unique insights and experiences. Be compassionate and try to empathize and understand.

🏳️‍🌈 Learn about the issues within the LGBTQ+ community. Books, podcasts, and documentaries can paint a better picture of the issues your LGBTQ+ friends and family face and teach you how you can be a better ally.

🏳️‍🌈 Know that you will make mistakes from time to time. You might accidentally deadname or use the wrong pronoun sometimes, especially with people you’ve known before their transition. Don’t be scared to apologize and correct yourself.

🏳️‍🌈 Know that being LGBTQ+ doesn’t automatically mean they’re accepting of everyone. Biphobia and transphobia are still a big problem within the LGBTQ+ community. Don’t let your LGBTQ+ discredit someone for “seeming straight”.

🏳️‍🌈 Never out someone without their permission or consent. If someone came out to you, that’s a huge sign of trust. Don’t go around breaking that trust.

🏳️‍🌈 Use end-to-end encrypted messaging apps to communicate. This is good advice in every situation, but it’s paramount for your friends and family that aren’t ready to come out. You can also pair that with CyberGhost VPN to encrypt your entire internet traffic.

How Does CyberGhost VPN Help You Stay Safe Online

CyberGhost VPN is an easy-to-use security tool that protects your online information.

Hide Your Digital Footprint

Almost every website you visit tracks and monitors you. Everything you do online adds to your online ID. Your online ID is very valuable to advertisers because it lets them know what makes you tick.

Your online ID contains a lot of information about you, like the accounts you use, your surfing habits, your location, your preferences, among others. Malicious actors can always try to steal your private details, unless you use CyberGhost VPN to cloak your online identity. Browse online 100% anonymously with our dedicated apps.

Try CyberGhost VPN risk-free with our 45-day money-back guarantee.

Highest Encryption Standard

Your ISP can see your every move online. By extension so can law enforcement, government authorities, and many other third parties. It’s paramount to protect your private data from all this snooping.

CyberGhost VPN redirects your traffic through an encrypted tunnel. Our apps secure your information with the military-grade AES 265-bit encryption. This makes your information gibberish to anyone else but yourself. This type of encryption is impossible to crack with our current technology, so you can rest assured your data won’t end up in the wrong hands.

Zero Logs About Your Activity

A logless VPN is paramount when you’re trying to protect your online privacy. Logs are snippets of your digital identity that give away a lot of your personal information.

CyberGhost VPN operates under a strict No Logs policy. We never monitor, collect, or store your data. This means we have absolutely no information to share about you. Even if law enforcement agencies ask us to comply with anti-LGBTQ+ laws, and hand over user data, we can’t comply.

Your data is 100% safe with CyberGhost VPN.

Bypass Censorship and Access LGBTQ+-Friendly Content

Various institutions and governments often cut LGBTQ+ content from your online experience based on moral or religious grounds. They usually block content based on your IP address or DNS requests.

Use CyberGhost VPN to conceal your location and mask your browsing activity from your ISP’s filters. This way, you’ll bypass censored websites, and you’ll access LGBTQ+-friendly dating apps, forums, podcasts, and news sources. Just connect to one of our servers and surf completely free of any restrictions!

The Bottom Line

The online world can bring both the good and the bad out in people. You’ll find supportive, compassionate people and bigoted, malicious people just a few click away from each other. We can only hope one day, the internet will be a safer place for all, but for now trolls, doxxers, and cyberbullies are a reality we need to face.

Although it’s more common for teens to face online harassment, anyone can be a victim. For members of the LGBTQ+, the risk is nearly double. It’s important to learn to recognize the online threats you can face and take steps to protect yourself. Security tools like CyberGhost VPN and CyberGhost ID Guard are becoming a must-have in our current digital climate.

We also need to normalize good cyber security practices. I’ve compiled a list of resources to help you protect your online privacy and anonymity. Feel free to use them as a starting point.

We also need to normalize good cyber security practices. I’ve compiled a list of resources to help you protect your online privacy and anonymity. Feel free to use them as a starting point.

📏 Basic cyber hygiene tips

📏 Online safety guide for teens

📏 All you need to know about doxxing

📏 All you need to know about identity theft

📏 All you need to know about cyberbullying

📏 All you need to know about dating app scams

Happy reading and stay safe out there!

FAQ

Is online safety important for the LGBTQ+ community?

Absolutely. People in the LGBTQ+ community are at increased risk for targeted online threats like cyberbullying, trolling, doxxing, and catfishing. It’s important for LGBTQ+ individuals to understand the online threats they face and take measures to protect their digital identity from snoopers, authorities, and malicious actors.

How can LGBTQ+ people protect their online identity?

Start simple. Avoid oversharing on social media, be cautious on the lookout for catfishers, use unique passwords, and use CyberGhost VPN to encrypt your private information online. For a more in-depth guide, check out our 9 easy to follow online security tips that specifically address the challenges LGBTQ+ individuals face.

Are LGBTQ+ dating apps safe?

Not all dating apps are created equally. Despite Grindr being the most popular dating app for LGBTQ+ folks, its location settings give away your surroundings. Grindr also enabled authorities to track and hunt down LGBTQ+ individuals in countries where anything beyond heteronormativity is illegal. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Hornet is a far safer choice for a dating app. Hornet doesn’t give away your precise location and has an algorithm in place to root out catfishers and scammers.

Do your own research into each app’s privacy policy to find out which might be the best option for you.

What can LGBTQ+ allies do to protect their friends’ privacy?

Talk to your LGBTQ+ friends and find out what online risks they face. Respect their wishes and don’t pressure them into coming out or giving out private information online. Use encryption to hide your communication history. End-to-end encrypted messengers are a good starting point, but you can also use CyberGhost VPN to encrypt your entire internet traffic. You can use a single CyberGhost VPN subscription on up to 7 devices simultaneously so you can the account with your friends. It also comes with a risk-free 45-day money-back guarantee.

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