A Landmark Study Highlights the Need for True Digital Inclusion for Everyone

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Landmark Study Highlights the Need for True Digital Inclusion

ILGA World’s Groundbreaking Initiative : Accessing Connection

ILGA World has today unveiled “Accessing Connection,” a groundbreaking collection of data and personal accounts illustrating the specific challenges faced by LGBTI individuals worldwide due to disparities in digital access. This digital divide, defined as the gap in access to digital technologies such as laptops, desktops, smartphones, and tablets, along with internet access, disproportionately affects lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans, and intersex individuals. ILGA World emphasizes the critical need to listen to their stories to foster meaningful digital inclusion for everyone.

Unveiling the Complex Interplay of Digital Disparities

On February 20, the international organization launched this pioneering research, exploring the complex interplay between digital access disparities and the unique experiences of individuals and communities with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics.

Bridging the Research Gap on Digital Divide Impacts

Researchers have delved into the digital divide from various angles, including gender, race, migration status, geographic regions, urban and rural contexts, indigeneity, and disability. Yet, until now, the specific hurdles it poses for LGBTI people have been largely unexplored. Compiled by The Engine Room—a nonprofit aiding civil society in technology use—for ILGA World, “Accessing Connection” fills this gap by drawing on human rights advocates’ data and stories from around the globe.

Online Spaces : A Mixed Blessing for LGBTI Communities

“LGBTI individuals recognize the revolutionary role of online spaces in forming communities, initiating movements, and amplifying voices, even in hostile environments,” says Daniele Paletta, ILGA World’s communication officer and the report’s author.

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The Uneven Terrain of Digital Accessibility

The report’s narratives reveal a diverse global landscape of LGBTI individuals’ digital connectivity. Factors such as data costs, location, and availability of suitable devices and infrastructure affect everyone’s online presence. Yet, many LGBTI people face additional economic hardships due to employment challenges, harassment, societal stigma, and adverse legislation, impacting their ability to afford devices and adequate internet coverage.

Inclusivity and Accessibility Challenges Online

Online platforms often exclude diverse needs. LGBTI individuals with disabilities encounter access barriers due to a lack of inclusive practices. The dominance of certain languages over others, coupled with the active filtering of LGBTI content, severely restricts our communities’ full use of websites, access to information, and advocacy for their rights.

Navigating Safety and Visibility in the Digital Realm

Concerns for safety lead LGBTI individuals to navigate the delicate balance between anonymity and visibility. Like offline violence, online harassment victims struggle to find legal protections, especially when their identities and experiences are criminalized or outright dismissed. Exclusionary policies push LGBTI sex workers offline into increasingly perilous situations. Surveillance and free speech limitations further challenge human rights defenders and LGBTI organizations, which often lack adequate funding and resources to adopt digital security practices or enhance their digital literacy.

The Transformative Power of Online Connectivity

“Online connectivity has transformed our work as LGBTI organizations and our individual presence,” acknowledges Julia Ehrt, ILGA World’s executive director. “Yet, it also perpetuates a vicious cycle: the most economically vulnerable are hardest to reach and support, and are most affected by the harms of censorship, blocking, and online harassment, depriving them of crucial opportunities to advocate for their rights and build community.”

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Creative Solutions for Digital Inclusion

Despite these barriers, grassroots LGBTI organizations continue to develop creative solutions to serve their communities, including those least connected.

A Commitment to Inclusion and Connectivity

“The stories compiled in this report showcase our incredible resilience,” state Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown, ILGA World’s co-secretaries general. “We lead efforts to advance digital inclusion for everyone – from promoting rural internet access and digital security training to fighting against adverse legislation, translating LGBTI-related documents into local languages, or leveraging the relative safety of online spaces for advocacy or community building.”

Looking Beyond Online Presence

“Being online is not the sole way to serve our populations,” conclude Aranda and Brown. “Yet, ensuring meaningful and safe connectivity could open up new avenues, especially for those silenced by the digital divide. Reaching out to those systematically marginalized – by the digital divide or otherwise – remains central to the promise of leaving no one behind.”

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