Over the last two decades, the conflict between organized religion and the LGBTQ community has been well documented in media coverage. This conflict is complex, holding real implications for the rights and realities of many people in the US. Yet, with the media constantly pitting the two against each other, rarely do we consider what it is like for this conflict to take place inside of one person. Rarely do we ask what it means to be both religious and LGBTQ and how social media might play a role in resolving this potential conflict.
A 2014 study conducted by Dr. Yvette Taylor and colleagues at London South Bank University and published in the Journal of New Media and Society explored the experiences of religious LGBTQ people and how they utilize Facebook as a tool to navigate both their religious and LGBTQ identities. Interviews conducted with 38 participants, ages 17-34, found that many of these young people saw Facebook and other social media as a way to explore their religious identity in tandem with their LGBTQ identity. Findings from this and other studies (Link to article) suggest that social media outlets are a central part of identity formation for this generation. For young people undergoing this process, social media can play a pivotal role in the exploration and formation of different identities, especially for those exploring non-normative identities.
For religious LGBTQ people, coming out represents a key step towards integrating their religious and LGBTQ selves. Participants in Dr. Taylor and colleagues’ study described feeling that they could come out more easily on social media. These findings illustrate that Facebook and other social media sites represent a powerful tool through which young people can experiment with integrating their religious and sexual identities.
How young people view the value of social media depends on where they are in the identity formation process. Some participants in Taylor and colleagues’ study felt that Facebook was an invasion of their privacy and chose not to be open about their LGBTQ identity online at all. One participant noted that “unwelcome exposure” could occur on Facebook.
Whether they are out on social media or not, Facebook is a key context in which young LGBTQ people negotiate religion and sexuality. In the digital age, where social media constitutes such a central part of people’s lives and realities, this study suggests that young LGBTQ people are using Facebook to navigate the identity development process.