Four of Australia’s gay and lesbian luminaries discussed the role of social media in shaping sexually-diverse relationships at the University of Sydney’s Pride Week Speakers Night on 6th September.
Shades, a supportive network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) and LGBT-friendly students at The University of Sydney, was responsible for organising the Speakers Night, an event that celebrated the achievements of LGBT individuals. Four prominent LGBT Australians ignited the Night by recounting their personal triumphs and struggles. They were Andrew Cummings, Geoff Field, Gabi Rosenstreich and Monique Shafter.
Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and dating sites like Grindr, has penetrated the hearts of social circles worldwide, and few groups have embraced its course more speedily than the LGBT community.
The Executive Director of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition, Andrew Cummings, predicted that the dynamics of LGBT relationships would negatively shift with the rise of social media. According to him, the classic building blocks of the LGBT identity, such as the ritual of ‘coming out’, are increasingly being dismantled.
Cummings accused social media of sending “LGBT people back into the closet… [since they] no longer need to identify as being gay”. According to him, social media has fostered an “epidemic of falseness” and lack of accountability among its LGBT users since it could work as “one more smokescreen to hide [their sexuality] from people”.
“We’re lacking courage,” he said. He claimed that social media infringes on the self-fulfilment and openness of sexual expression of LGBTs by creating a “new closet” that allows LGBTs to remain anonymous about their sexuality.
Duncan Campbell, who is the Events Officer of Shades, believed otherwise. He said that social media facilitates communication “in a society where it is still not easy to discuss sexuality with someone you have just met”. A study conducted by Harris Interactive in June 2010 has shown that 55% of LGBTs frequented networking sites daily, surpassing the heterosexual community by 14%. Campbell credited the higher frequency at which LGBT people visited networking sites to the power of social media in providing a sense of security.
The study also showed that gay and lesbian adults formed one of the largest growing groups to embrace social media. Facebook was reportedly the group’s most popular online networking destination, with 73% of gay and lesbian participants having Facebook membership as of June 2010, compared to 65% of heterosexuals. Blog readership for gays and lesbians was likewise high, reaching 54% in the same year.
Popular 2DayFM newsreader for the Hamish & Andy Show, Geoff Field, was critical of the high levels of social media consumption by the LGBT community. Nevertheless, he recognised its positive role in supporting young LGBTs, particularly those living in rural areas.
“Social media is great because it gives the young an outlet [for expression but]… Nothing replaces real human interaction,” Field said.
The other speakers for the Pride Week Speakers Night were “professional lesbian” Gabi Rosenstreich who was a former Executive Director of the National LGBTI Health Alliance, and Monique Shafter, a presenter for the ABC’s Hungry Beast.
Vicki Choh, B. Arts (Media and Communications)