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The ultimate guide to LGBTQ+ safety and privacy online

The challenges that the LGBTQ+ community faces online can become more visible during Pride Month due to increased activity and awareness. Still, we must remember that discrimination and unique threats impact LGBTQ+ people every day. Online, these threats can range from minor annoyances caused by internet trolls to more serious risks like surveillance by law enforcement. In this article, we’ll discuss ways for LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies to improve their online security and privacy.

The ultimate guide to LGBTQ+ safety and privacy online

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Why LGBTQ+ online privacy needs more attention

It can be hard to understand the danger that LGBTQ+ people face online, even for allies. As of 2024, homosexuality remains criminalized in 64 countries worldwide, as reported by Statista. In 12 of these countries, private, consensual same-sex sexual activity can lead to the death penalty.

According to a study by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, nearly two-thirds (63%) of surveyed individuals often experience or witness online attacks against LGBTQ+ people. These attacks include calls for violence and offensive claims that describe LGBTQ+ people as “unnatural” or “mentally ill.”

Moreover, 11% of respondents reported receiving offensive or threatening online comments in the past year, and 9% received similar emails. Cyberbullying can take a deep psychological toll on anyone, but for LGBTQ+ people, the risks often cross over into the physical world as well.

Cyber threats that the LGBTQ+ community faces

For many LGBTQ+ individuals who lack support from family or friends, the internet often becomes the only place where they find a supportive and loving community. Different subgroups of the LGBTQ+ community may face unique challenges, but many are shared in common with victims anywhere along the gender or sexuality spectrum.

Harassment and hate speech

Findings published in May 2024 show that Europe isn’t doing enough to protect LGBTQ+ people from increasing verbal violence. Data published by ILGA-Europe, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, highlights that Poland, Italy, and the Czech Republic are particularly behind in protecting these communities.

These countries lack laws and policies to fight hate speech and hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only 20 countries, along with some regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the UK, prohibit hate speech based on gender identity.

Closeted people risk being blackmailed

While more people are feeling comfortable with coming out, many still do not feel safe enough to do so. Cybercriminals exploit this vulnerability and target individuals for cyber extortion.

Users of LGBTQ+ dating apps often fall victim to sextortion, a type of sexual blackmail. In these scams, the perpetrator poses as a potential partner and shares explicit photos, then asks for similar photos in return. After receiving the photos, they threaten to share them with the victim’s friends, family, or employer unless they receive payment.

This situation is especially distressing for LGBTQ+ individuals who haven’t come out. The threat of having private photos and conversations shared with friends, family, or employers can be traumatic. This exposure places victims in a vulnerable position, potentially forcing them to comply with a blackmailer’s demands to avoid unwanted outing and embarrassment.


It can be easy to dismiss the impact of constant online abuse if you’ve never been on the receiving end. However, LGBTQ+ people can encounter trolling and hateful messages, whether directed at them personally or broadcast to the public, every day.

If the platform you’re using has a “Report” function, you can report hateful or hurtful messages. Although this might not immediately block the user or remove their message, it helps create a record of abusive behavior that administrators might act upon after repeated offenses.


Doxxing is the act of attacking someone by publishing sensitive information about them. Doxxers often make contact details public to encourage strangers to pester and harass their victims, often members of the LGBTQ+ community. Doxxing can be potentially catastrophic for LGBTQ+ people. The risks might include:

😰 Forcible outing. Doxxing can rob LGBTQ+ people of their right to decide if, when, or how to come out.

💀 Deadnaming. Every trans person chooses how much they want to retain of the gender identity they were assigned at birth. For some, even mentioning the name they were given at birth that they no longer use (called a deadname) can be painful.


Cyberbullies exploit digital spaces to harass and demean their victims, often through private messages, posts, and comments. Cyberbullying on social media is especially prevalent. Bullies also use visual media like memes, altered images, and videos to accomplish their aims.

Despite the well-documented effects of bullying, many countries still lack comprehensive anti-bullying laws. Unfortunately, unless cyberbullying incidents escalate to the severity of hate crimes, the legal protection available to the LGBTQ+ community remains limited.

Online scams

Everyone is vulnerable to online scams, but it seems that some groups, including the LGBTQ+ community, may be targeted more often. Scammers prey on individuals with sensitive or hidden aspects of their identity, such as sexuality, race, gender, or religion.

These scammers build trust by pretending to share similar views or identities. Once they earn your trust, they encourage you to share personal details, such as sexual images, bank information, and your address. They then use this information to exploit you.

Some of the most common online scams targeting the LGBTQ+ community include:

❤️ Romance scams that turn into extortion scams. These schemes start when a victim unknowingly connects with a fake online dating profile. After gaining the victim’s trust and establishing a connection, the scammer requests money for an emergency, promising to repay the borrowed amount plus more. In the best-case scenario, they simply disappear once they receive the money.

However, in worse cases, the scammer may use the information provided by the victim to start extorting them. Some scammers, targeting individuals in the LGBTQ+ community who are not fully “out,” may threaten to expose explicit photos or conversations. They claim they will “ruin your life” by outing you and pressuring you to pay up.

🐽 Pig butchering scams. A pig butchering scam is a type of crypto scam in which scammers use catfishing to gain their victims’ trust. At first, the scam resembles a typical romance scam, but instead of directly asking for money, the scammer invites the victim to invest in a “once-in-a-lifetime” financial opportunity.

Once the victim can no longer invest or starts to question the scheme’s legitimacy, the scammer disappears with all the invested money. Again, this and similar scams exploit the vulnerabilities of members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly those who are not openly out or lack support from family and friends.

Scams like these often target the LGBTQ+ community on online dating apps. These scammers strive to establish deep connections and may suggest moving conversations to platforms like WhatsApp to build trust. To protect yourself, it’s best to recognize and avoid online dating scams early on. Be wary if they begin discussing “crypto” or “investments” — these topics are red flags.


Catfishing — a social engineering scam where someone creates a fake identity online — can target victims of any orientation or gender, but members of the LGBTQ+ community need to be extra careful. Catfishing can easily lead to doxxing, which may result in further harassment, discrimination, or even physical harm.

If you’re talking to someone online, watch for these signs that might indicate you’re dealing with a catfisher:

  • They get too friendly (or romantic) too fast.
  • They don’t have social media, or their accounts look strange.
  • They always find an excuse not to meet you in person.
  • They dodge opportunities to video chat.
  • They ask for money.

Staying safe on LGBTQ+ dating apps

Online dating can be tricky, especially for LGBTQ+ members, who often face additional challenges. On mainstream dating apps, you might encounter homophobia and bigotry, while LGBTQ+-specific apps, such as Grindr, can attract scammers and trolls.

Given these challenges, it’s important to be cautious when sharing private information or meeting someone in person after connecting online. Even if they seem genuine, you can’t fully verify their identity or predict their behavior in a face-to-face meeting.

Tips to help stay safe on LGBTQ+ dating sites:

  • Be careful about what you share with them. Do not reveal personal details, such as where you live, work, or spend most of your time, until you’ve met in person and trust them. A scammer might use your private photos or information to doxx, blackmail, or harass you. Remember, a scammer or troll will use anything they have against you.
  • Meet in a public space. When meeting someone in person for the first time, choose a location with plenty of people around. Never agree to meet at your place or theirs.
  • Be cautious if they become overly romantic. Declaring their love after a few chats, making long-term plans after a couple of weeks, or calling you cute names after just a few days of chatting are classic signs of a romance scam.
  • Research who they are BEFORE you meet them. Most people have a social media presence you can use to verify their identity. Check their bio and pictures for clues to see if they’re genuinely LGBTQ+ or just pretending. If they lack a digital footprint, be extra cautious about your date or skip it altogether.
  • Run a reverse image search. Although this tip could be combined with the previous point, it’s very important and needs its own mention. If their picture is a stock image or stolen from someone else, report the user and cut off contact immediately. That’s all the proof you need. If you find no exact matches but still have doubts, propose a FaceTime call or video chat to ensure they are who they claim to be.
  • Be aware of common scams. Investment scams, “lonely heart” scams, phishing scams, security app registration scams, and sugar daddy scams are all common on LGBTQ+ dating apps.
  • Be aware of the in-app privacy features. Many apps request users’ location, name, phone number, or social media accounts. In countries where homosexuality is illegal, simply having an LGBTQ+ dating app on your phone can put you at risk of arrest.

Grindr, one of the biggest LGBTQ+ dating apps, has faced several data privacy controversies over the years. Sensitive user information, such as HIV status, location data, and personal photos, has been shared with third-party companies or exposed due to security vulnerabilities. Incidents like these remind us to stay cautious with personal information on dating apps and encourage us to take data protection measures.

Avoid LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace

More countries are providing legal protections for LGBTQ+ employees. As of 2020, 81 countries prohibit discrimination in employment because of sexual orientation. Eleven of them have constitutional protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, despite some legal protections, LGBTQ+ employees often face hostility in the workplace.

A study by the Center for American Progress found that half of LGBTQ+ adults experienced workplace discrimination or harassment in the past year due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status. They reported being fired, denied promotions, having their work hours cut, and facing verbal, physical, or sexual harassment.

While employers, HR departments, government bodies, and advocacy groups all play a role in creating a tolerant workplace for sexual minorities, we each have control over our own actions.

How to deal with sexual harassment and prejudice at work

  • Report it. Document all relevant interactions and gather evidence to present to HR or your lawyer. If you find proof in your online work communications, such as email and chats, make copies or take screenshots and store them on a separate device.
  • Cooperate with a colleague you can trust. This trusted colleague can provide additional testimony and support, making it harder for others to dismiss your experiences.
  • Know your rights. Understanding anti-discrimination laws helps you recognize when someone violates your rights. This knowledge allows you to report discrimination or harassment confidently because you can be confident you are supported by a legal framework.
  • Lead by example. Stand up against discriminatory behavior and support your LGBTQ+ colleagues. Since people often perceive silence as agreement, voice your support for inclusivity.
  • Know when to walk away. If the workplace becomes unbearable and efforts to address discrimination fail, consider seeking opportunities elsewhere. Enduring discrimination can harm your mental health. Prioritize your well-being by choosing companies known for their inclusive and supportive cultures.

Tips for parents of LGBTQ+ youth

The Trevor Project’s 2023 U.S. National Survey on the mental health of LGBTQ youth reveals a stark reality — 41% of LGBTQ youth aged 13 to 24 seriously considered suicide in the past year, with rates even higher among transgender and nonbinary youth. This alarming statistic often stems from a lack of support in homophobic or transphobic family environments.

As a parent of an LGBTQ+ child, participate in your child’s life and stay attuned to their mental health. Engage them in conversations about the support they need and educate them on the risks associated with dating apps and meeting strangers. If they are under 18, discourage the use of dating apps altogether.

Another key concern for parents is how their children might face cyberbullying. LGBTQ parents should educate themselves about internet safety for kids to stay vigilant and teach their children how to stay safe online. While parents cannot shield their kids from all dangers, they can strive to minimize the harm and equip them to handle these challenges themselves.

How to stay anonymous and private online

Armed with the right cybersecurity knowledge and tools, LGBTQ+ community members can confidently protect themselves against intolerance and ignorance that threaten their rights online.

  1. Adjust your privacy settings. Social media can reveal a lot about you. Privacy settings let you control the information you share, but by default, they might set you to share as much information as legally possible. Without the right privacy adjustments, strangers can easily find and exploit small pieces of information. Keep your social media private to prevent bullies from using your personal information against you.
  2. Use a VPN to encrypt your traffic data. A VPN is one of the most powerful tools for encrypting your online traffic. Encryption reduces your data exposure, making it harder for malicious actors to access it. In addition to protecting against criminals, encryption can protect you from targeted attacks attempting to intercept and reveal your data.
  3. Take data breaches seriously. If a site, app, or service you use has been breached, consider the type of breach. If financial data is involved, contact your bank. Also, change your passwords and be vigilant for scam attempts that leverage the data exposed in the breach. Speaking of passwords…
  4. Use unique passwords. If you recycle passwords and your password is discovered in any way, it can potentially be used to unlock your entire online life. Diversify your passwords to stay safe. A password manager like NordPass can make this way easier.
  5. Don’t overshare. Always be aware of the data you’re sharing, from social media and emails to cloud storage. Develop a habit of evaluating how much information you’re giving away about yourself before sharing anything. Reduce unnecessary details that could be used to harm or harass you.
  6. Embrace the “block” button. Block certain people to prevent them from seeing posts about your personal life or whereabouts. If someone repeatedly targets you with harmful, offensive, or intimidating messages, blocking them will stop these interactions. Most social media platforms now offer the option to block users and prevent them from interacting with you.
  7. Manage your friend or follower list. Accepting random friends or follow requests is risky since they might not even be real people. Decide whether to unfriend or silently shadow-ban them. With followers, it’s hard to distinguish between a shy fan and someone cyberstalking you.

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How can LGBTQ+ allies help?

Remember, there’s no single “right” way to support the LGBTQ+ community. If you’re unsure where to start, consider these tips to help you be a good ally.

  • Stay informed. Educate yourself about the differences between sex and gender, and stay updated on current LGBTQ+ news and issues. Ask questions, do your research, and be honest about what you don’t know.
  • Don’t assume. Don’t assume that your friends, co-workers, or housemates are straight. Avoid making assumptions about someone’s gender or pronouns. By not making assumptions, you create a supportive environment, allowing others to be their authentic selves and open up to you when they are ready.
  • Speak up. When you hear homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic comments and jokes, call them out. These remarks are harmful. Let your friends, family, and co-workers know that you, as an ally, find them offensive and unacceptable.
  • Listen. Listen to your friends’ personal stories and ask respectful questions. Support your LGBTQ+ friends and loved ones by trying to understand how the world views and treats them. To learn, you need to be open and willing to listen.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Have you accidentally assumed someone’s label or used the wrong pronoun for a trans or non-binary person? It happens. Don’t panic — apologize and correct yourself.

In an ideal world, LGBTQ+ people would face no heightened risk online and could freely express themselves. Unfortunately, trolls, doxxers, and cyberbullies remain a reality. Social norms aren’t changing fast enough, and we still have a long way to go.

We hope this guide provides LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies with the tools to take control of online interactions, strengthen your safety, and empower you to thrive in the digital world. Stand strong, stay safe, and claim your right to a respectful and inclusive online experience.