The LGBT Health & Development Program

Research Blog—How Social Media Amplifies Community Resilience among the LGBT Community

Posted on November 13th, 2015 by IMPACT in Featured, Research Blog. No Comments

Written by Robert W. Mehney, IMPACT Intern

looking down a street of paraders holding a large rainbow flag

Photo credit: Ben Tavener, “Sao Paulo LGBT Pride Parade 2014,” May 4, 2014.

Many countries today have laws that discriminate against LGBT individuals. Even with all the adversity faced, the LGBT population in these countries maintain a sense of resilience [1]. Resiliency is a way for people to reclaim certain aspects or values in their lives [1]. It is “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.

Sexual identity formation and its correlates, like “coming out” and self-sexual labeling (e.g., being a proud gay man) are not universal or desirable processes as often thought by Western scholars [1]. The benchmark of resiliency is more than just having high self-esteem, it is a personal journey that varies by culture. For some, it is the capacity to manage feelings and impulses. For others, it could be having strong communication and problem solving skills. For example, a person’s culture might have an impact on how they communicate feelings with a significant other or family member [1]. To better understand what makes certain LGBT individuals strive in the face of adversity, we must have a better understanding of how certain social determinants (e.g., access to education, income, mental health care, and social networks) might contribute to resiliency [1].

To no one’s surprise, LGBT individuals with supportive families report higher self-esteem and better overall mental health, which has been observed in many populations, including sexual minority women in the U.S. [2] and the LGBT population in Israel [3]. Support like this is likened to “intrinsic reinforcement”—coming from within the individual or their family. When support is unavailable, many in the LGBT community make their own reward system (“extrinsic reinforcement”), by reaching out to like-minded individuals and communities often through social media [1]. Social media is an important source of social capital for the LGBT population, as it allows them to develop a sense of group membership through community surveillance, identity expression, and emotional support. Social media may build camaraderie and bolster resilience among individuals that may otherwise be difficult in conservative regions [4]. Connections in the LGBT community have been found to compensate for parental rejection or provide an important adjunct to family support [2, 3]. Virtual communities appear particularly important for cultivating these social ties where immediate family roles make it difficult to integrate sexuality and identity within traditional social expectations [5].

Until the mid-1990s, LGBT people had to access social networks in mostly traditional ways, which were often only accessible to those in large and mid-size cities [1]. The use of e-approaches for promoting resiliency among the LGBT population, especially those living in less than friendly environments, seems to be limitless [1].  Many find establishing connections through social apps and message boards builds a sense of community. Others find it therapeutic to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings on blogs and online journals. Consequently, further research is needed to shed a light onto which aspect is providing support to these socio-cultural factors for resilience among the LGBT community.

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[1] Wong, F.Y. (2015). In Search for the Many Faces of Community Resilience Among LGBT Individuals. American Journal of Community Psychology, 55(1), 239-241. doi: 10.1007/s10464-015-9703-5.

[2] Zimmerman, L., Darnell, D. D., Rhew, I., Lee, C. M., & Kaysen, D. (2015). Resilience in community: A social ecological development model for early adult sexual minority women rejected by family. American Journal of Community Psychology, 55(1), 179-190. doi:10.1007/s10646-015-9702-6.

[3] Shilo, G., Antebi, N., & Mor, Z. (2015). Individual and community resilience factors among gay, bisexual, queer, and questioning youth and adults in Israel. American Journal of Community Psychology, 55(1), 215-227. doi:10.1007/s10646-014-9693-x.

[4] Mak, W. W. S., Chong, E. S. K., Zhang, Y., & Pang, I. H. Y. (2015) Social media as social capital of LGB individuals in Hong Kong: Its relations with group membership, stigma, and mental wellbeing. American Journal of Community Psychology, 55(1), 228-238. doi:10.1007/s10646-014-9699-2

[5] Chow, W.-S. (2000). Tongzhi: Politics of same sex eroticism in Chinese societies. New York: Routledge

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