Understanding cyberbullying and LGBTIQ


This resource is drawn from the discussion during the 'Click to Dis\connect' webinar organized by B-Change Foundation on June 6, 2015. The webinar followed the launch of BE, a peer-support web-app for young LGBTI persons in Asia.


Webinar Panelists

  • Benjamin Xue, Pink Dot Singapore
  • Dizz Traksi, Coordinator, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Female-to-Male Transgender (LBT) Crisis Center Ardhanary Institute
  • Justine Sass, Regional HIV and AIDS Adviser for Asia and the Pacific Chief, HIV Prevention and Health Promotion, UNESCO Bangkok
  • Nada Chaiyajit, TLBz Sexperts
  • Nabila, Kuala Lumpur
  • Ryan Korbarri, Secretary General, Arus Pelangi
  • Timo Ojanen, Associate, B-Change Foundation
  • Vaishnavi Jayakumar, Regional Analyst, Public Policy & Government Relations, Google

Webinar Moderator: Laurindo Garcia, Founder, B-Change Group

Learn more about the panellists and moderator here.  FIND out about panelist's organizations on the BE and PLUS maps.


We are living in a digital age where technology and social media is the norm. As we navigate this new frontier, we are confronted with many new challenges, including bullying and violence in online spaces. Many have witnessed increasingly anti-LGBTIQ behaviour fuelling abuse against young LGBTIQ people in Asia.

Inspired by the spirit of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Bi-phobia (IDAHOT) 2015, where the focus is on LGBTIQ youth this year, B-Change Foundation set the stage for diverse stakeholders in South-east Asia for a discussion on violence in online spaces experienced by young LGBTIQ people to discuss emerging and current issues faced by young LGBTIQ persons in navigating their lives through multiple online and offline spaces, holistic interventions; solutions which address the needs, concerns and well-being of young LGBTIQ persons in multiple spaces, without compromising their safety at any time.

Vaishnavi of Google added that technology is changing at a rapid pace in South East Asia, evidenced by the evolution of mobile phones. There are so many phone applications that we cannot predict what the applications are going to be in the future. With such rapid developments, B-Change is also interested in exploring how web-based approaches contribute to improved well-being for young LGBT in Asia.

The queer history of the internet

“If you think about how the internet was used by historically marginalized communities, like the LGBTIQ communities. Anonymity was a huge source of support and comfort for many people who weren’t comfortable expressing their true identity in the offline world but found anonymity (in online space) initially as a safe space to talk about the issues that they were dealing with.” Vaishnavi, Google.

Who are vulnerable to violence? Why?

“A lot of the bullying or comments or the threats or negativity are when people don’t fit the social norms. This applies when people do not fit into the common understanding of who a transgender person is, or when people do not fit into the norms of gender and sexuality,” summarized Laurindo Garcia, founder of the B-Change social enterprise group and moderator of the panel.

Watch Timo Ojanen from B-Change Foundation as he shares insights from research into bullying.

Timo Ojanen from B-Change Foundation and Justine Sass from UNESCO explained that the available research and findings on bullying in schools suggests that online and offline bullying are linked, and LGBTI young people are more affected than their heterosexual (and cisgender) peers. The kinds of bullying that LGBTI young people face are very unique and different.

Stereotypes fuel double, triple, quadruple discrimination

Many people in the trans women community cannot accept the fact that a person can be both transgender and a lesbian, which makes them vulnerable to discrimination and violence. There are instances where trans women who are lesbians have been subjected to violence in online spaces, as well as physical attack in offline spaces. Cat from Thailand shared her experience facing violence in online spaces because of gender identity and sexual orientation via a pre-recorded video.

Nada, a gender and trans advocate of 10 years, also from Thailand, explained that Cat’s experience is not an isolated experience.

Watch this clip and hear Nada's explanation of how conventional gender roles are often applied to trans people in Thailand.

She said that the LGBTI community have a unique perspective on gender and orientation, “[Our community] are the gender experts in Thailand” Nada said, “we know that biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are interrelated, but not connected”

She further explained that the relationship between trans identity and social perception is unique in Thailand. Society recognizes transgender person as someone who wants to change. The assumption is that trans people want to change into the opposite sex. Nada added, “People assume that if you are assigned male at birth and want to change into a female, you have to take everything, and you should have everything that a female should have, which includes female gender roles or binary gender roles. If you think or express something different, then society often has a problem with that.”

Social conformity within the (LGBT) community is a big issue,
— Laurindo Garcia

Watch this clip from Dizz who shared a story of a women from the Indonesian LBT community who displayed religious symbols on Facebook resulted in instances of bullying.

In Indonesia, lesbians, bisexuals and trans women who wear headscarves or hijab face double discrimination from individuals from the LGBTI community and outside of the community. Dizz of Ardhnaya Institute shared a story of a woman wearing hijab, who came out on Facebook, by showing that she is in a relationship with a woman. As a result, she had verses of quran thrown at her. She was asked to repent her sins, and she was asked to remove her hijab, as she’s as undeserving to wear one.

Nada added that we, who are also from the LGBTI community, sometimes forget to educate ourselves and the community about diversity, as we are focused in showcasing diversity of human beings to resist external enemies and phobias.

She explored the stereotypes and social constructs that exist in the transgender women community: how transgender women always think that being transgender means being beautiful; the persistence of a very idealistic image of a woman; and the belief that that trans women must fall in love with a very nice guy and should be passive in bed. Couples who do not conform to the normative roles of sex are vulnerable to stigma, discrimination, and their experiences become invisible, such as when a man asks a trans woman to be on top.

While the issues are raised within the community, there is a huge sense of prejudice against people who share such stories, and people often think of the act as freaky. “Among trans, it is okay for you to have these personal issues but you cannot raise it outside of the community because it will make us look more like freaks. It is hard for us to figure it out on our own, and it is hard for us to make people understand us. So, it is okay, but try to hide it,” Nada said, adding that it will take time to educate the of the community about diversity.

Defining cyberbullying

“Cyberbullying is a broad concept. There are negative comments, comments in which people disagree, and then there are comments that can endanger lives. And those are the comments like, ‘I know where you live, I am going to come and find you’, or ‘I am going to inflict harm over you’ and those are the comments that we have to be really careful about.”

Growing extremism in social media spaces

Growing dissent towards the LGBTI movements such as Pink Dot in Singapore are often reflected in the comments in social media. In the case of attacks on Pink Dot’s Facebook page and Youtube channel, the organizers took to the stance to leave negative comments in their feed for online users to read. Ben Xue noted that there needs to be a balance between free speech and safety.

Ben Xue of Pink Dot explained, “We have to monitor every single platform closely. If any of the comments get too personal, and border on being antagonistic or calling people profanity filled words, then the post will be taken down.” The administrators of the page are mindful they have to keep that online space safe for LGBT people who are frequenting the page all the time.

“With backlash, there is also opportunity for wider dissemination of information. A lot of people can see the violence, and they can come to their senses, because the discourse itself is public,” said Nabila, a teacher in Kuala Lumpur

False reporting and flagging

Learn more about the redress and complaints mechanisms from the major technology and social mediacompanies:

“Flagging and reporting tools are really important. So when you look at anonymous comments posted on youtube, or attacks, you can flag the comments, and we will take them down. If the use shows a pattern of doing this, we will shut the account down, even if the user is anonymous, and has a pseudonym online, according to Vaishnavi of Google

Social media and websites are typically shut down based on complaints by people or online users. In the case of Indonesia, there have been cases where complaints falsely reported websites of LGBT groups. “Anti-LGBT groups make complaints to the Ministry of Information, and the ministry will take the websites down,” said Dizz from Ardhanaya Institute.

We can have all these services, but in terms of getting the reach to the masses, it is hampered right from the policies, the government, and sometimes the service providers.
— Ben Xue, Pink Dot

False reporting and flagging tactics have been used by online users against educational video that aim to provide information and support for the LGBTI community. Often, the complaints allege that the video or content contains pornography, nudity, and the immediate response from service providers like Facebook and Google is to take down the content. In these circumstance community-based organisations have difficulty finding out the actual cause of the problem, thus derailing their efforts and activities.

The first step is to make sure that our platforms do not support cyberbullying.
— Vaishanavi, Google

Technology corporations such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have established mechanisms for redress designed for situations where flagging and reporting tools are wrongly used. However, it is often challenging for companies to know the local nuances, and hence cooperation between the public and private sectors is the best solution to improve the processes and the strategies that companies use.

Talking about violence with kids

Listen to Nabila explain how issues of bullying and violence surface in classrooms

“We were playing a game where we were sharing things, and one of the kids, came up and boasted that he had joined an online forum where he and few other members online persuaded someone to kill themselves, shared Nabila, who teaches children aged 12 year olds. “And they laughed it off.” Nabila was shocked. However, she was heartened to see other kids speak up and say, ‘I don’t think that’s right.’

In such situations, one strategy that can be used is to throw back the question to them, Nabila explained.”Ask them:‘So why do you say that?’ ‘Why do you think people say that?’ ‘What is the reason behind that?’ Kids do not know that their actions were wrong, as evidenced by laughter that is often accompanies recollections of this situations.

Watch Vaishanavi explain the awareness among 'bullies' of their actions.

Vaishnavi’s input further bring home the importance of talking about respect, violence and what it means with children and young people, “When we talk about cyberbullying, it is easy overestimate the maturity and development of the bullies themselves. Very often, a lot of these bullies are kids, between 14 to 16 years old kids, who do not understand the severity of what they are doing.

If you were to ask them, ‘do you consider yourself a bully?’ ‘‘Absolutely not! I just made a negative comment online. I just told someone to kill themselves online. I am not a bully.” And they might be shocked by the definition, and that’s where education and awareness becomes really critical.”

Teaching anti-bullying in classrooms

Teaching children about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression is important in reducing and ending violence that is often associated with the issues. Education is important so that people learn that it is not okay to attack people in the online or offline work.

We try to let people know that it is not okay to attack people on social media for anything.
— Dizz, Ardhanary Institute

One strategy that can be used in the classroom is a game called “tableau”, where children are given a word and they have to act it out. “So, one of the words given out was “bullying”, and all of the scenes acted out by student were about physical bullying,” said Nabila, who played the game with her students.  She turned that situation into a discussion, and asked “what other forms of bullying exist?” Nabila observed that the children did not think of talking bad about other people online, slander, sharing a video that might embarrass or humiliate someone as forms of bullying.

Arus Pelangi had an anti-bullying education programme in schools, which provided education about bullying and how to prevent it. They have avoided direct reference to LGBTI issues in the programme for fears that it would be dismissed by Indonesian authorities. The organisation will try to implement the programme again using gender expression as the main theme - why we should not bully a student with different gender expressions, for example, feminine boy or masculine girl. Arus Pelangi plans to collaborate with the Ministry of Education of Indonesia to research on bullying by teachers and headmasters due to reported instances of bullying from teachers and headmasters in schools. This highlights the importance of giving teachers and headmasters information.

In terms of curriculum, certainly there is a role for information communication technology (ICT) in enhancing the well being of young LGBTI people, as well as the safe and responsible use of ICT. UNESCO has been promoting the use of ICT in education and school curriculum as part of building digital citizenship, which can be incorporated in sexuality education. ICT in general is being rapidly integrated in many schools, especially in more developed countries in Asia.

If we really want to go to the root of the problem, I think we have to focus on education and awareness,
— Vaishnavi, Google

The delicate balance between anonymity and identifying yourself online

Panelists discussed the perennial debate over the balance between anonymity and disclosure of identity online. There was agreement that being anonymous is not always the best way to counter cyberbullying. Anonymity sometimes enables hateful and negative comments, and cyberbullying.

Tools and tips

Take Back the Tech: an online resource for everyone, especially women and girls, to take control of technology to end violence against women.

Security in a Box Toolkit from Tactical Tech

BE, a peer support web-app, offers a safer space online for young LGBTI people and it can offer a package of services, which can be accessed through community managers, who can provide assistance and support, or referral to LGBTI-friendly services that are included in online map. BE also has learning tools and video content for young LGBTI people.

Redress & Compliant Mechanisms from technology and social media companies:

Watch a full recording of the 'Click to Dis/Connect' webinar on Cyberbullying

Watch a full recording of the 'Click to Dis/Connect' webinar on Cyberbullying on YouTube