Thursday the 14th of December was a terrible day. I am a film student and it was finals week, so I was sitting in a classroom watching everyone’s rushed film projects. My peers may be extremely talented people, but we were given a tight deadline and they were working with what they had. Fortunately, my project got an extension so it wasn’t even being shown that day. To top this all off, in the middle of class, I hear someone behind me whisper “The FCC just voted.” My head whipped around. “They are repealing Net Neutrality,” the person continued. A communal groan would soon engulf the room.
For readers who don’t know, Net Neutrality is a rule that dictates that your internet service providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to control your internet speed or the content you view. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a government organization that was meant to protect our rights to communication, voted to repeal Net Neutrality on a vote of 3 to 2. The repeal means that AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and any other company that provides an internet service can now charge a premium for the internet speeds Americans have come to expect. To make things worse, they can now charge based on the type of content you consume on the web, meaning that they can separately charge a video service fee for high-quality video and a social media fee for high-speed social media. Even scarier, the result of a Net Neutrality repeal is be the fact that ISPs will be able to censor content legally and without restriction.
I started thinking about how morbid it was to get that news in the way I did. I was in a room full of content creators and many of us, including myself, rely on the internet to freely share our videos and films. Thinking about my own work, it kind of hit me all at once how pervasive this issue is. This repeal was going to affect the LGBTQIA+ community and, even more specifically, QueerPGH. It goes back to a big question I have thought about before: What relationship does the LGBTQIA+ community have with the internet?
In short, the internet has been a godsend for our community. It has changed the landscape of queer identity and made understanding personal identity so much easier. Before the popularization of the internet, to get resources on any queer issue, from identity to healthcare, you had to rely on word of mouth or written publication. The taboo and traditionally uncomfortable nature of queer identity prevented it from getting into any major publication in a positive, inclusive way. Unless you are in a city, getting help via word of mouth was difficult, if not impossible, due to the longstanding stigma around LGBTQIA+ issues. With the internet, the queer community has blossomed into what we see today. Resources are just a click away on the web and can be obtained discreetly and without judgment. In addition, social media, blogs, and alternative news agencies have helped dispel most societal stigma around the expression of queer topics and have increased awareness of queer issues worldwide. All this, along with connecting the community online, has allowed isolated queer individuals to meet others who identify similarly and feel like they belong.
No group benefits from this more than youth. Reports on the number of LGBTQIA+ identifying millennials (the youngest group polled) show that more youth identify as LGBTQIA+ than any other generation. With the presence of the internet, middle and high school-aged kids and teens feel more empowered and informed to come out and live as their true selves than ever before. The community has never seen as many proud, queer youth as they we do today. When I was a gay youth, the internet was an integral part of my coming out story. Now that I am in college, I have devoted a lot of my time to a youth nonprofit, where I am constantly meeting powerful and proud queer youth, many of whom remind me of myself when I was that age. Whether it be my own story or the countless other teen coming out stories I have heard, the internet has been an essential driver in an effort for all of us to better understand who we are and where we belong.
With the repeal of Net Neutrality, all this could change. The internet now has the potential to become a maze of high premiums and corporate price-tagging. Paywalls could block queer youth from the resources they desperately need. Middle and lower class families will not be able to keep up with such premiums, and essentially lose access to parts of the internet. They might be forced to purchase a bundle with only certain types of websites included. Imagine a teen trying to find information, only to realize that their parents bought a package that excludes niche content like QueerPGH, for instance. This desperate corporate cash grab is completely unjust, depriving Americans of the powerful resource that is the internet. This stands to disproportionately affect those in the LGBTQIA+ community.
And what about QueerPGH? The title of this article is pretty jarring, I am sure, but the possibility that QueerPGH might be rendered ineffective on a post-repeal internet is very real. Net Neutrality has helped maintain an equal playing field for small online companies and independent media organizations to compete with their larger competitors. It helps smaller news outlets and e-magazines focused on specific or specialized issues to cultivate a viewership and develop a community. Experts predict that the Net Neutrality repeal will put an end to organizations like these by reducing the number of people that use the internet, thus providing the outlets with lower viewership. This is especially true for QueerPGH, which caters to a minority audience of LGBTQIA+ readers. QueerPGH is a fabulous local resource for a specific Pittsburgh community, but supportive readers might struggle to access it, forced to opt out if required to purchase an expensive news package that includes our site. How effective will we be as a resource if we cannot reach the communities that these issues often affect the most?
I don’t want to be the guy standing on a soapbox on the corner jumping up and down saying “the end is here,” but this is important. It has the potential to completely change the landscape of the LGBTQIA+ community yet again. QueerPGH has a mission to serve the LGBTQIA+ community of Pittsburgh, to act as a catalyst for change and to provide community for those who call Pittsburgh home. We cannot do that to the best of our ability if the internet is unavailable to a huge portion of our viewership. There is still hope for saving the internet. The courts are fighting this repeal and Congress can potentially override the FCC’s decision. If you feel strongly about this issue, call your state representative and let them know how you feel. As for QueerPGH, we will fight until the very end to continue to post articles and provide resources to our readers. We have no intention of yielding and we will not go down easy.
Beliefs and views expressed by contributors on this site are not necessarily the views of QueerPGH. We aim to provide a platform for many points of view within our community. We respect the experiences of individuals and make space for folks to share those experiences.