"My biggest worry is being outed": The impact of heteronormative online safeguarding on closeted lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning young people.


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The internet has become one of the most popular forms of media within the United Kingdom (UK), and the online sphere has been used prominently by closeted lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ) young people to subvert heteronormativity. Online safeguarding strategies have been developed to attempt to maintain constant control and surveillance over young people. However, these strategies are underpinned by heteronormative protectionist discourses, presenting the participants with challenges when maintaining their concealed online identity.

This thesis is original in its examination of the impact heteronormative online safeguarding has on closeted LGBQ young people: what protectionist discourses are embedded into child internet safety guidelines; and how the implementation of these strategies legitimises a heteronormative protectionist framework which creates perceived privacy and safety barriers for LGBQ young people. The thesis uses social constructionism as its overarching theoretical framework, utilising a qualitative approach involving a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) of internet safety guidelines, as well as a virtual discussion board and semi-structured interviews with participants. A total of 24 participants, aged between thirteen to seventeen and identifying as LGBQ, were involved in the virtual discussion board, and 5 of them also participated in a semi-structured interview.

My research highlighted that heteronormativity was embedded into the protectionist discourses of child internet safety guidelines, relying upon adult-centric perceptions of children’s needs. My data has provided crucial insights into the negative consequences of this for closeted LGBQ young people, as current safeguarding practices have failed to recognise their privacy needs. By listening to young people, this research has obtained key insights into the concealment and performative techniques used by the participants to avoid being outed by surveillance strategies promoted within these guidelines. By challenging the exclusivity of adult-centric perspectives and priorities, my data has identified how LGBQ young people prioritise the protection and preservation of their closeted identity when online, whereas adults focus primarily on protection from perceived sexual risks. Consequently, the data from participants has challenged the dominance of adult-centric knowledge currently controlling the online safeguarding agenda, demonstrating how online safeguarding approaches cause young people to feel unable to report internet-initiated abuse because of safeguarding strategies being ideologically incompatible to their circumstances and needs.
Date of Award7 Oct 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorALLISON MOORE (Director of Studies), CHRISTOPHER GREENOUGH (Supervisor) & LEON CULBERTSON (Supervisor)


  • Child internet safety guidelines
  • Closeted
  • Heteronormativity
  • LGBQ
  • Online safeguarding
  • Young people

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