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Disconnected: How the Mental Health of Queer BIPOC Youth is Impacted by the Connectivity Outage

A young woman lies on a couch. In her lap is a laptop that she looks to be working on.

In an era where internet access is nearly ubiquitous, consider the abrupt disruption caused by a connectivity outage. Now amplify this experience for over 250,000 LGBTQ+ youth who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) and currently find themselves grappling with a mental health crisis due to this connectivity setback. Marginalized communities, especially queer BIPOC youth, are hit hardest by this crisis, and they continue to endure other systemic inequalities at the same time. 

This article examines how internet disconnection, specifically due to the end of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), affects the mental well-being of queer BIPOC youth. It highlights their challenges, like increased isolation and difficulty accessing support networks, and stresses the urgent need to address the issues at the crossroads of digital equity and mental health.


What is the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)?

The ACP, established in December 2022, aimed to provide affordable internet access to low-income households by offering them financial subsidies. Beginning in March 2023, the ACP increased access to online education, telehealth services, and job opportunities, particularly benefiting marginalized communities. However, with its end in the spring of 2024, concerns arise over the potential repercussions for low-income households, exacerbating disparities in digital access. 


23M Low-Income Households Affected by Connectivity Crisis

With the program’s funding running out, the lack of affordable internet access intensifies existing disparities in digital connectivity for the 23 million low-income households affected. This outage highlights the critical need for sustainable solutions to address digital inequities and ensure universal access to reliable internet services for all communities, particularly low-income and BIPOC communities.


Examining socioeconomic factors worsening impact on low-income households

The recent connectivity outage has intensified challenges for many low-income households. Financial strain is a primary concern, with families already stretched thin, many will now struggle to afford internet services amid rising costs and the expiration of the ACP subsidies. 

Additionally, disparities in education and employment opportunities exacerbate the situation, as unreliable internet access hinders access to online learning platforms and job search resources, further entrenching cycles of poverty and inequality.

In a recent article from Fast Company, Angela Siefer, executive director of the nonprofit National Digital Inclusion Alliance, shared the impact of losing access to the ACP. “… in the near-term, many ACP recipients may get hit with high bills they weren’t expecting,” she says. . 

Though internet service providers have been notifying ACP subscribers that the end is coming, Siefer says many people will likely still be caught off guard. “We’re definitely going to end up with families with more communications debts,” Siefer says.

Geographic location amplifies these challenges, particularly in rural areas lacking high-speed internet infrastructure, which forces residents to rely on costly and unreliable alternatives. Moreover, intersecting forms of marginalization, including race, ethnicity, and language, heighten the impact on BIPOC communities, compounding barriers to access and perpetuating digital disparities. Addressing these socioeconomic factors demands comprehensive solutions, ranging from financial assistance programs to infrastructure investments, to ensure universal access to reliable internet services and bridge the digital divide for all communities.


How marginalized communities bear the brunt of these disparities

The recent connectivity outage has disproportionately affected marginalized communities, particularly LGBTQ+ BIPOC youth. These youth face intersecting forms of discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity, all of which are amplified by the recent lack of internet access. For these youth, the end of ASP exacerbates existing disparities in digital access and mental health outcomes. 

Often from low-income households or underserved areas, LGBTQ+ BIPOC youth experience further limitations in online connectivity due to systemic inequalities in infrastructure, particularly in rural locales. 

Additionally, the outage has heightened feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety among LGBTQ+ BIPOC youth, who rely on online spaces for belonging and support. The digital divide exacerbates mental health gaps, emphasizing the urgent need for universal access to reliable internet services and culturally competent mental health support.


Understanding the Mental Health Impact

Mental health disparities among queer BIPOC youth are significant and complex, resulting from intersecting forms of marginalization and systemic oppression. The intersectional discrimination encountered by these youth profoundly impacts their mental well-being.

Studies consistently demonstrate that queer BIPOC youth experience higher rates of mental health issues compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal ideation. These challenges are intensified by discrimination and bullying in various settings, such as schools, communities, and online spaces. Access to culturally competent mental health care is often limited, further hindering their ability to seek help and support. The intersectional nature of their identities often complicates these disparities, as queer BIPOC youth may face discrimination and stigma from both mainstream society and within LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. 


The unique challenges faced by this demographic in times of digital disconnection

In times of digital disconnection, queer BIPOC youth face specific challenges that exacerbate existing disparities. Not only will the outages prevent them from having their basic needs met, but they create a roadblock between them and their academic success.

In the aforementioned article from Fast Company, Siefer addressed our societal dependence on technology. “Technology was already integrated into our lives before, and because of COVID, it is even more integrated into our lives,” Siefer says. “The reality then is that when we lose the Affordable Connectivity Program, we will again see kids doing their homework in parking lots.”

In addition to the academic cost, these outages will also diminish their access to resources, support networks, and mental health services. Limited access to affirming online spaces deprives them of vital communities and resources that validate their identities and experiences. Without access to essential information and resources, they may struggle to cope with increased distress and the resulting adverse outcomes. Addressing these challenges requires targeted interventions that prioritize the unique needs and experiences of queer BIPOC youth and work to dismantle systemic barriers to digital equity and mental health support.


What’s next?

The urgent need for systemic change to address the root causes of digital inequality and mental health disparities among queer BIPOC youth cannot be overstated. To effectively support this vulnerable population, policymakers, community organizations, and mental health providers must collaborate on comprehensive solutions that prioritize equity, inclusivity, and accessibility.

Achieving mental well-being and digital equity for marginalized communities, including queer BIPOC youth, necessitates solidarity, advocacy, and collective action from policymakers, community organizations, mental health providers, and society as a whole. Advocacy is essential for holding policymakers accountable, and we have to keep pushing for policies promoting digital equity, LGBTQ+ rights, and mental health support. Lastly, collective action fosters partnerships to develop holistic approaches that address the intersectional challenges faced by queer BIPOC youth, creating inclusive and affirming environments for all individuals to thrive mentally, emotionally, and digitally.

This story is part of the Digital Equity Local Voices Fellowship lab through News is Out. The lab initiative is made possible with support from Comcast NBCUniversal.






Victoria F Vega poses in a white dress. She's standing in the sunshine with a lush palm tree behind her.
Victoria F Vega
Victoria F. Vega is a grassroots communicator and a mission-driven public relations professional. She is a proud Latina, born and raised in Miami, FL. Due to her passion for education, Victoria earned her Bachelor of Science in Communications & Rhetorical Studies with a minor in Political Science from Syracuse University. Shortly after, she earned her Master of Arts in Strategic Communication with a focus in Digital Strategy from American University. Victoria's communications, public relations and marketing work spans across social justice. She has worked with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Autism Society of America and more!