Love, Pride & Acceptance on Social Media
In the LGBTQ+ community, everyone approaches their coming out event differently. Some prefer to keep it very personal, only disclosing to the people closest to them. Some have enough support that they can shout it from the rooftops. Many even turn to social media platforms, such as Instagram, to share their experiences.
Those who have been able to thrive through public announcements on social media can feel encouraged by the community, even if they don't have the same approval from their social and family circles. For many people who aren't able to fully express who they are, these platforms can be a pathway to acceptance by way of online safe spaces. Supporting positive campaigns to bolster this diverse community may be more important now than ever.
Hashtag campaigns such as #GayPride and #VisibleMe can prove instrumental in helping others come out and live their fullest lives. Another hashtag even more popular than those two is #ComingOut. Coming out is a huge step for someone, and stories like these from popular celebrities flood social media daily. Does using this hashtag contribute to an easier transition between coming out and living life afterward?
We analysed 249,000 Instagram posts using #ComingOut, as well as related hashtags used by accounts associated with #ComingOut to see what the impact of this social media trend and other pro-LGBTQ+ campaigns have on the LGBTQ+ community. Read below to find out.
History of #ComingOut
On October 14, 1979, the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights made history in the United States with an estimated 200,000 people turning out for the event. In the months after, leaders in the LGBTQ+ community marked the inception of National Coming Out Day on this monumental event's anniversary. In the age of social media, the hashtag #ComingOut was born. Today, it is observed in many countries around the world by an ever-growing number of people.
In the past several years, posts with #ComingOut skyrocketed from just 1,000 posts in 2013 up to a peak of 12,791 posts in October of 2017. The high points across each year in October directly line up with National Coming Out Day, so spikes during these months make sense. This day brings the LGBTQ+ community together and emboldens many people to stand up and reveal their true self to the world.
Posting On National Coming Out Day
Many people are motivated to share their coming out stories with the digital world on National Coming Out Day, and that number is steadily increasing each year.
The total number of posts related to #ComingOut on National Coming Out Day – which falls on October 11 in some parts of the world – has risen steadily, with over 3,100 posts being made in 2017 alone.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, the founding organisation behind National Coming Out Day, the power behind the holiday is the inherent strength in sharing such a personal part of yourself on social media and taking control of your own decisions. By offering a specific day for people to come out, individuals can collectively stand together with their community.
So which countries around the world top the list for most occurrences of #ComingOut?
Seven out of the top 10 countries that show popular usage of #ComingOut are European, with the Netherlands coming in second. In 2001, the country was the first in the world to legalise gay marriage. The city of Amsterdam is known for its extensive canal system, and Pride Amsterdam has taken advantage of this unique blueprint. The annual Pride Canal Parade boasts over 80 parade floats that actually floatthroughout the city's waterways. Amsterdam itself is home to over 100 gay and lesbian bars or nightclubs and countless other LGBTQ+-friendly businesses and events.
Italy stands out as the number one country in Europe with the highest occurrence of #ComingOut. With great support from former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, legislation to legalise civil unions between same-sex couples was passed in 2016. Other rights have been granted to Italian LGBTQ+ individuals, such as the ability to serve in the military openly and legally change their sex since 1982. Things are improving, with pro-LGBTQ+ groups such as Azione Gay e Lesbica (Gay and Lesbian Action), the Gruppo Giovani GLBTI (LGBTQ+ Youth Group), and Kairos becoming stronger every day.
In areas where #ComingOut has yet to be accepted fully, the LGBTQ+ community is still seeing victoriesagainst discriminatory laws. Efforts to bolster LGBTQ+ issues are on the rise. From an Arab pro-LGBTQ+ radio station in Tunisia to the fight for acceptance across East Africa, things are improving; however, movements such as #ComingOut are going to be instrumental for the future of these activists and their missions.
#ComingOut in America
Across the world, #ComingOut use has skyrocketed over the past few years. The United States comes in third for most prevalent use of the hashtag. So where in America is #ComingOut the most popular?
The top 3 cities featuring #ComingOut come from the West Coast, with particularly high numbers coming from Hollywood, California, home of the rich and famous. In fact, many celebrities not only use social media often, but they also turn to it specifically to come out. Knowing this popular trend makes Hollywood's No. 1 spot seem obvious. Celebrities and famous people use their platforms to encourage others to love themselves and may even inspire them to come out as well.
Many cities on this list see above-average reportings of #ComingOut due to support from strong pride communities. Since its inaugural year in 2009, Miami Beach Gay Pride attendance increased from 19,000 to an estimated 135,000 in 2017 and has been visited by celebrity guests like Ross Mathews, Gloria Estefan, Adam Lambert, and many more. San Francisco Pride boasts the largest pride event in America, with an estimated 1 million people attending in 2017.
While the volume of #ComingOut posts may not be as prevalent in some states as others, progress is still being made. The small town of Blue Ridge, Georgia is a haven for LGBTQ+ people in the notoriously-conservative Bible Belt. Kansas City's premiere pro-transgender support group KC Passages is giving youth in the area a place to feel accepted and loved.
Europe's #ComingOut Trends
Europe in general has a higher frequency of #ComingOut versus many other regions. As mentioned, Italy's presence is undeniable. Rome, Milan, and Bologna all appeared on the top 10 list, showing widespread support for the #ComingOut movement within the country.
Poland's LGBTQ community uses #ComingOut in unexpectedly large numbers compared to their population, landing the title of seventh highest in the world. Warsaw witnessed record attendance at their pride event in June 2016, even though many believe in a looming pessimism regarding realistic change in the government's stand on marriage.
Even in countries where LGBTQ+ rights have historically been under threat, communities have still found ways to come together. Pride events are becoming much more popular, despite threats of violence from ultra-nationalist groups. The nation is becoming more supportive of care services for LGBTQ+ people, and a recent revival in military enlistment by LGBTQ+ youth is causing a change in the way people view and accept them.
Positive vs. Negative Comments Towards #ComingOut
In 78 percent of cases, comments on posts tagging #ComingOut were positive. This is a direct reflection of the growth and progress that we have collectively made to make the internet safer for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2016, the highest percentage of positive comments was seen, with 80 percent of all comments being cast in a positive light.
Luckily, the number of internet users that exhibit behaviour like that described above has been maintained. From 2012 to 2018, the percentage of negative posts has stayed consistent at 6 percent, with the exception of 2015's slight uptick to 7 percent. The real effects of time have shown a growth in positive comments. In the last six years, positive comments have increased by an overall 10 percent.
"Likes" and Love for #ComingOut
Similarly, in other parameters, post likes have increased over time. However, we see a rather dramatic drop in the average number of likes in 2016. Many factors that may have contributed to this change could be the increase in political activity during America's presidential election, the emergence of the "alt-right" on social media with their anti-LGBTQ views, and the possible impact of the Pulse Nightclub shooting on coming out rates.
As the data suggest, #ComingOut and other related hashtags trend higher every year, which allows people to see and interact with more posts. The always changing Instagram algorithm rewards and boosts postsrelated to trending hashtags, such as #ComingOut, rewarding interesting and viral content with reach. This update altered the mechanics of how posts are seen, moving away from the chronological feed to a calculated method based on potential engagement and how often specific users interact with each other. These changes went into effect in 2016 which could be one possible explanation for the drop in median likes, although likes continued their upward trend in following years.
Accompanying Hashtags for #ComingOut
Positivity oozes from the #ComingOut-related hashtags lists. These trending tags speak to love, pride, and happiness. #LoveIsLove and #Love both land in the top 5, standing as a living technological testament to how these movements are driven by love rather than fear.
The LGBTQ+ community is stronger than ever, and this is precisely why supporting initiatives like #ComingOut is so imperative for members of the LGBTQ+ community that are able to support the movement openly. With dramatic increases in mentions of trending LGBTQ+ campaigns on social media and in positive responses to those posts, progress is happening right before our eyes.
Coming out is a huge step towards self-acceptance and openly accepting your sexuality makes it easier to practice good sexual health. Currently, the LGBTQ+ community faces an increased prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases. These statistics, paired along with a lack of supportive healthcare networks and services that accommodate the distinct needs of these people, result in the LGBTQ+ community without the proper care they need.
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We scraped 249,000 Instagram posts for the hashtag #ComingOut. The scrape was performed on March 26, 2018.
We then analysed text from the captions of posts. Using TextBlob, a Python library that performs common natural language processing, we determined the sentiment of the text. Sentiment is an analysis of how positive, neutral, or negative something is. It is based on a score of -1 to 1, with -1 being extremely negative, 0 as neutral, and 1 being extremely positive. Because this is based on a pre-existing text analysis library, we could not customise the dictionary used to analyse this text; therefore, words that may be positive in the context of this topic may not be recognised as positive in this analysis.
Our research was limited to posts mentioning the tag #ComingOut and was not translated for languages other than English. It is possible that by collecting posts in other languages, we could have gained more insight into these populations. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is exploratory.
Fair Use Statement
If you'd like to help share the results of our #ComingOut data with the world, you're welcome to use our images and information for noncommercial purposes. When you do, please hyperlink to this page to attribute us appropriately.