skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on April 19, 2024

Title: "We Cried on Each Other’s Shoulders": How LGBTQ+ Individuals Experience Social Support in Social Virtual Reality
Although social support can be a vital component of gender and sexual identity formation, many LGBTQ+ individuals often lack offline social networks for such support. Traditional online technologies also reveal several challenges in providing LGBTQ+ individuals with effective social support. Therefore, social VR, as a unique online space for immersive and embodied experiences, is becoming popular within LGBTQ+ communities for supportive online interactions. Drawing on 29 LGBTQ+ social VR users’ experiences, we investigate the types of social support LGBTQ+ users have experienced through social VR and how they leverage unique social VR features to experience such support. We provide one of the first empirical evidence of how social VR innovates traditional online support mechanisms to empower LGBTQ+ individuals but leads to new safety and equality concerns. We also propose important principles for rethinking social VR design to provide all users, rather than just the privileged few, with supportive experiences.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
CHI '23: Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1 to 16
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Harassment has long been considered a severe social issue and a culturally contextualized construct. More recently, understanding and mitigating emerging harassment in social Virtual Reality (VR) has become a growing research area in HCI and CSCW. Based on the perspective of harassment in the U.S. culture, in this paper we identify new characteristics of online harassment in social VR using 30 in-depth interviews. We especially attend to how people who are already considered marginalized in the gaming and virtual worlds contexts (e.g., women, LGBTQ, and ethnic minorities) experience such harassment. As social VR is still a novel technology, our proactive approach highlights embodied harassment as an emerging but understudied form of harassment in novel online social spaces. Our critical review of social VR users' experiences of harassment and recommendations to mitigate such harassment also extends the current conceptualization of online harassment in CSCW. We therefore contribute to the active prevention of future harassment in nuanced online environments, platforms, and experiences. 
    more » « less
  2. This paper focuses on embodied visibility emerging in social Virtual Reality (VR) as a new lens to explore how queer users build and experience visibility in nuanced ways. Drawing on 29 queer social VR users’ experiences across various countries and cultures, we identify three main strategies for building and experiencing embodied visibility in social VR, limitations of each strategy, and impacts of such visibility on queer users’ identity practices online and offline. We broaden current studies on queer visibility online and expand the traditional lens of selective visibility by highlighting how embodiment both supports and challenges the multidimensional online presentations of queer identity. We also propose potential design considerations to further support diverse queer users’ visibility in social VR and inform future directions for creating inclusive online social experiences. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    Recognizing the need to attract and retain the most talented individuals to STEM professions, the National Academies advocate that diversity in STEM must be a national priority. To build a diverse workforce, educators within engineering must continue working to create an inclusive environment to prevent historically underrepresented students from leaving the field. Additionally, previous research provides compelling evidence that diversity among students and faculty is crucially important to the intellectual and social development of all students, and failure to create an inclusive environment for minority students negatively affects both minority and majority students. The dearth of research on the experiences of LGBTQ individuals in engineering is a direct barrier to improving the climate for LGBTQ in our classrooms, departments and profession. Recent studies show that engineering can be a “chilly climate” for LGBTQ individuals where “passing and covering” demands are imposed by a hetero/cis-normative culture within the profession. The unwelcoming climate for LGBTQ individuals in engineering may be a key reason that they are more likely than non-LGBTQ peers to leave engineering. This project builds on the success of a previous exploratory project entitled Promoting LGBTQ Equality in Engineering through Virtual Communities of Practice (VCP), hosted by ASEE (EEC 1539140). This project will support engineering departments’ efforts to create LGBTQ-inclusive environments using knowledge generated from the original grant. Our research focuses on understanding how Community of Practice (COP) characteristics develop among STEM faculty who work to increase LGBTQ inclusion; how STEM faculty as part of the VCP develop a change agent identity, and what strategies are effective in reshaping norms and creating LGBTQ-inclusive STEM departments. Therefore, our guiding research question is: How does a Virtual Community of Practice of STEM faculty develop from a group committed to improving the culture for the LGBTQ community? To answer our research question, we designed a qualitative Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) study based on in-depth individual interviews. Our study participants are STEM faculty across all ranks and departments. Our sample includes 16 STEM faculty participants. After consulting with IPA experts to establish face validation, we piloted the interview protocol with three experienced qualitative researchers. The focus of this paper presents the results of the pilot study and preliminary themes from a sample of the 16 individual interviews. Most participants discussed the supportive and affirming nature of the community. Interestingly, the supportive culture of the virtual community led to members to translate support to LGBTQ students or colleagues at their home institution. Additionally, the participants spoke in detail about how the group supported their identity development as an educator and as a professional (e.g. engineering identity) in addition to seeking opportunities to combine their advocacy work with their research. Therefore, the supportive culture and safe space to negotiate identity development allows the current VCP to develop. Future work of the group will translate the research findings into practice through the iterative refinement of the community’s advocacy and education efforts including the Safe Zone workshops. 
    more » « less
  4. Online harassment against women - particularly in gaming and virtual worlds contexts - remains a salient and pervasive issue, and arguably reflects the systems of offline structural oppression to control women’s bodies and rights in today’s world. Harassment in social Virtual Reality (VR) is also a growing new frontier of research in HCI and CSCW, particularly focusing on marginalized users such as women. Based on interviews with 31 women users of social VR, our findings present women’s experiences of harassment risks in social VR as compared to harassment targeting women in pre-existing, on-screen online gaming and virtual worlds, along with strategies women employ to manage harassment in social VR with varying degrees of success. This study contributes to the growing body of literature on harassment in social VR by highlighting how women’s marginalization online and offline impact their perceptions of and strategies to mitigate harassment in this unique space. It also provides a critical reflection on women’s mitigation strategies and proposes important implications to rethink social VR design to better prevent harassment against women and other marginalized communities in the future metaverse. 
    more » « less
  5. The contemporary understanding of gender continues to highlight the complexity and variety of gender identities beyond a binary dichotomy regarding one’s biological sex assigned at birth. The emergence and popularity of various online social spaces also makes the digital presentation of gender even more sophisticated. In this paper, we use non-cisgender as an umbrella term to describe diverse gender identities that do not match people’s sex assigned at birth, including Transgender, Genderfuid, and Non-binary.We especially explore non-cisgender individuals’ identity practices and their challenges in novel social Virtual Reality (VR) spaces where they can present, express, and experiment their identity in ways that traditional online social spaces cannot provide. We provide one of the first empirical evidence of how social VR platforms may introduce new and novel phenomena and practices of approaching diverse gender identities online. We also contribute to re-conceptualizing technology-supported identity practices by highlighting the role of (re)discovering the physical body online and informing the design of the emerging metaverse for supporting diverse gender identities in the future. 
    more » « less