How Discord Is Creating Safe Spaces For Trans People

The hope is to prevent and combat harassment transgender individuals consistently face online, from physical threats to "swatting" and stalking.
Discord, a platform that launched in 2015 but blew up during the pandemic, offers spaces for young transgender people to connect online.
Discord, a platform that launched in 2015 but blew up during the pandemic, offers spaces for young transgender people to connect online.
Illustration: Jianan Liu/HuffPost Art Direction: Benjamin Currie/HuffPost
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For young transgender people who don’t live in cities with active LGBTQIA+ havens — or those who face danger for even presenting as queer in any way — online spaces such as Discord have been a critical vehicle for socializing. For the uninitiated: The platform, which launched in 2015 but blew up during the pandemic for obvious reasons, is made up of various spaces that allow people to chat in real time while engaging in other activities simultaneously. Some of these spaces, called servers, are public while others are private and invite-only. They’re all created, however, to gather like-minded individuals — think gaming, anime and, thankfully, queer-centered servers.

A recent Google search for “transgender Discord servers” revealed 865 public servers tagged as “LGBTQ,” 85 as “trans,” and 29 as “nonbinary.” Many of these spaces serve as a support group of sorts — a form of therapy where trans users feel comfortable exchanging valuable intel about where they got their hormones, advice on how to come out to a parent, or how to immigrate to a country where it’s legal to be transgender, for example. There are also compassionate and candid conversations among server members about feminizing or masculinizing beauty and fashion — advice about expressing your most authentic physical self that comes from personal experience.

This resource pooling can be helpful, or even lifesaving, for people living in transgender resource deserts. While some might have a mentor they can contact, or an institution (i.e., school, church, or community centers like the YMCA and Planned Parenthood), others really just have the vast, sometimes cold, expanse of the internet.

Ashleigh Hill and Leigho SweetGrass Remster are co-leaders of the Transgender Community Center Discord server to help those who identify as trans connect and pool resources. “The Transgender Community Center wanted to create space that was just for us,” they said.

By centering transgender users, individuals can spend less time educating cisgender users about the 101s of identity and focus more on meeting trans-specific needs. “We wanted to have a space where we just get it,” Remster said.

Transpeak, a server currently owned by Luna Youngquist, admits a small number of those who identify as cisgender users (approximately 5% of members), but mostly aims to cater to trans people. “Even before [Discord] we started life on Teamspeak, and back in 2014, the world was a very different place,” she said. The policy of primarily admitting transgender users, she says, evolved from the sentiment that there is a need to educate and support, and those resources can’t be found outside of a concentrated community of transgender people. For cisgender users who may have transition-related questions, the server has a “Transition Questions” channel.

The reality is that queer havens exist on several social media platforms — TikTok users, especially, have been bringing clever and informative content that deserves all the props. But in a political climate particularly hostile to queer people, our collective goal should be about more than information; it should be about protecting trans users from all forms of violence.

The hope, for many Discord community leaders, is to prevent and combat harassment transgender individuals consistently face online. In 2021, ADL reported that 64% of LGBTQ+ survey respondents experienced online harassment, and 36% experienced “severe harassment,” which includes physical threats, doxing, stalking and swatting — where hoax 911 calls are placed en masse in order to draw police to a victim’s location.

Clara Sorrenti, also known as Keffals online, at her home in Ontario, Canada, June 14, 2022.
Clara Sorrenti, also known as Keffals online, at her home in Ontario, Canada, June 14, 2022.
The Washington Post via Getty Images

A recent example of online harassment involes Canadian transgender activist and Twitch streamer Clara Sorrenti, better known online as Keffals. In August 2022, Sorrenti was swatted by members of an online community, part of which assembled on the online forum Kiwi Farms. Later in September, Kiwi Farms was dropped by multiple service providers, due to its blatant enabling of Sorrenti’s harassment. Incidents like these are unfortunately pretty common on live chat or streaming platforms, primarily for their fast-paced, type-and-send engagement formats in chat rooms versus public online forums like Reddit, where moderation is somewhat easier to enforce.

While every single platform we use has a Terms of Service agreement prohibiting abusive behavior, there’s not nearly enough moderation in any of these spaces. According to a Discord spokesperson, creating a safer online environment includes creating a “counter-extremism sub-team” that identifies and removes harmful Discord communities targeting racial, religious and gender minorities before they are even reported.

Outside of moderation, the primary goal of trans-centered servers is to start as safe as possible and make the rules and intentions of the space clear. Doing this requires keen intuition. For example, the TCC forbids the advocacy of topics viewed as damaging in the transgender community. One example is transmedicalism, the theory that transgender identity is only valid when the conditions for gender dysphoria are met, and the individual seeks medical care. “I have been affected by transmedicalism, and it’s not a fun time,” Leigho says. “It makes you vicious towards yourself when trans people already face a level of viciousness [in real life].”

In reality, the safest way for transgender individuals to avoid harassment is to avoid the internet altogether. But digitally ostrich-ing ourselves is just as bad as hiding in the house because our world is propped up by harmful, heteronormative structures. Platforms such as Discord are asking the important questions about what a trans-affirmative work and play culture look like. On and offline, we’d all benefit from doing the same.