"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. 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 also propose important principles for rethinking social VR design to provide all users, rather than just the privileged few, with supportive experiences. 
Led the project; Conceptualized and developed the framing and research questions; analyzed the data; wrote manuscripts

Lingyuan Li, Guo Freeman, Kelsea Schulenberg, & Dane Acena (2023) "We Cried on Each Other's Shoulders": How LGBTQ+ Individuals Experience Social Support in Social Virtual Reality. The 2023 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '23) (Acceptance rate: 28.39%) [Honorable Mention Award: Top 3%]
Research Questions
QR1: What types of social support have LGBTQ+ users experienced in social VR?​​​​​​​
QR2: How do LGBTQ+ individuals leverage unique social VR features to actually seek and experience
such social support?
29 in-depth semi-structured interviews
Qualitative analysis: thematic analysis
① Network support and emotional support for building a safe LGBTQ+ community in social VR
② Informational support for guiding LGBTQ+ individuals’ online and offline lives
③ Esteem support for self-improvement through experimenting and affirming LGBTQ+ identity and experiences with others.
① Creating a sense of co-presence similar to face-to-face interaction despite being online
② Simulating physical behaviors to demonstrate embodied support for LGBTQ+ individuals
③ Imitating offline LGBTQ+ centered events in a natural and immersive way
First, we expand the growing body of literature on online social support for LGBTQ+ individuals by providing one of the first empirical evidence of the specific types of social support LGBTQ+ users have experienced in social VR, a novel online social space, and how exactly they seek and experience such support in more nuanced ways using this new technology. 
Second, our in-depth investigation is not only important for further unpacking the nuanced ways in which new technology continues to impact marginalized tech users’, such as LGBTQ+ users’, unique online social experiences but also is critical for HCI’s key agenda on designing more inclusive and supportive technologies in the future. 
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