State superintendent debate brings attention to online chat for LGBTQ+ teens

Some say Q-Chat is dangerous, while others say it’s a necessary resource
Former state superintendent Tom Horne called the Q-chats dangerous and outlets for predators during a debate with current superintendent Kathy Hoffman.
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 9:53 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Tom Horne called “Q-chat” spaces dangerous and outlets for predators during a debate with the current Superintendent Kathy Hoffman. However, she calls them a great resource recommended by the CDC and Mental Health Advocacy Organizations.

Hoffman, along with parents, LGBTQ+ students, and advocates, all agreed to offer the Q-chat spaces on the Arizona Department of Education website. Earlier this month, a complaint was filed against Hoffman to remove Q-chat spaces from the website by listing several reasons the chat is “encouraging the grooming of children.”

A Q-chat space is a digital LGBTQ+ center where teens 13 to 19 years of age can join live chats in support groups that are professionally facilitated. The debate is whether these chat rooms are effective resources or a predator’s paradise.

Arizona’s Family spoke with Education Policy Advocates like Gaelle Esposito, who said Q-chat is a safe and secure space “to talk about what they’re experiencing.”

The Chairwoman of Education Advocates Coalition for Kari Lake, Shiry Sapir, spoke about some safety concerns, like not having parental supervision. “They do have an escape button where the child can get out of the chat immediately when the parent walks into the room. Bill of rights in Arizona specifically states that parents must give consent and have the full authority,” she said.

While children under 13 cannot sign up for Q-chat without parent permission, teenagers older than 13 can access the chat room by themselves, unsupervised, because not everyone feels confident “coming out” to their families.

Esposito said Q-chat is important for teenagers who are abused or come from unsupportive families who may kick them out after they have come out.” This is teenagers going to their peers and figuring out how to have those conversations because they’re hard to do,” Esposito said.

Conversations about privacy have also come up because Q-chat requires emails, phone numbers, and zip codes while signing up. “We don’t know who gets a hold of that information, if it’s being sold in the dark web. If predators are able to get that information, then go specifically after the children,” Sapir explained.

According to Q-CHATSPACE.ORG, information gathered is protected and not given out to anyone without permission from the participant. Esposito explained that the information is used to verify who is signing up for the chat to ensure that it’s peers talking to peers, not predators.

Each chat is monitored and moderated by verified professionals from LGBTQ+ centers. Those facilitators are NOT mental health experts and will not be giving health advice. They will only connect users to non-profit organizations like PFLAG and Planned Parenthood.