One element that distinguishes popular YouTube channels from most other mainstream media is the wide representation of out-and-proud LGBTQ creators and personalities. Five of those people — Joey Graceffa, Bria Kam and Chrissy Chambers, Bradlee Wonnemacher, and Nicholas Laws — stopped by Stream Con on Sunday afternoon for a panel discussion of “LGBTQ and YouTube.” The conversation covered how to deal with animosity both inside and outside the LGBTQ community, the controversy of coming-out videos, and how social media stars can further the causes of social justice.
Moderator Matthew Schueller kicked things off by asking the panelists how they deal with negative feedback. Nasty commenters are all over the Internet, but on YouTube most of all. Some of the panelists admitted they use YouTube’s word-blocking feature to block comments with certain words from their videos (“my list is so long it’s like an essay,” Laws said). Trolls are one thing, but Graceffa said he was surprised by how much criticism came from within the LGBTQ community.
“When I came out this year, the support from the world was so positive and so happy, but within the LGBTQ community it was actually rather negative,” Graceffa said. “It felt like 50/50. Their concern, I guess, was when I wrote my book, the gay community thought I was just using that as a way to make myself bigger. It’s so frustrating to see that from that community because I was just entering it. It’s kind of sad.”
Much of the criticism, Graceffa said, revolves around coming-out videos. Graceffa officially came out to the public in a video this past May, titled “Yes I’m Gay.” Released after months of speculation from his fans, it currently has over 5 million views.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I did it when I wanted to and how I wanted to, and I was never pushed out of the closet,” Graceffa said. “A lot of people don’t understand how difficult it is. It’s a very confusing and weird experience. It’s not just as easy as saying it. There’s a lot of emotional processes you have to go through.”
The topic of coming out was brought up again after Schueller opened the floor up to audience questions. The first audience member asked Graceffa if he had any advice for her friend, who was struggling with how to come out to his mom.
“The easiest would be to show his mom a video about being gay,” Graceffa said. “I feel like there are really good sentimental videos to make her cry.”
Another attendee asked the panelists to discuss the hardest part of coming out. Many had similar responses, which focused on making themselves a priority.
“You have to come out to yourself first,” Wonnemacher said. “Learn to love and accept the person that you are. When’s the right time to come out? I think it’s in that moment where you can look in the mirror, staring back at yourself, and say ‘I love this person, I accept this person.'”
The past year has seen some major gains for LGBTQ rights, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. Some of the panelists took credit for these changing social mores (“we’re normalizing the word ‘gay,’” Wonnemacher said), but noted there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“Obviously we need to get the Non-Discrimination Act passed in the U.S. You can still be fired for being gay in so many states,” Chambers said. “We have so far to go in that space of course, but clearly the trans community needs so much of our help and support right now. We’ve got Caitlyn Jenner, who is really making waves, but we’ve got to get that part of our community caught up to us so we can all continue to grow as a whole. We’ve had to fight for so long just to get recognized as equal people, and they are not there yet.”
Though marriage equality is finally legal in the U.S., it remains a far-off dream for many LGBTQ people across the world. The panelists noted, however, that they get a surprising amount of views from fans in countries like Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is punishable by death. So what, Schueller asked, can everyone (gay or straight, star or fan, in America or abroad) do to advance the global cause of social justice?
“You can speak out about it. Dedicate a vid to raising awareness to these struggles other people are going through. You can’t always blindly sit by, especially when you’re in a position of power,” Chambers said. “Not saying you should be forced to make certain kinds of content, but if you know that people are facing such adversity and such struggle and you have an audience that you can educate and inspire that may be able to reach those places, you can inspire that change around the world. You never know who you’re reaching. Your message of hope could be inspiring a whole nation, eventually.”
“Just by being you, you can inspire people,” Kam added. “You’re a walking platform. We believe strongly that if you do have a platform, you should use it for good. But just by being yourself, being happy and being content and passing that on to other people, you’re doing good. You’re spreading awareness.”