Saturday, 29 June 2013

Not #ProudtoLove

2013 has turned into a landmark year for LGBT rights. We have seen France move to legalise gay marriage with the UK hot on its heels, and of course the overturning of Prop 8 and DOMA in the States just last week. People have been celebrating and with this weekend the end of Pride Month I myself will join in with some of the festivities in London. It's a good time to be gay.

Unsurprisingly YouTube has jumped on this and chosen to celebrate the role the website has had to play in the humanisation of LGBT folks and the support it has given to countless people struggling with their own sexual identity. The platform has been a great tool in the furthering of gay rights and I think it's great to be recognising this. Google and YouTube always have a presence at pride parades around the globe and they should be commended for this.

This aside, I am not a fan of the way they have chosen to highlight pride month, with the #ProudtoLove campaign.

#ProudtoLove was rolled out with videos from some of the most prominent LGBT vloggers on YouTube where they listed things that they were, surprise surprise, proud to love. Because creators were asked to provide videos there seems to be a disconnect with the content and the intended message, with people saying they were proud to love comic books or pizza and a couple even using the hashtag as an advert to plug their own content.

To be honest, the whole thing felt a bit dead behind the eyes, disingenuous and vague. If this was meant to be a celebration of the good that YouTube and its community has done for LGBT causes it has fallen flat on its face. 

Other YouTube phenomena like the It Gets Better project, the curation of 'coming out' playlists, the pro gay marriage adverts that became popular online were all grass roots movements that naturally went viral and moved countless people to get involved. These movements were heartfelt and candid, where as the majority of the #ProudtoLove videos left me with a 'so what?' taste in my mouth.

I feel like YouTube was maybe half heartedly trying to turn this into a gay vlog-tag-game. It's seen the good that its users have done with this format, as well as the prominent gay community on the site, and thought, "Awesome! Another tent-pole event".

But when these kind of events are dictated from above and not organised from the user base, sincerity is lost. I feel like a similar thing happened with YouTube's Comedy Week: a hash of unrelated videos that were ironically unfunny. They've tried to do something similar here, to create a welling of positive nostalgia towards YouTube's gay movement, but I fear that they have failed again.

I by no means want to take away the good that the site has played in creating a strong, queer community. But this good was brought about by the individuals using the site as a tool, not by YouTube the company. Leave the content and community to us, YouTube. You're invariably bad at it.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

YouTube's Support Network

Earlier this week a friend of mine, Rob Wells, wrote an article on the Vada Magazine website about the relationship between YouTube and its apparently high number of gay users. He was kind enough to mention me - so I thought I would continue the conversation here.

What feels like a lifetime ago, there used to be a running joke among YouTube users that if you were gay or Asian, then you were already halfway to having it made. Gay vloggers dominanted the site and included the likes of Michael Buckley, William Sledd, Perez Hilton and that guy who did the ‘Leave Britney Alone’video, Chris Crocker.


These men, although entertaining in their own way, did not do amazing things for diversifying the representation of the LGBT community in new media. Their content focused around gossip, celebrity and fashion; not exactly breaking the mould. We may as well have been watching Are You Being Served. That said, these men were at the top of YouTube, driving an awful lot of the regular viewers to the site as it grew in popularity in the late naughties. 

Gay, flamboyant men are no longer the Kings (Queens?) of YouTube; they have since been usurped by the cute boy with a floppy fringe anda British accent, but the LGBT community still makes up a significant portion of content creators and viewers. And they aren’t just hanging around, they’re candid and frank about their sexuality, experiences and opinions.

Since its popularisation the Internet has been a place where people who feel like they don’t fit in come to rant, socialise and find like-minded people. Many queer kids, especially those growing up outside of larger cities, will not have ever known anyone who is like them. YouTube provides a more personal bond with someone than watching the latest episode of Modern Family or Glee.

This can be summed up in the It Gets Better Project, a movement started by Dan Savage, famous for his sex advice column in Seattle’sStranger, his Podcast and his gay rights activism. In the wake of the suicideof Billy Lucas who killed himself because of the lack of acceptance he experienced at school, Savage made a video with his then boyfriend, now husband, letting young LGBT kids know that bullying in school is not the end, that It Gets Better.

Thousands upon thousands made their own videos with their own stories of finding love and acceptance after enduring hardship wile they were growing up; even Obama and Cameron joined in. YouTube is now a bank of these stories, showing queer kids that even if they have it hard right now, there is invariably a light at the end of the tunnel.

In his article, Rob suggested that YouTube provided kids with a place where they can find acceptance when they come out of the closet. I think that YouTube’s role begins even before that – because when you feel alone, scared and confused, knowing that someone else has felt the same way can make the journey so much easier.

I should also say that this isn’t just for queer kids. EmmaBlackery’s videos on her experiences with depression and how to deal with it will help countless young people struggling with the illness. Meekakitty’svideos on beauty and her struggle with anxiety are equally heart-warming.

Coming out of the closet or dealing with depression used to be like jumping off a cliff that you couldn’t see the bottom of. But now we can see the landing and have a thousand anecdotes from people who have made the jump themselves.