By restricting even G-rated LGBTQIA+ content, YouTube is sending the message that being part of the LGBTQIA+ community is wrong and inappropriate.
by Angela Dumlao
When I was 18 going on 19, I fell in love. It was terrifying and tumultuous. It was beautiful and breathtaking. There was a lot of crying, as 18-year-old college freshmen are wont to do. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was confused. Fifteen years of Catholic school doesn’t prepare a girl to fall in love with her (female) best friend.
After a dramatic freshman spring semester, I went home in the summer of 2010 with a broken heart and the idea that in order to love another girl, I had to know for sure that I was gay. In between crying (and also during, honestly), I opened up my 15-inch MacBook pro and dove headfirst into the internet. 2017 doesn’t seem that far away from 2010, but it was a different time online. (Kristen Stewart hadn’t shaved her head yet, after all). I wanted to know if I was gay and how to do it right. I didn’t enjoy The L Word and AfterEllen.com didn’t seem to have any young people like me on staff. But I kept looking that summer. I can’t remember the exact thing I searched for, but it must have been something like “straight but in love with girl.” That led me to find Everyone is Gay.
And my life changed.
Everyone is Gay is a LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Question, Intersex, Asexual+) advice site that was started in 2010 by Kristin Russo & Dannielle Owen-Reid. They made advice videos. Their first one came out in July 2010, during my questioning summer. In between brilliantly answering called-in questions, Kristin & Dannielle would lip sync to my favorite pop songs (even with choreography sometimes). They were my gay idols: Dannielle was effortlessly cool, and made me laugh out loud during her role plays like this one about navigating PDA. Kristin was the queer big sister I never had, whose coming out story spoke to me deep into my soul and whose smile made me feel safe. I watched these videos religiously and read every question they answered on their website. Across my laptop screen, I found unconditional love and support to figure out not just if I was gay (spoiler alert: yes), but who I was.
How could some silly YouTube videos make a difference in a young queer kid’s life? Well, when I say “my life changed,” I don’t mean that I automatically knew how to be gay, or that my love life woes were over. Far from it. Since 2010, I’ve returned to Everyone is Gay again and again, not just after break-ups or fights. I’ve revisited the site for help with growing my self-esteem, dealing with body issues, seeking hope during depressive episodes and most recently with me coming out as non-binary genderfluid. Since that summer in-between freshman and sophomore year, Everyone is Gay has changed: They’ve received a multitude of accolades and Dannielle has taken a step back from the site (to work on her amazing project Radimo). But Kristin continues to lead the charge and has expanded Everyone is Gay with incredible new volunteer contributors, with off-shoots like My Kid is Gay and Our Restroom. Suffice it to say, Everyone is Gay is different today but is still as awesome as ever.
The meaning behind “Everyone is Gay” is not that everyone is literally gay (though that would fix a lot of things), but that these questions of about dating, love, family and sex are universal for everyone. Everyone.
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I met Kristin last summer for NYC Pride 2016. You can ask my partner, but I transformed into a giggling fangirl when I spotted the Everyone is Gay booth. When I got up to the front of the line, I word-vomited to Kristin: Oh my god I’m a HUGE fan I’ve been watching your videos since college you helped me come out to my family thank you for EVERYTHING. She returned the same loving, open smile I had seen in the videos, 6 years before. We hugged. I asked to take a picture with her, she asked to take a picture with me for her own keeping. It was an honor.
I know that people tell stories of how their celebrity idols disappoint them upon meeting. Kristin exceeded any expectations I had.
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On Sunday, March 19, 2017, reports came out stating that YouTube’s “Restricted Mode” was blocking LGBTQIA+ content such as queer pop group Tegan and Sara’s concert footage music videos and educational videos such as gay YouTube star Tyler Oakley’s 8 Black LGBTQ+ Trailblazers Who Inspire Me. The Restricted setting also blocked the Everyone is Gay videos I watched curled up under my twin XL sheets in my dorm room at Vassar College. Videos of two smiling women giving advice and dancing around to *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” became inaccessible to young people who get on the internet through their school or library.
At a time when 64% of students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and LGBT calls to suicide hotlines spiked after the 2016 election, YouTube’s choice to block LGBTQIA+ content is not only homophobic but damaging and violent. By restricting even G-rated LGBTQIA+ content, YouTube is sending the message that being part of the LGBTQIA+ community is wrong and inappropriate. That LGBTQIA+ families are not family-friendly. That millions of LGBTQIA+ youths’ identities are best kept behind a firewall.
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On Sunday, March 19, YouTube released this statement on Twitter:
We are so proud to represent LGBTQ+ voices on our platform – they’re a key part of what YouTube is all about. The intention of Restricted Mode is to filter out mature content for the tiny subset of users who want a more limited experience. LGBTQ+ videos are available in Restricted Mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be. We regret any confusion this has caused and are looking into your concerns. We appreciate your feedback and passion for making YouTube such an inclusive, diverse, and vibrant community.
Then, on Monday, March 20, Johanna Wright, VP of Product Services of YouTube wrote:
It will take time to fully audit our technology and roll out new changes, so please bear with us. There’s nothing more important to us than being a platform where anyone can belong, have a voice and speak out when they believe something needs to be changed. We truly appreciate your help keeping the YouTube community active and engaged on topics that matter to creators and YouTube fans alike.
It’s not enough. It’s just not enough for me. It’s not enough for any person logging on at their school or library who needed an answer, a pep talk, some inspiration or the assurance that it gets better.
The blocking of videos like the ones by Everyone is Gay is a slap in the face to me. To Kristin and Dannielle and their videos that changed my life seven years ago. At the end of the day, Everyone is Gay didn’t teach me to be gay — it gave me the tools to figure out how to be. At the end of the day, I did come out as gay and I did get the girl. But I also struggled with coming out to my family, went through heartwrenching breakups and grappled with my true gender identity. What’s happening here is much greater than my love life. Everyone is Gay was instrumental in helping me become the proud queer non-binary person I am today.
YouTube is trying to shrug this all off as just a glitch in the system. The thing is, algorithms don’t pop up out of thin air. LGBTQIA+ content doesn’t get incorrectly labeled by accident. Code is written by human people: hands-to-keyboard. This is in fact the exact reason why LGBTQIA+ video content should always be accessible — to change hearts and minds, to get to the consciousness and down into subconscious of people who will (un)thinkingly flag G-rated music videos because they feature queer artists. We must continue to fight not only for equality under the law, but representation from the big screen to our laptop screens.
What YouTube did was inexcusable. I am calling for an additional statement once the issue is fully fixed: one that owns up to YouTube’s erroneous choice to uphold cisgender and heterosexual content as inherently family-friendly and LGBTQIA+ content as harmful. Not only that, but I challenge YouTube to actively promote LGBTQIA+ content, particularly content by trans women and femmes of color, to truly live up to their alleged mission to be a “forum for people to connect, inform, and inspire others across the globe.” Until then, I will not be satisfied.
And neither will any other LGBTQIA+ young person in college, or high school (or even younger than that) sitting in a library with restricted settings, whose life deserves the chance to change, just like mine did, seven years ago.
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Angela Dumlao is a queer non-binary genderfluid first-generation Filipinx-American theatre artist and activist dedicated to affirming and uplifting marginalized folx and their intersectional identities. On the internets, Angela runs the Facebook page Call Me They, which was recently featured on Brit and Co. for their trans and gender non-conforming inclusive #ShePersisted viral memes. Their fashion blog, @menswearselfcare, features the intersection of queer fashion and radical self-care. Angela lives in Brooklyn with their partner, Caitlin. Check out more at angelacdumlao.com