what-its-like-being-lgbt-youtube

Saturday, August 3, 2013 was the second official day of VidCon, and out of the vast number of amazing panels, one stood out for me above the rest. Four rooms of the Anaheim Convention Center combined together to set the massive stage for  “Being LGBT on YouTube”.

Jet and Star (aka The Wing Girls) played the roles of moderator to a panel comprised of Hannah Hart of My Drunk Kitchen, Jenna Anne of Lesbian Answers, Tyler Oakley, Davey Wavey, and Meg Turney of SourceFed. Between the huge personalities of those on stage and the bodies filling every seat, the quadruple room was nearly at capacity. But despite the size of it, the panel truly felt like an intimate open conversation about the community and the issues. It was abundantly clear that every person in the audience cared immensely about being there.

Aside from the vast number of people listening, the panel had one other difference from similar LGBT-oriented panels in the past: a sense of lightheartedness. After the conversation concluded, panelist Jenna Anne commented, “I was surprised by how comedic it was. LGBTQ topics tend to ride on the serious side, understandably so—there’s a lot of injustice which creates a passionate environment, but the individuals on the panel made it not only an inspirational experience but also a lighthearted, enjoyable one. It was amazing to look at so many faces and feel such a sense of community.”

That sense of community was embodied by the bantering of the panelists and the laughter of everyone in the room. This room was a completely safe space, and everyone felt the positive energy.

In the midst of the cheerfulness, serious matters still dominated the conversation. Each panelist talked about their coming out story, and who they looked up to most in those early days of coming to terms with themselves and their sexuality. The panel tackled what it’s like for each panelist to be a role model to their viewers, what an amazing experience that can be, and what sort of pressure comes with the added responsibility. One audience member pointed out the fact that every member of the panel was cisgender and white, and everyone agreed that that makeup needed to change in the future.

Even when the panel was tackling the serious issues, the air was still different from the LGBT panel of VidCon in year’s past. The strength and joy in the room seemed to act as a testament to how far this society has come in the last year. Per the mantra of Dan Savage’s outreach campaign to troubled LGBT youth, it’s gotten better. DOMA has been overturned and more states continue to legalize marriage equality as time goes by. When this came up in conversation, Davey Wavey pointed out that it wasn’t so long ago when it was considered wrong to be gay, but that nowadays if someone possesses that vantage point he or she “is on the wrong side of history.”

YouTuber Steph (aka ElloSteph) was in the audience during the discussions and had her own thoughts on the topic. “All I know is that the only direction our generation can go is forward,” she said, and then added a comparison to the Civil Rights Movement. “In 10 years the LGBTQ+ movement will seem like lightyears ago. Mississippi ratified the 19th amendment in 1984, which looking back seems so long ago. I guess what I’m trying to say it goes back to the whole, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ At the end of the day this community is gaining its rights, so if someone still believes being gay is wrong, they will be stuck in the past with those who said black and whites should be separate.”

Each panelist seemed to have an endless amount of insightful things to say, but what left the most lasting impression was, again, the love in the room. One of the most amazing parts of YouTube and the online video industry at large is that there exists programming for all types of audiences, from those who love big budget, geeky high school hi-jinx to board game aficionados to nervous, oftentimes scared individuals in need of some positive exposure to someone who shares their life experiences.

The first time an audience member spoke during the panel, it wasn’t to ask a question but was instead to offer a sincere thank you. A young girl spoke to Tyler and Hannah, thanking them for being people that she could look up to during her own process of coming out and as she reached a point of self-acceptance.

For Jenna Anne, this panel served as an important reminder and one that we should all take to heart. “It reminded me that views on my videos are not just numbers; they are individuals seeking entertainment and refuge,” she said. “It’s easy to get lost in the vastness of the internet. Hearing the questions from the audience as opposed to reading them in my comments reinforced the idea that YouTube is truly the home to a very real and extensive community.”

VidCon photos by Sadie Hillier.

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