For me, YouTube seems at first glance an unlikely platform for strong independent media. After all, it is owned by Google — an American corporate giant with a shady free speech past, as we’ve discussed in class. But we’ve also talked about how the platform has given all kinds of regular people the ear of the world. Non-celebrities are even making a living off YouTube — and becoming celebrities along the way.
The value of those voices being heard comes down to who those voices belong to and why they aren’t voices we hear on mainstream media. Like we talked about in class, some YouTube stars have tried to shift over into corporate media and have failed (for example, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks). A lot of YouTube stars thrive on YouTube explicitly because their content is not something the mainstream media has embraced. YouTube offers communities that are traditionally underserved and under-represented in the MSM to have their own outlet — a main tenet for many indy media outlets throughout history.
Perhaps the strongest example of how YouTube has served an under-represented community (and has strengthened that community through its service) is the LGBTQ+ community on YouTube. LGBTQ+ issues are not typically covered in the MSM (and when they are, not always favorably) and LBGTQ+ people are not typically represented as media makers. For years the MSM have made this community feel invisible. YouTube, as a crowd-sourced and community-run platform, has given the LGBTQ+ community visibility and a platform for education.
Someone very close to me frequently reminds me of the power of the quote, “You can’t be what you don’t see.” This person never saw positive representations of queer people in mainstream media and so, a young person, she felt her identity was invalid. But after she discovered the online queer community, she began to see (and talk to and listen to and learn from) so many people like herself. The internet, she tells me, is a place where she could finally feel safe being who she is because she finally saw so many other people who were like her — all the people the MSM left out of the picture when she was a kid. This, to me, is the immense and important power of independent media.
YouTube has given a platform for many stars who increase the visibility of gay people in the United States and many stars who offer education about LGBTQ+ perspectives and experiences. Plus they interact with their audience, a key factor for successful independent media makers now-a-days. I’m grateful for the work they do. Watching these YouTubers’ channels has been a way for me to educate myself and become a better ally.
Here are some amazing YouTubers you should check out:
Living Rosa is the vlog of wives Tara and Mandi Rosa. Their YouTube description elaborates, “This channel is a way for us to document our life together as wives as we embark on our journey to start a family. With hopes of one day being able to look back and reflect on how far we have come, how hard we worked and how much we wanted to start a family. It is also a way for us to share our stories with the lgbt community and maybe meet some friends along the way.” Get ready to cry for happiness when they tell their family they are pregnant, and to absolutely melt when you see this picture of their OH SO CUTE baby girl (born this week!).
Ashley Mardell is a YouTuber who often brings other YouTubers “together” to talk about identity — I put “together” in quotation marks because she uses the technological platform to span time zones and create an online community without physically being in the same place as the people she speaks with — very YouTube of her! Examples of her educational videos are “YouTubers come out to parents” and “The ABC’s of LGBT.” She also raises visibility with videos about her personal life such as “My Depression” and “WE’RE ENGAGED!” Her channel has had 8.5 million views!
Everyone is Gay is the YouTube channel of Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid — the author’s of This is a Book For Parents of Gay Kids. Their organization’s website states their mission as “providing honest advice to these youth while keeping them laughing; talking to students across the country in an effort to create caring, compassionate school environments; and working with parents of LGBTQ kids to help foster an ongoing dialogue and deeper understanding.” The YouTube channel is one component of their organization and is home to silly yet serious videos where they answer phoned-in questions. Russo is now the host / co-producer of PBS Digital Studio’s First Person, where she interviews people from the queer community.
Skyler Kergil is a transgender activist, writer and musician who documented his transition from female to male on YouTube, throughout his teens and early twenties. He highlights the physical and emotion journey he’s on, while bringing family and friends on to speak with him from time to time. Also check out his website here. He’s appeared on Russo’s and Mardel’s shows as well! (A great example of how YouTube has connected people and created a community.)
As I write this list, I am also thinking about the fact that all of the YouTubers I’ve mentioned so far are white and the inclusion of diverse voices is important. Kat Blaque is an African American transgender woman who is an opinion vlogger, children’s illustrator and feminist activist. She posts feminist and racial commentary on her YouTube channel, and she also does “True Tea” sessions where she provides advice to people who have written in.
OliviaHas2Moms is the channel of interracial moms raising a little girl named Olivia. Ebony and Denise share weekly vlogs about raising their daughter. The videos span from vacation vlogs to love notes to Olivia to parenting tips, such as “Toddler Natural Hair Routine” and “Potty Training Tips.” A good quote to end this list on? In an interview with “The Next Family,” Denise talked about the impact of their channel. She said:
A lot of people did not expect that two moms or being LGBT that there’s a future with it or that you can even have a family. We get those comments like, “Oh, my God. I admire you guys because I didn’t think that this was possible.” To be able to showcase that, it’s awesome. There’s not a lot of two mom or two dad representative on the internet.