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It’s one-stop shopping for cute cat videos, concerts and cooking tutorials. But YouTube, the site that boasts a billion users, has also become the go-to place for coming out.
“Once I pressed upload and once the first few comments started to roll in of people being like, ‘This is exactly how I feel,’ that’s when it hit me. This was like, ‘Oh, I’m actually affecting a lot of people’s lives.’”
Variety magazine’s New York digital editor Todd Spangler believes the authenticity is helping young online celebrities connect with viewers.
“Now with these digital stars who are very popular with younger audiences, being gay is a part of their personality and part of their appeal to their fans,” said Spangler.
Shane Dawson says childhood bullying following his parents’ divorce made him feel like he had no place to turn. He watched movies to escape, and eventually began producing his own videos.
“I talk about things I’ve been through: weight loss, abuse and a lot of things these kids watching don’t really have anybody to talk [with] about. So I think it’s just connecting with somebody that they trust.”
The digital celebrities may be taking a page from the “It Gets Better Project,” which was started in 2010 by writer and activist Dan Savage to help LGBT youths by sharing online stories about bullying.
Anastasia Khoo, chief marketing officer for The Human Rights Campaign, says the coming-out trend among YouTube stars is helping but there is still a long way to go.
“While we’re seeing these great societal shifts, the day-to-day realities for LGBT youth in terms of cyberbullying, in terms of bullying, in terms of being kicked out of your home are really, really intense.”
Shane Dawson says the response to his video has given him hope that things are heading in the right direction.
“The amount of teenagers that just in the last month since the video went up, that I see on the street who come up to me and say, ‘You know, that video gave me courage to come out to my parents, and I showed them your video and they understand and they got it.’ You know, I think it’s changed everything.”