You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

YouTube Stars Tyler Oakley, Joey Graceffa on Coming Out in the Digital Age

For decades, Hollywood conventional wisdom dictated that if a big-name celeb were gay or lesbian, the fact should be kept hush-hush.

The thinking: If an actor came out, it would potentially annihilate his or her chances of landing hetero roles. It’s a mind-set that continues to this day, especially insofar as top movie stars are concerned.

But for an emerging group of digital-native stars, coming out is not only accepted — it’s a boon in connecting with fans. “On YouTube, if anything, coming out as gay or bi or trans explodes someone’s popularity,” says Tyler Oakley, who has 7 million followers on the video service.

Whereas traditional actors are playing characters, many popular digital creators often portray themselves and their personal lives. “To me, what’s really an important difference between traditional entertainment and digital — on YouTube specifically — is that people thrive when they’re authentic about themselves,” says Oakley, who is gay. Fans of YouTube celebrities see them as friends, he notes, “and you don’t want to be a friend with someone who is not being honest about themselves.”

YouTube stars who have come out via videos on the site include Connor Franta, Joey Graceffa, Hannah Hart and Lucas Cruikshank (aka “Fred”), whose 2013 clip announcing he is gay remains his channel’s most-watched video to date (with 4.6 million views). English Olympic diver Tom Daley chose to come out as gay via YouTube in December 2013, and the video was one of the top 10 in the U.K. last year.

Franta says his YouTube channel has become like a diary. “I share pretty much everything with my audience,” he says. “And after truly coming to terms with my sexuality in 2014, I felt that it was no different than any other piece of my life.”

The phenomenon also is driven by shifting generational attitudes. Millennials and younger viewers are the biggest consumers of Internet video, and they’re also more inclined than their elders to accept LGBT orientation as being as normal as, say, being left-handed. In 2015, 73% of millennials (born after 1981) said they support gay marriage, vs. 59% of Gen-Xers and 45% of Baby Boomers, according to a Pew Research study.

Meanwhile, many gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people posting videos online are simply seeking an outlet for self-expression and to participate in a community — rather than trying to make a living from those efforts. “A lot of people in this space are not necessarily monetizing the content,” says Raymond Braun, who leads LGBT outreach efforts for YouTube. “Just by sharing their own stories about coming out, YouTube creators are serving as a beacon of hope for other LGBT kids out there.”

Braun cites #ItGetsBetter, a 2010 YouTube video by gay activist-writer Dan Savage reassuring gay teens who were being bullied or harassed that things will improve. It soon became a widespread meme. “This one video got feedback from everyone from Lady Gaga to President Obama,” Braun says.

Still, YouTubers face trepidation in announcing details of their sexual orientation to the entire world. Notes Graceffa: “The Internet is full of trolls and haters.”

Graceffa, a 24-year-old vlogger, has racked up more than 600 million views for his comedy sketches and musicvideos on YouTube since joining in 2009. But it was only in May that he announced he was gay (which he also discusses in his recently released book, “In Real Life”). Graceffa says he had been pondering exactly how and when to come out for the past two years.

Ultimately, he was gratified by the reaction of the digital masses: “I think YouTube is a great place to come out; there are so many people who are accepting of who you are.”

At the same time, says Canadian-born fashion vlogger Gigi Gorgeous, “You’re still coming out to a bunch of strangers.” Her December 2013 video, “I Am Transgender,” has more than 2.6 million views. “A lot of (the feedback) was congratulatory, but there was also some of ‘Are you sure?’ ” she says. “People can be judgmental.”

The culture at large, since then, has shifted in notable ways. This past April, Gorgeous posted a near-live reaction video to Diane Sawyer’s interview with Caitlyn Jenner (then known as Bruce). The reaction video has been watched more than 2.1 million times. Says Braun, “You see this interesting dialogue happening between TV and YouTube.”

Oakley has never produced a coming-out video — for one thing, when he came out at 14, YouTube didn’t even exist. But he wishes he could have tapped into social-media and online-video services at the time. “The digital age,” he says, “makes you feel like less of a freak.”

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Blockchain Mania

    AFM: Panel to Launch Blockchain Working Group for the Film Industry

    A group of film executives and tech industry entrepreneurs are to establish a working group seeking to plan how blockchain technology should be applied to the creative industries. The call will be made at the American Film Market on Tuesday in Santa Monica by Manuel Badel from Badel Media and Patrice Poujol from The Lumiere [...]

  • Magic Leap Raising Another Funding Round

    Magic Leap Is Raising Another Big Funding Round

    Augmented reality startup Magic Leap is raising even more money. The company is currently in the process of raising its Series E round of funding, a spokesperson told Variety on Monday. Magic Leap previously raised around $2.6 billion, including $280 million from NTT Docomo in April. “Magic Leap is in the midst of a significant [...]

  • hearst logo

    Hearst Magazines Unionizes With Writers Guild of America East

    The Writers Guild of America East has scored a major victory by unionizing Hearst Magazines’ editorial, video, design, photo and social staff across 24 digital and print brands. The New York-based WGA East, which has about 6,000 members in film, television, news and digital media, announced on Monday that a strong majority of the 500-member [...]

  • Apple AR Headset Coming in 2022:

    Apple Said to Prep AR Headset for 2022

    Apple’s augmented reality (AR) headset won’t be arriving on store shelves until at least 2022, according to a new The Information report. The iPhone maker reportedly updated a large number of employees about the project last month, filling the spacious Steve Jobs Theater on its Cupertino, Calif. campus with employees working on AR hardware. Apple [...]

  • Variety Launches New Video Series, 'Daily

    Variety Launches New Video Series, 'Daily Variety'

    Variety has launched a daily video series covering the business of entertainment. Hosted by Audrey Cleo Yap and executive produced by Eva Wong, “Daily Variety” will feature breaking news coverage and analysis from Variety’s award-winning staff as well as in-depth features and interviews with top industry professionals. Each bite-sized segment and featured clip will be [...]

  • Pluto: Vevo Stations Launching on Ad-Supported

    Channeling MTV, Vevo Launches Linear Programming on Pluto

    Music television is back: Major label-owned music video platform Vevo is launching a series of linear channels for leanback viewing on Pluto TV, the ad-supported video service that got acquired by Viacom earlier this year. A first channel, dubbed Vevo Pop, will launch on November 12; additional channels, including a holiday-themed station, are expected to [...]

  • Instagram tests hiding likes

    Instagram Will Begin Hiding Likes in the U.S.: Smart Move or Misguided Fail?

    Instagram is about to launch a test of removing like counts from posts in the U.S. — and, predictably, the idea has been met with a range of reactions ranging from praise and support to concern and mockery. The hope is that the change can reduce anxiety among Instagram users, to make social media less [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content