Hannah Hart, Tyler Oakley and More LGBTQ Digital Stars on Queer Role Models and Online Bullies

7:30 AM 8/8/2019

by Kirsten Chuba

Ahead of Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter's Pride Summit on Thursday, Anna Akana, Joey Graceffa, Alyson Stoner and Eugene Lee Young also reflect on how the internet shaped their careers.

Getty Images(5); Michael Becker

The bullying of LGBTQ public figures on YouTube has been a heated topic among digital-savvy media observers in recent months after Vox journalist Carlos Maza's decision to speak out about the harassment he's been subjected to on the Google-owned platform.

While many online personalities agree that outlets like YouTube and Twitter could do more to find solutions to internet bullying, they also acknowledge that those platforms have provided much-needed visibility to LGBTQ stars and stories in a way that traditional film and TV have not. For many, YouTube was a space to come out publicly and connect with the queer community. "The internet's open platform, where everyone has a voice, is a great equalizer," says Try Guys member Eugene Lee Yang.

Ahead of Billboard and THR's inaugural Pride Summit on Aug. 8, which will feature a panel of LGBTQ digital stars (Hannah Hart, Joey Graceffa and Yang, among others), THR spoke to those who make their mark (and money) in the digital space about opportunities in Hollywood, the challenge of cyberbullying and their queer icons.

  • What's one action that platforms can take to be better at protecting queer creators from harassment and bullying online?

    Joey Graceffa 

    "You can't have light without the dark, and that's an unfortunate truth. So there will never be a world where there is never going to be hate on the internet. However, there are better ways platforms can fight against harassment and bullying online, especially against queer folks and people of color in our communities. Algorithmically, platforms need to stop rewarding those who are creating videos, posting pictures or making comments that incite hate or, even worse, who create armies to attack or harass certain people. This type of hateful behavior should be punished, not rewarded."

    Tyler Oakley

    "Deplatform people who use the service in bad faith. It's not difficult or complicated."

    Eugene Lee Yang

    "Let's get one thing perfectly clear: The brunt of abuse and endangerment that's shouldered in a complicated debate regarding free speech on the internet is taken on by LGBTQ+ creators and people of color. It's hard to argue with platforms upholding decisions to remain neutral, which contains a certain amount of ethical logic to it, but it offers no protection or solace for those who become targets of harassment. If you're not going to remove hate speech, at the very least, publicly recognize that if it walks like a dog, barks like a dog and looks like a dog — it might want to legitimately hurt queer people."

    Hannah Hart

    "I would say admit that it's a problem. Own up to it and admit that it's a problem and start working toward solutions. It's kind of like anything, the first step is acceptance."

  • Describe an opportunity you've had as a digital-first creator that you might not have had in traditional Hollywood.

    Alyson Stoner

    "My Missy Elliott tribute went viral with 19 million views and landed me the opportunity to perform at Madison Square Garden for Google's Brandcast. I was able to freely represent and spread a message I deeply believed in, versus playing a puppet to the many agendas from suits."

    Joey Graceffa

    "I'm not a very patient person. When I want something done, I want it done now, so living in the digital space has really allowed me to bring my visions to life rather quickly. I wanted to create a web series in 2013, so I created a Kickstarter and raised $150,000, and created my first show called Storytellers two months later."

    Hannah Hart

    "Being an online content creator is like running a mini production company, and that experience allowed me to have total creative control over my online brand. Plus, I got to meet President Obama."

    Anna Akana

    "I've been able to be a lead in several shows, turn down problematic roles and speak up about issues that are important to me."

    Tyler Oakley

    "Being able to write a book, go on a worldwide tour, start a podcast, compete on the Amazing Race, visit the White House and have meetings with the Obamas — all because of YouTube."

  • Who is a queer person working in Hollywood or digital whose work you admire the most?

    Eugene Lee Yang

    "The entire cast and crew of Pose is more revolutionary than we can currently comprehend or appreciate."

    Anna Akana

    "Ellen Page. She's got such a nuanced way of acting. I find her so captivating onscreen."

    Tyler Oakley

    "Joel Kim Booster. He's a hilarious gay comedian who always makes me laugh on Twitter, without fail."

    Joey Graceffa

    "Ryan Murphy has been an inspiration of mine for many years. I would love to follow on his career path."

    Hannah Hart

    "Todrick Hall. He's like the quadruple threat — he can create and produce and explore and make his art and be his 100 percent authentic self." 

  • How did the internet shape your coming-out journey?

    Alyson Stoner

    "For the first time, I saw videos of people sharing stories that reflected my inner experience — though I deleted my search history, just in case — while also revealing deeply internalized fears, questions and homophobia. When I was ready, I penned an essay about my journey and because of the internet, it spread virally around the world."

    Tyler Oakley

    "One of the first places I ever came out was on MySpace — it felt like an escape from reality where I could be my true self, share my deepest secrets and connect with others who had a similar experience. The internet made me feel less alone, even back then, and it's only gotten better."

    Joey Graceffa

    "It was a mixture of both negative and positive. The negative was that the internet felt the need to label me as gay before I was ready to accept that about myself. I've been posting videos since I was 15, and from my first video on I received comments asking if I was gay or stating that I was. It wasn't until I was 20 that I came out to myself. The positive response I got back from the internet is something I will forever cherish."

    Hannah Hart

    "I came out online as part of my entertainment journey, wanting to make sure as I started my career that everyone knew who I was and it wasn't something I was trying to keep hidden, and it also wasn't the entirety of my identity." 

  • Pride Panels Packed With Talent

    The Billboard and THR Pride Summit is an all-day event bringing top creators and stars from film, TV and music.

    THEY/THEM WRITE THE SONGS

    How do you write a hit song? Teddy Geiger, Shane McAnally, Victoria Monet and Justin Tranter will reveal their tools and tricks for creating some of today's most memorable tracks.

    QUEER HEADLINERS 2019

    Some of music's biggest names, from Tegan and Sara to iLoveMakonnen and Hayley Kiyoko will discuss their paths to success and how they've navigated the pressures of the spotlight.

    POSE

    Co-creator Steven Canals; stars Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar and Dyllón Burnside; and director-producer-writer Janet Mock will have a sit-down about the barrier-breaking FX series.

    This story first appeared in the Aug. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.