The importance of new media in giving LGBTQ women a voice

I grew up watching television. Coming from a working class family of five, television was that moment to breathe during a constantly busy schedule. It was the medium I turned to when I needed an image of my hope – the hope that one day there could be a space for LGBTQ people to love, to live, and to laugh . During those times in which I could not love myself for being queer, television brought LGBTQ characters I could embrace.

From The L Word's Carmen de la Pica Morales to Pretty Little Liars' Paige McCullers, I clung to the varied queer female characters I could learn and live through. Each held a story that mirrored my experience, planting seeds of acceptance in society before I held the capacity to share my own story. Eventually, there came a time when television was introducing queer female characters into shows both my family and I watched. I teared up when my mom called me, expressing her support with just a few sentences: “Hey, love. The Fosters has two gay moms! Just so you know.” I cannot deny that the medium itself, along with occasional two-hour conversations with my parents, has indeed paved the way for my LGBTQ acceptance as a whole. I am living during a time in which I can turn on the television, knowing that in some capacity, there will be an image of LGBTQ women.

But, that’s not enough. While television has continued to increase its quantity of LGBTQ female characters, the landscape’s lack of extensive representation has fallen short as a platform for the voices of diverse LGBTQ women.

And then came the rise of social media.

In allowing anyone and everyone accessibility to content creation, social media has supplied an opportunity for underrepresented people to produce more wide-ranging LGBTQ content and for others to see that such content could thrive at the forefront of entertainment. As a platform coming into the hands of a queer Latina tomboy who felt invisible on or misrepresented by television, YouTube, in particular, changed everything. For the first time since the day I had begun looking at a screen, a medium was providing queer women, of different backgrounds, a space to be the spokespeople of their own experiences. It brought Hartbeat, a lesbian comedian YouTuber who touched on all topics ranging from relationships to gender expression. Today, within one four-minute video, this YouTuber provides me with laughs and content I can relate to. And it is not just one channel. It is Arielle Scarcella, a lesbian who tackles all things LGBTQ and brings other queer YouTubers together. It is androgynous fashion blogger Ari Fitz, LA-based musician Ally Hills, and Latina film student adventurer Chiara Kruger.

YouTube has given immense power to the reality that queer women can carry their own voice. More generally, social media as a whole has enabled the LGBTQ community to share who they are in the context of what they feel defines them - whether it be music, humor, fashion, or relationships. Seeing someone like Hannah Hart rise up as a famous LGBT figure establishes a difference that sets YouTube apart from television. It is a difference that goes beyond simply providing representation, it supplies a medium that encourages LGBTQ people to embrace their own identity.

In a world that is still making strides towards acceptance, YouTube's international popularity not only makes hope accessible for LGTBQ people, but also supplies a framework for studios to consider, particularly overseas where domestic films and series have such power and reach. This is clearly needed, as GLAAD’s most recent Studio Responsibility Index (SRI) cites only 22 major studio releases (out of 126) containing LGBTQ characters, with 16 of those films including less than ten minutes of screen time for LGBTQ characters. The SRI's findings reveal the industry’s reluctance to represent the LGBT community in its content. Despite this revelation, the success of queer YouTubers demonstrates that LGBTQ people can be at the center of entertainment and garner a passionate community of followers who are interested in their stories. Studios and networks should learn from this example that there is an audience for LGBTQ-centered stories.

Today, it is comforting to know that with just a click of a button, I can see people I look up to embracing their identities, not only for themselves but for the community their content reflects. With every new channel, there is the potential for a nuanced LGBTQ story, the potential for that story to reach the people who need it most, and the potential to expand the LGBTQ community's voice as a whole. Of course, there is always room for improvement. Even today, I still find myself searching the ends of the earth for the Latina, Filipina, and genderqueer creators, and all those still looking for an established space. Even so, I am not worried because where there was once only traditional media providing a space for stories, there is now YouTube and other digital platforms giving people the means to carve out their own.