The Human Rights Campaign reports 4 in 10 or 42% of LGBTQ youth say the community they live in isn’t accepting of LGBTQ people.
This statistic can be disheartening for those who consider themselves part of the LGBTQ community and look for role models to connect with.
Trevor Ramsey, a graduate student at the University of Georgia from Yukon, Oklahoma, said there’s not anyone he personally knows to look up to as an LGBTQ role model. For Ramsey, his queer-identifying icons are found on YouTube.
“Most of the people I can look up to then are people online, which is kind of weird, but that’s this day and age,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey cited one YouTuber, comedian Miles Jai, who inspires him. Jai explores a wide range of topics on his YouTube channel, from his “Weave Weviews” to makeup hauls and reviews.
“He definitely presents nonconforming in terms of gender presentation,” Ramsey said. “I look up to him — he’s not super big or super well known — but over the years he’s accepted the way he presents gender and I really think that it shows a lot of strength.”
Ramsey said Jai and his channel pushed him to present himself in a way not stereotypically masculine but something comfortable for him.
“If someone else can lead the way, it’s much easier to say, ‘Yeah I can do that too,’” Ramsey said. “I can paint my nails, I can do whatever I want, even though it’s a different environment. I can take that as inspiration.”
Joshua Swanson, a senior advertising major at UGA from Atlanta, also mentioned YouTubers as significant LGBTQ role models.
“They help a community of people who are figuring out who they are,” Swanson said. “I definitely do think more people are sharing their stories.”
Change through activism
Kai Avery, a metro Atlanta native and board member of Athens PRIDE, said one of their LGBTQ role models is Jennicet Gutiérrez. Gutiérrez is an activist for transgender and immigrant rights and was identified by The Washington Post as a “transgender Obama heckler” in 2015.
While President Barack Obama was giving a speech for Pride Month, Gutiérrez shouted, “I’m a trans woman!” and “No more deportation!” before Obama cut her off and had Gutiérrez removed from the room.
“She basically was trying to open up the conversation about needing more resources, talking about people who disappear or are detained,” Avery said. “So even though she’s done all this amazing work, one of her biggest things I’ve known about her is as a heckler to Obama. So it was kind of interesting to see the different sides of that situation and what that means.”
Restructuring the ‘stereotypical American model’
There are more outspoken LGBTQ icons than in the past for a handful of reasons, Avery said.
Avery said they think the issues the LGBTQ community has faced in the past had “a lot more on the line” due to individuals’ safety, such as during the AIDS crisis, and everything was under more political stress.
“I definitely think that we exist in a time period where people feel more comfortable, maybe openly identifying with … LGBT identities,” Avery said. “I think that on some level, just purely how people are able to be more out in public, we have more icons."
Ramsey said for LGBTQ youth growing up today, there are more people striving to break out of the “stereotypical American model,” due in part to the internet and social progression through the media.
“If you’re some boy growing up and it’s like, ‘I don’t really fit into this binary’ or someone who’s trans, you have a lot more opportunity to come into contact with those people, whether its passively through watching YouTube videos or television or if it’s more active like message boards and Facebook,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey said he thinks older generations didn’t have as many queer-identifying icons, but rather a few gay icons who might not necessarily identify themselves within the LGBTQ community.
“If we look at like Elton John or Boy George, they aren’t necessarily as vocal when they were in their early career that they were LGBT,” Ramsey said. “Nowadays, people … are much more forthcoming. They seem to present that a lot quicker and a lot earlier in their career, which lets younger people look up to them easier.”
Swanson also said because more people today seem to be more open about their sexuality, people have more LGBTQ role models to look up to and idolize.
“When we were growing up, it was kind of like a character that people were playing on TV,” Swanson said. “Always sassy and just really outspoken and stereotypical. But I definitely think there are people nowadays to idolize.”
For those who want to learn more about LGBTQ history, Athens PRIDE will partner with Ciné for a film screening of “From Selma to Stonewall: Are We There Yet?” followed by a Skype discussion with director and co-executive producer Marilyn Bennett on June 15 at 3 p.m.