YouTube Restricts LGBTQ+ Content to “Protect Children” and Pisses Me the F*ck Off

Yesterday, in a flurry of emails and texts, I learned that YouTube’s Restricted Mode was specifically blocking LGBTQ+ themed videos. After initial public outcry across social media, YouTube issued a short statement on Twitter, maintaining that LGBTQ+ voices were a “key part of what YouTube was all about.” They went on to say that “the intention of Restricted Mode is to filter out mature content for the tiny subset of users who want a more limited experience. LGBTQ+ videos are available in Restricted Mode, but those that discuss more sensitive issues may not be.”

Having spent the better part of the past decade creating LGBTQ+ themed video content on YouTube, I immediately set my preferences to Restricted Mode to see what of that content was deemed too “sensitive.” Ten out of the twenty episodes of First Person, a series I worked on with PBS Digital in 2015, were blocked in Restricted Mode, and without any obvious connection to what might fall under the “too mature” umbrella and what would not: our episode on Sexuality & Comics and Non-Binary Identities remained available, while our episodes on Sexuality & Religion and Growing Up Intersex were restricted. Next, I looked to Everyone Is Gay’s channel and found that 151 out of the 216 advice videos I helped create over the span of six years — answering questions submitted by young people — had been blocked, and our entire channel was no longer listed in the search for “Everyone Is Gay.” Countless other LGBTQ+ YouTubers reported seeing similar things on their own channels, and even queer musicians like Tegan & Sara were having their content blocked in Restricted Mode.

“Everyone is gay” search not in Restricted Mode.

“Everyone is gay” search in Restricted Mode.

Apart from the brief statement issued yesterday, YouTube has not been especially forthcoming. From the page advertising Restricted Mode, we know that its purpose is to allow children and families to avoid seeing “potentially objectionable content,” and that it flags restricted videos using “community flagging, age-restrictions, and other signals to identify and filter out potentially inappropriate content.”

Words like “inappropriate,” “mature,” and “sensitivity” send a particular message when associated with LGBTQ identities — and these are often words that we hear thrown around by right-wing politicians and conservative religious leaders who seek to censor, limit, or otherwise oppress queer and trans people. The overt sexualization of bodies that are not both cis and hetero is precisely how battles are waged against our rights, the reasoning being that such censorship and inequality is necessary to “protect the children.” Countless young LGBTQ people have been taught, through hearing exactly these kinds of messages, that who they are is something that, by its name alone, is shameful, perverse, and inappropriate. This hypocritical idea of protecting children by making those same children feel shameful about themselves is not a new one by any means, but that a user-run platform such as YouTube — one that has fostered connections between communities that have never before been available — is especially dangerous.

I came out as bisexual in the mid-nineties; my first understandings of my sexuality occurred, shockingly, before I knew what the internet was… or, perhaps more accurately, before the internet knew what the internet was. I did theater in high school, which meant that I had a few friends who would totally make out with boys or girls,and once a year, right before the school musical, the entire cast and crew of the show would gather in someone’s family’s basement to take The Purity Test. (The Purity Test, in case you’ve never experienced the ritual, is a 500-question test where, based on your responses, you find out how “pure” you are. To the test’s credit, you lose the same amount of pure points for “roamin’ hands and fingers with a member of the opposite sex,” as you do for “shoplifting,” or for “using a live animal for anal play.”) What I am getting at is that my very first working knowledge of what it meant to be a gay person in the world was gleaned through talking with some teenage-hippie-sexually-fluid-friends and hearing the “same-sex attractions” section of The Purity Test read aloud to a room full of my giggling peers. And that, in 1995, was way more than most.

Getting in Bed with Kristin playlist not in Restricted Mode.

Getting in Bed with Kristin playlist in Restricted Mode.

Fifteen years later, in 2010, my work with Everyone Is Gay had just begun, and in July of that year we posted our very first YouTube advice video. Talking to my computer’s built-in camera was a bizarrely weird feeling then, and YouTube was so new that it wasn’t really possible to imagine or understand who would be on the other end watching (would anyone??). When people from across the country, and then the world, started calling in their questions for advice and commenting on our video threads, I was overwhelmed with the idea of my own 15-year-old self, and what it would have been like if she’d been able to see — actually see! — people in the world who were living as out, functioning gay members of society.

The following year, when we began to visit high school and college campuses, the impact of our reach hit me even harder. By the dozen, young people would come up to us and share their stories. A high school student in Santa Monica came up to us saying, “Your videos were the only thing I had that let me know I wasn’t wrong.”

“I am only here today — I am only alive — because I found your videos,” explained a 15-year-old girl who’d walked from her house to meet us at Brooklyn Pride.

“I found your videos, I watched them all, and then I immediately came out to my family,” shared a first-year university student in the UK.

These stories find me now at each and every event I attend, now also mixing in with stories from parents and educators who use my First Person videos to better inform themselves and others, and GSAs who use the Everyone Is Gay library as a gathering activity for their groups.

I am not a researcher, and I am not a scientist, but I have spoken to hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ young people over the past decade, and there are a few threads of those experiences that run deep. Seeing representations of LGBTQ+ people in the world, diverse, complete, and honest representations, saves lives. Getting those representations accurately portrayed in mass media is a long and uphill battle (and one worthy of fighting), but creating our own content on platforms like YouTube serves as an incredible intermediary tool to let young people, especially, know that they are valid, and that their lives matter. Young trans kids have been able to connect with YouTubers who have documented their transitions, and are able to get education and resources that are, quite literally, not available anywhere else. Young queer kids who are questioning their identity have turned to YouTube since its creation to share their own struggles and to find others who can help to let them know that questioning is normal, that being queer is wonderful, and that there are hundreds of thousands of us out here who not only understand but who will have their backs every step of the way.

The message that is now being sent by YouTube’s decision to specifically flag LGBTQ+ content, and to limit access to some of the only accurate, positive, and truthful depictions of LGBTQ+ experience that exist, is not only offensive — it threatens the very existence and lives of young LGBTQ+ kids who, more than ever before, are being told by the world around them that they do not deserve the same protections, respect, or rights as their cisgender and heterosexual peers.


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Kristin is the co-director of A-Camp, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Everyone Is Gay & My Kid Is Gay, author of This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, and co-host of Buffering the Vampire Slayer, a podcast about (you guessed it!) Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Kristin has written 20 articles for us.

56 Comments

  1. 26

    This has me mad as hell. I’m someone who, without the internet (and YouTube specifically,) would absolutely not be the person I am today (or maybe even be here at all,) without content from creators like Everyone is Gay (to name one of many.) I grew up in a rural town, I didn’t know any other queer people (who were out). I wasn’t seeing them on TV, my parents were changing the channel faster than you could say “bigot!” when any LGBT content, by some miracle, came up on a program we watched. My conservative town certainly wasn’t keeping any books in the library that would have helped me – if I’d had the nerve to even check them out. Having (full, unrestricted,) access to LGBT content quite literally saved my life and it absolutely kills me that said content is being kept from young people who will continue to so desperately need it, especially in this political climate. It kills me that kids are seeing themselves portrayed as “inappropriate,’ and unsuitable for families. It still, on a smaller level, hurts me to be thought of that way, even if I know that isn’t true.

    Basically, thank you for your work and I am ready to fight like hell so that the kid stuck in a rural conservative town, scared and confused, will always have access to that work and others. I’m mad as hell that, with everything else going on, we even have to worry about this.

  2. 17

    Completely outraged on your behalf, and on behalf of everyone else who was unnecessarily censored, and on behalf of all the queer kids out there who are now going to be blocked from seeing some awesome and helpful stuff. Hopefully YouTube gets their shit together soon and fixes this.

  3. 16

    I watched Hannah Hart’s coming out videos every week or so for a couple months in college. It helped me to see a queer person, even though I knew many queer people, talking about her lived experience in a way I could not yet talk about my own. Queer youtubers are saving lives every day (and making YouTube a lot of money, damn it). Luckily the community is strong enough that they will support these creators when they put up a fight.

  4. 13

    This is so shitty, so this article is so important! What can we do, apart from angrily tweeting, to help change things? I just feel a bit helpless in terms of actually doing things to make things change.

    Also hi, it me! I am a tweet on Autostraddle! Day made – thanks Kristin 😀

  5. 7

    Its a damn scape goat! “Like oh dear it mentions sexuality in the title, the first three letters spell sex!” Restrict

    Right wheres the pertition and how do we run a youtube community led campaign to get this changed!

    Knowing your not alone is the one most profound feeling ever

  6. 10

    My blood is still just boiling. EIGs videos encompass everything I’ve needed as I figured out my identity without a support network: hope, laughter, a sense of who I am as normalcy.

    YouTubes statement yesterday was just as insulting as the actual move itself. Saying they stand with the Queer community while removing content to cater to a group of homophobic people, is as hypocritical as you can get. Kristin nailed it: saying LGBT content is mature/sensitive is damaging and harmful and flat out wrong.

    This is not about protecting kids (because learning about love, identities, and people who aren’t like you is just SO AWFUL!). YouTube has enough filters in place to ensure kids won’t be unnecessarily subjected to material their parents object to without looking it up themselves. If anything this is about homophobic parents that don’t want want to be involved in their children’s live and demand special privileges.

    If parents are so adamant that they don’t want their kids subjected to “mature” content, then they can put their own filters on and actual parent their own kids.

    TL/DR: I’m pissed.YouTube is wrong, what they’re doing is not okay, and Kristin nailed it. Don’t call yourself an ally and then say our issues are “sensitive.” 😡

    • 2

      Your bit about parents filtering the old fashioned way – having the computer in the living room with the rest of the family around – is important. Young kids can see disturbing images on the news, whether on TV or the computer – think of the drowned toddler off Crete, or the shell-shocked Syrian toddler waiting for – what? The parents need to be available to comfort the children.

      Young kids may not be trying to decipher “sex” per se, but trying to understand relationships of adults around them. And that’s what the homophobic parents are trying to prevent – having their child see that their classmate raised by two women or two men is being raised by real parents.

  7. 7

    This is what it looks like when people are being erased. When it is okay to label some of us as “unaccepted” or merely morally wrong. This is bullshit and it’s effectively sending a message that our actual existence is something we should hide from the straight cis folks out there.

    I did a lot of videos when I was figuring out my transition and my place as an activist and a woman and now of the 54 videos I had up, there are 14 being allowed.

    This is a fascist fucking culture pushing us back into the closet to show that we belong there. I have zero faith that youtube will change this. I would love to be wrong. I hope I am but I don’t think it will.

    America is not slowly rolling into fascist state. We are sprinting into it, deafened by the noise of thousand impotent democrats and blindly gleeful republicans.

    Restrict mode seems to have a pretty weak effect on filtering out Nazi and Alt-Right videos.

    Because yeah, at this point to our government, we are more dangerous.
    I can’t keep swimming against this crap.

  8. 16

    Oh man. Scrolling through the comments on the Guardian article about this is (predictably) crazy-making.

    “YOU want to explain to your eight year-old daughter what lesbians are?”

    Oh my gosh, why not? It’s the easiest thing in the world. Why do weird straight bigots always talk about educating their children about LGBT people as though it’s rocket science?

    I’m assuming that when it’s dads saying things like that (and it’s quite often the dads), this is their train of thought: “I just have no idea – how would I even start – my brain is melting – FOUR BOOBS – that video I watched on PornHub last week – BREASTICLES” and then their brains spark like androids and then they die.

    If that’s what happens, I mean, I’m against death, so yeah, this is a real issue. 😉

  9. 8

    “Seeing representations of LGBTQ+ people in the world, diverse, complete, and honest representations, saves lives.”
    “(…) what it would have been like if she’d been able to see — actually see! — people in the world who were living as out, functioning gay members of society.”

    THIS. I was 13 when I thought for the first time I may be a lesbian (I didn’t even consider bisexuality because I had no idea it exists) and I was so terrified that I decided that can’t be true, told myself that I’m straight and never thought of this for the next three years. And I still can’t stop thinking what if I would have known or seen on Twitter, Youtube, etc. any LGTBTQ+ people back then? Any fictional characters even?

    I’m still figuring myself out, I’m still struggling with coming out to my family, with finding a label for me and Everyone IS Gay videos and Getting in Bed series here, on Autostraddle have been incredibly helpful. Thank you for all the work you’re doing, Kristin.

    I’m especially angry since a week ago there was European/Polish video promoting petition against same-sex marriage (and kind of adoption, basically “protect kids from these dangerous gays!”) and of course, that is okay. Advice videos for LGBTQ+ youth? Inappropriate. Ugh.

  10. 8

    Do we know why YouTube made this policy change now? I’m curious to know if there’s real political pressure on it coming from Trump and his allies, or if the political surge rightward made YT feel like now was the right time for a plan that might have been in the works for a long time. Does anyone know the background?

  11. 6

    As someone who watches youtube a lot and found it the most useful resource in my coming out process (esp EIG videos!) this makes me so so incredibly angry and sad on so many levels! Advice and the sharing of experiences from EIG and other queer channels helped me centre, understand and normalise my feelings to myself and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them.

    But maybe even more importantly, from my experience, youtube is increasingly becoming the key medium that teenagers and kids are watching for authentic reflections of youth culture and experiences (in comparison to TV/movies). These restrictions aren’t just removing LGBT+ advice but same-sex couples’ daily vlogs, and trans women’s make up tutorials (among many other day-to-day queer vids!). First, this is SO horrible in terms of implying that there is something inappropriate with queer people living their ordinary lives. It means queer kids don’t get to have full access to the role-models in life and relationships that reflect them like straight kids do. But it also means that we lose this incredible opportunity to normalise and de-stigmatise queer relationships and lives in the eyes of straight kids who might not otherwise often come across the LGBT+ community, especially when youtube was doing this so much more accurately and authentically than TV.

    So SO mad 🙁

  12. 18

    holy shit

    i’ve made 88 videos on my channel — autostraddle behind the scenes videos, haviland & riese advice videos, awards show videos, julie & brandy in your box office videos…

    … in restricted mode, you can see 17 of these videos. 17.
    that includes zero episodes of julie & brandy in your box office.
    and eight of the 40 haviland (and/or alex/carly/lozo) & riese vlogs

    MY LIFE’S WORK

  13. 7

    This article articulates so well what I’ve been thinking, and what makes me most upset is that some (especially bigoted, homophobic) parents will realize that lots of LGBTQ content is being restricted and will turn on Restricted Mode for their kids. What if those kids are LGBTQ? That cuts off valuable information that could save their lives, and YouTube is just handing the tools to do that right off to the parents. For those who just don’t want to see this content and turn on Restricted Mode to avoid it, that increases the strength of their filter bubbles. I understand the desire for a Restricted Mode that doesn’t have openly sexual or genuinely “mature” content (I’m thinking violence, cursing, etc.), but to include LGBTQ in that umbrella is super harmful, because we’re just trying to love and live, and this sends the message that our love and our lives are somehow “mature.” It makes me a little nauseous.

    • 3

      Yeah, I think the kids who’ll be most harmed by this are the ones whose parents are already parenting them in homophobic/transphobic ways. Especially lgbt kids but the ones who aren’t will be less inclined to befriend/more inclined to bully lgbt kids and that’s not great either. It really pisses me off to think of the hate/self-hate this will encourage.

      YouTube should be doing the opposite of this if they want it family friendly. They should be regulating comments more as ATM trolls can say what they like in terms of bigoted comments and it’s rampant. Or at least offer us a way to tune out such comments when on others’ videos.

      YouTube has missed an opportunity, I think. Because a censored YouTube without bad language/violence/bullying/x rated sex talk would be a good thing for them to market. I think itd be best to do that but also promote stuff kids will be into like games or books aimed at kids or homework help (I have fond memories of Yahooligans from my own childhood). But knowing some girls have willies or some women kiss/love/marry each other isn’t inappropriate for kids.

    • 3

      I was going to say that ‘fair enough if it’s violent/hateful’ but then I saw the stuff they’re blocking. Stuff like that BBC parody where the woman gets interrupted by her kids rather than the man. So yeah, she’s right, they’re doing it to all sorts of stuff that shouldn’t be censored.
      Still doesn’t make it right though and I wonder how much patriarchal, heteronormative stuff is getting blocked versus all the rest of it.

  14. 5

    This makes me SO MAD.
    Even at 27 on a regular basis I still need all of these videos and advice and just showing non-straight people being human beings!! If teenage me had access to all this stuff it probably wouldn’t have taken me like 13 years to get over my internalized homophobia and admit to myself I am a lesbian. It’s messed up enough being a teenager, feel for all the LGBTQ babies who are potentially gonna miss out on all this stuff.
    Also HOW IS IT OK to leave homophobic and Islamophobic and hateful content up?!?!

    How to be fight this 🙁

  15. 2

    In college, my best friend and I were obsessed with your videos. We were probably older than your target audience for everyone is gay, but it was the first time we saw queer people who looked and acted like us and talked about the things we wanted to know. I think she found the videos first and they absolutely changed our lives to see just normal gay people acting goofy and answering questions about day to day stuff-not being hyper sexualized or a stereotype, and not constantly having a sob story. I actually went to see you and Danielle speak at the College of Wooster in Ohio around 2011-2012ish and it was the first time I was in a queer space that wasn’t some trashy bar, and that was a huge turning point in my coming out. I went alone and I actually felt ok with talking to people around me and not feeling like I had to hide. I hope YouTube gets its act together because the world world really needs people like you and the content you create.

  16. 1

    This stuff is life-saving, but I’m frustrated that the queer community is once again backed into a corner, arguing such a defensive position. Queer YouTube content should not HAVE to save lives or in any way prove its utility to society to avoid being restricted. I can find hundreds of new-Nazi rants on YouTube, thousands of terribly done makeup tutorials, an infinite number of bros doing Jackass style pranks, etc. you get the picture.

    I don’t think at all that you’re arguing YT should un-restrict the queer content simply because it is beneficial to many people, I know that isn’t your point, but it still saddens me that the queer conversation about equal rights so often lands on “please don’t take this thing normies get to do away, we deserve it because [insert reasons we should NOT have to provide to have access to the thing].”

    Another example that’s always saddened me is queers saying “It’s not a choice.” Often used for same-sex marriage arguments or a general queerphobia/transphobia rebuttal. Aside from the fact that I don’t think that is always 100% true, I don’t see why we would be any less deserving of our civil rights of being queer was totally a choice!

    We get forced into these defensive positions where we have to prove our worthiness of civil rights by showing we don’t turn kids gay and our queer antics make the world a better place. I wish that saying “we are fucking human beings” was a sufficient argument to reach bigots.

    But it’s not. And the harm of restricting all of these videos is very real, since they are indeed life-changing and life-saving.

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