During a panel at the 2012 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival, Danielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo demonstrated how they employed their theatrical training to craft a humorous advice website that has morphed into a successful tool for LGBT activism. In less than a year, they’ve racked up some impressive stats: 2.5 million total visits to their website; 6,096 Twitter followers; 12,122 Facebook fans; and 984,471 upload views on YouTube (Statistics current as of 3/26/12).
Lest any pro-family leader feel this is a lesbian conspiracy to convert the kiddies, the name of their website, like the Bible, should not be taken literally. They employed the name “Everyone is Gay” as an eye-catching means of saying, “We are all human beings, we all struggle, and regardless of our sexuality or gender identity we can understand each other, be kind to one another, share laughter and make positive changes that work toward human equality.”
A quick run through of their Web presence reveals that Danielle and Kristin rely on the same success strategy employed by others to generate massive You Tube hits—cute kittens. However, their kitties serve a greater good than simply generating the stereotypical “awww” response that follows the viewing of furry critters. By inviting LGBT youth to view webcasts filmed in their apartments, engage with their cats and other personalized touches, these two lesbian young women connect with their high school and college audience in a playful manner.
On these platforms humor becomes the springboard to discuss intimate and deadly serious questions facing LGBT youth. As a means of safeguarding their readers’ privacy, they set up their tumblr account so they can receive questions anonymously. So far, this method has created a safe space for LGBT youth, as well as their parents and friends. To date, they have not experienced people using the “anonymous” tag to spew forth anti-gay hate speech.
This issue of privacy and creating safe spaces while allowing for freedom of expression when dealing with vulnerable populations remained a much talked about but still unanswered question during SXSW Interactive. Most of these geo-location apps launched at this festival appear to connect via the user’s Facebook account with scant assurance that a bully or even an anti-gay government could not hack into this account. This raises a much larger question regarding the creating of cool apps that appeal to the youth market but also leave LGBT kids living in areas that are hostile to LGBT rights vulnerable to having their location and sexual orientation outed.
By focusing on their readers’ questions and not employing such apps on their sites, Everyone is Gay seems to be circumventing this ongoing problem. Both Danielle and Kristin confess to being obsessed with the curation of their questions. They take care to vary the questions so they cover a range of issues ranging from how to navigate a first kiss to a father trying to connect with his gay son. The format remains consistent—they post a question every day and then a webcast every other week. Both women have very different voices and they plan to expand the scope of voices via the establishment of a 15 member youth advisory board that will include transgender folks, people of color, Muslims and others in the LGBTQ community.
Upon initial glance, one might assume there’s no business behind this humorous bantering, lip-synching to cheesy songs and other goofiness (Danielle, after all, is the brains behind the Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber phenomenon.) But Danielle and Kristin note how instead of developing a business model that focused on what they wanted to deliver, they rely on requests from their readers. For example, they focused their outreach on schools after they got requests to come and speak at colleges and high schools. This personal touch continues after their visit as they encourage those meet on tours to post photos on their Facebook page and continue the conversation. Over the past year they reached over 15,000 students and hope to continue their outreach.
So far, they confess their funding remains hand-to-mouth with income generated from honorariums from their school appearances, donations, and merchandise sales. Again, they rely on their readers to tell them what products they want to see featured. Hence the availability of items such as the United States of AmeriCATS stickers, The Gayest Compilation Every Made digital music download and the Make the Yuletide Gayholiday knit hat. Through a fiscal sponsorship with Fractured Atlas, people can receive a tax deduction for their donations.
Moving forward, they are working to state-by-state LGBT resource guide with an ambassador assigned to each state. Also, they’re in the process of connecting with the Trevor Project and hope to connect with other interested LGBT youth advocacy groups.
This article was originally posted at Believe Out Loud (http://www.believeoutloud.com/boltoday/