Calling out the haters - LGBTQ youth are pushing the frontiers of online activism


The internet can be an ugly place, especially for young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer. Cyberbullying is difficult to combat, because the bullies are often anonymous. And toxic debates can fester on social media: the 2017 Stonewall school report found that “two in five LGBT young people are bullied online”.

Then came Harry Brewis. The young YouTuber – also known by his handle, Hbomberguy – raised £265,000 for the UK charity Mermaids to support gender diverse young people, by streaming his 57-hour Donkey Kong 64 marathon online.

Public figures including US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and activist Chelsea Manning reportedly attended Brewis’ stream via online platform Twitch, which allows viewers to chat and cheer on their favourite gamers while they play.

Aside from blowing his £3,000 funding goal out of the water, Brewis’ actions have shone a light on how young people are breaking new political ground on the internet – and especially in the male-dominated sphere of online gaming – by carving out space for the marginalised voices of LGBTQ young people.

Measuring what matters

My own research has uncovered a huge diversity and abundance of social media and online forums, where LGBTQ young people are creating new civic and community spaces from the privacy of their bedrooms.

There’s been very little investigation into these emerging forms of online activism, in part because researchers and journalists are fixated on mainstream social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and are all too often directed by the data generated by these sites’ own analytics tool.

In other words, they often assume that the most-clicked YouTube video or the most shared tweet is particularly meaningful to users. But if you talk to young people directly, a very different picture emerges.

The LGBTQ teenagers I spoke to in my research explained how they explored issues around trans identities and queer sexualities through subcultural online community websites. These included Fur Affinity (a fan forum with an interest in animal fantasy writing and art), trans community subreddits on Reddit, Sherlock fan fiction and online comics. These platforms are not widely recognised as online activist spaces, as such.

LGBTQ teenagers also made use of Facebook and YouTube, of course, but they were very aware of how the values, interests and opinions of straight, cis-gendered people prevail on these platforms, as in society at large.

They used a range of strategies to negotiate this, including turning to online counterpublics – alternative public spheres where challenges to dominant views can be expressed, shaped and shared (Tumblr would be the place to look for queer and trans counterpublics).

They also took a creative approach to overcoming the built-in constraints on sites such as Facebook – for example, the highly structured process of setting up and maintaining a user profile, which limits the way people can construct their online identity (for example, the rule that people must use their real name) – and creating their own content such as YouTube vlogs and humorous political memes, gifs and mashups.

Calling out the haters

In these ways and more, young LGBTQ people are pushing the frontiers of what’s recognised as activism and creating new strategies to combat oppression. One fascinating example of this is the way new categories are emerging in online social media culture.

Take, for example, the term “hater”. It’s used to describe those posting hyper critical or hurtful comments on Facebook posts, blogs or YouTube videos, typically involving homophobic, racist or sexist attacks or bullying. Labelling these people “haters” makes it possible to name them, talk about them and open up their behaviour to critical analysis.

As young people increasingly talk back to “the haters”, this creates opportunities for those targeted by hate speech to form alliances and develop new strategies for dealing with homo and transphobia. Indeed, addressing haters is emerging and evolving as a whole genre of social media activity in itself.

An example of this might be reading out haters’ comments and meeting them with your own experience, as teen vlogger Brendan Jordan does, using humour to call out the stupidity of the online hate.

It’s important to recognise how young people negotiate – and sometimes subvert – the values and norms incorporated by online platforms, to explore issues around gender, sexuality and identities through activism and community formation.

They are aware that the very DNA of the social media and digital technologies at our disposal are coded straight and cis – and this hidden fact has real-life consequences. Imagine being young and gender questioning, and googling “trans” to explore alternative gender expressions - the image that the internet will reflect back at you is not a bright or positive one.

The Mermaids charity has been under attack lately, not only in the tabloid press but also online. So much so that the Big Lottery Fund announced it would review its decision to award a £500,000 grant, after Father Ted sitcom writer Graham Linehan rallied opposition to the charity on parenting website Mumsnet. But Brewis’ efforts offers significant funds and a much-needed counterbalance to transphobic rhetoric, and proves that online subcultures should not be underestimated as a space for social activism.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Olu Jenzen, Principal Lecturer in Media Studies at the University of Brighton. Read the original article here.

More Stories

  • The Sky has a Limit

    Company blogs

    Join us for the second of our Kinder Conversations - the Sky has a Limit.

    Following our investigation into the Future of Meat in February, we've turned our attention to the sky. We'll be talking about whether air travel can be more sustainable, and how.

    We're delighted to be hosting this event in collaboration with our friends at TQ, the Amsterdam tech hub where we're based. 

    📅 When Monday 17 June 18:30 - 20:30
    📭 Where TQ, Singel 542, Amsterdam
    🎯 Why should I fly Kinder? To hear about the latest research and technology making air travel more sustainable. To find out what you can do to reduce the impact your flights are having. To share a drink with like-minded travelers, and sample some of our vegan snacks (including beloved Professor Grunschnabel ice cream, as seen at the Future of Meat event)

    🎫 How can I get in? We’re offering two ticket levels: Economy (free) and Business Class (for the price of a donation to Cool Earth). Secure your seat now!

    More about The Sky has a Limit

    Here at Kinder, we believe that greener travel is one of the key ways in which we can tackle the climate crisis. Travelling green can mean a lot of things, but right now we’re concerned about the aviation industry.  

    If aviation were a country, it’d be a top 10 polluter - and C02 emissions from air travel are growing many times faster than any other form. We’re already in a very dangerous position, and although there are many potential solutions, we sometimes feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do about it.

    That’s where Kinder Conversations comes in.

    Kinder Conversations is a series of events which delve into the biggest issues facing the world. 

    At the Sky has a Limit, we’ll be bringing together representatives from research and technology, the aviation industry and the not-for-profit sector to talk about sustainable air travel. We’ll hear more about the problem, and a lot more about the solutions.

    Plus, there’ll be time to get a drink from TQ’s bar (buying a drink helps our friends from TQ support more events like this), try some vegan ice cream, and chat to fellow travellers about the steps you can take to travel greener.

    ✈️ Are you ready to #flykinder? Then secure your boarding pass here

    Read more
  • How flying cars could help solve the problem of air pollution


    I don't have a driving license and when pressed about getting one by friends tired of chauffeuring me around I usually say I will only get one if I can drive something cool, like the Batmobile or a flying car. Unfortunately, I might have to honour that promise as it seems that flying cars are finally taking off (alas, no commercial Batmobiles in sight).

    Indeed, several promising startups around the world are working to deliver the "car of the future"  over the next few years. Like the Dutch company PAL-V that showed off a limited edition of its flying car at the Geneva Auto Show in Switzerland.

    The PAL-V is a hybrid between a car and a helicopter (or more precisely, a gyrocopter), able to reach a top speed of 160 km/h on the tarmac but also get airborne in just 5 minutes, hitting airspeeds of 180 km/h over a range of up to 500 km. But since buying a PAL-V will set you back around € 350,000 I might have to pass on this one. Moreover, flying this beauty requires not just a driving license but also (understandably) a license to fly, and that's just too much for me.


    Thankfully, other companies are developing vehicles that need no driver at all. Aerospace manufacturer Bell Helicopter, for example, is working on Nexus, an air taxi capable of taking off and landing in the middle of a city (whereas the PAL-V still needs a runway, albeit short, to get airborne).

    Called VTOLs (short for Vertical Take Off and Landing), these aircraft aim to become sort of an Uber of urban air travel, bringing customers to the opposite part of the city or even to a nearby city in a matter of few minutes.

    If you're at JFK airport in New York, for example, and have a meeting in Manhattan, instead of embarking on a 1-hour, Cosmopolis-style taxi ride, you could just hail a flying car and be downtown in 5 minutes.  

    Futuristic as it may sound, concrete plans to make it come true are underway. Earlier this month, German startup Lilium successfully completed the first test of its new five-seater Lilium Jet, an electric vehicle that, according to the company, will have a range of 300 km and a top speed of 300 km/h. 

    The reason electric flight is such an exciting area of research is not just because flying taxis will allow a handful of high rollers to drastically cut on their commuting time. Electric flying cars might be really good for the environment too.

    A recent study published by Nature highlighted that, in some cases, flying cars could eventually be greener than even electric road cars, cutting emissions while reducing traffic on increasingly busy roads.

    Moreover, developments in the field of flying cars could also boost the research on electric flight at large, including long haul electric flights, sort of the Holy Grail of aviation. And, as known, the civil aviation industry needs to find effective ways to lower its carbon emissions as soon as possible. 

    However, as explained by Hugh Hunt in an article on The Conversation that we republished here on Kinder World, "gaps in necessary technology and practical uncertainties beyond the cars’ promising physics mean that they may not arrive in time to be a large-scale solution to the energy crisis and congestion." 

    Read more
  • Why the current state of aviation is one of the main threats to our planet


    Let's get this one thing straight: most people prefer flying to other modes of transport, and we seem to do it more and more often. The airline industry is booming and 4.1 billion passengers have been transported last year. Almost every figure one looks at shows the impressive increase in flights over the last two decades.

    Alexandre de Juniac, head of the International Association for Flight Transport proclaims: “In 2000, the average citizen flew just once every 43 months. In 2017, the figure was once every 22 months. Flying has never been more accessible. And this is liberating people to explore more of our planet for work, leisure, and education. Aviation is the business of freedom."  

    However, this ‘business of freedom’ runs on fossil energy carriers as planes still almost exclusively fly on kerosene. Kerosene is a fuel produced by oil refining and carbon dioxide (CO2) is the major product of burning kerosene. The 2-5% of all global CO2 emissions the aviation industry emits is caused by its fuel consumption (and choice). And unlike other fuels like diesel or gasoline, airlines don't pay taxes on kerosene in most countries — making cheap air travel possible.

    In 2018 Europe’s biggest airline Ryanair became number 9 in the list of Europe’s biggest CO2 emitters and still claims to be the ‘greenest and cleanest airline’. Andrew Murphy – the aviation manager at the European Federation for Transport and Environment — argues that Ryanair the new coal when it comes to climate pollution. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, on the other hand, dismisses such claims by saying the claims are ‘’complete and utter rubbish’’.

    Other airlines, like KLM who partly uses renewable jet-fuel, are acknowledging the problem but they aren't too far behind Ryanair on the list of emitters. 

    The growth of the industry is not expected to slow down. India and China are the biggest growth markets, the latter alone is building 200 new commercial airports in the next ten years. Moreover, industry forecasts suggest that emissions will rise by 700% until 2050 which amounts to more than 4% of the world’s remaining carbon budget.

    If we want to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, every the average earthling has a quota of two tons of CO2 per annum but just a return trip between New York and Amsterdam generates three tons already.

    Compared to other modes of transport planes are the biggest CO2 emitters per travelled kilometre followed by cars, buses and finally trains which are the least polluting. The CO2 emissions, however, are only one half of the medal. The impact of flying on global warming is different than most other transport as it happens in the air high above the ground where the processes that cause or reduce global warming happen. These include CO2 and nitrogen oxide emission but also cloud formation, ozone and soot as well as methane reduction.

    The climate impact of the emitted greenhouse gases in the stratosphere are three times higher than on the ground. Flying also causes condensation trails and fog clouds in certain weather conditions. Such clouds can have a warming or a cooling effect on the climate. One way to improve the climate effect of flying would be planning better routes where warming clouds are avoided and the formation of cooling clouds is favoured — our current routes have an overall warming effect.

    So, hypothetically, some flights with clever flight-route planning might even reduce global warming. However, as we don't have time to hypothesise, we need to find and urgently implement other ways to bring down the impact of flying, like using better fuels or even better planes.

    This article was written by Eric Schuler for Kinder World. Schuler is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam and works on new industrial sustainable chemistries to turn captured CO2 into useful things such as plastics or fuel. He's also a photojournalist with an interest in climate and land-use change.

    This story features:
    Read more