FORT WORTH — California YouTube sensation Tyler Oakley shared his story of how video stardom led to his first experience of anti-gay hatred — and how he used the hatred to encourage others, on Saturday at the TCU Southwestern LGBT Leadership Conference.
Oakley created a YouTube channel in 2008 as a way to keep in touch with friends after heading to Michigan State University. After his mother asked him if he was gay when he was 14 and he simply said ‘yes,’ Oakley explained that the support from her and his stepfather was overwhelmingly positive.
“But when I told my mom I upload videos, she freaked out and was like, ‘Do you where clothes in these videos?’” he said.
Although he told his mother that the videos were decent and a way to communicate with friends about random things, the idea of uploading personal videos still struck his family as odd.
“I couldn’t be more blessed when it came to them being accepting of me as a gay man, so I lucked out on the important one,” he said, laughing.
While his campus at Michigan State had gay students and supportive professors, and the Gay-Straight Alliance was viewed as “the cool thing,” comments on his videos about his sexuality began to become offensive and even threatening.
The comments were “an eye-opening experience,” he said, because his family and college had been so accepting.
“At first it was overwhelming because I’d never been judged for who I was,” he said. “It was comments like that that encouraged me to do something bigger.”
Oakley made a video called “Speak Out Against Hate Speech” in response to the negative and demeaning comments. Comments on the video were positive and negative, but he found it served as encouragement to those who were targeted and didn’t have a voice.
The video became YouTube’s featured video on its homepage. To this day, Oakley said it’s his most viewed video with more than 420,000 views and more than 18,000 comments.
“It was my first glimpse of thinking you can do something bigger than you think you can do,” he said of the video’s success.
Oakley later became an intern for the Trevor Project, which he said gave him the first taste of being politically active and helping LGBT youth who thought they’d never be accepted.
Sharing a personal story of homophobia, Oakley said one day his father pulled him aside and addressed his concern after a friend had seen Oakley’s interest online as stating he liked men.
After Oakley confirmed he was gay, his father told him he and his stepmother had enough money “to fix him” with “full genuine care and love and compassion in his eye.”
The conversation make Oakley realize that homophobia is one of the “worst things” because it “disguises itself as concern when it is inherently hate.”
Oakley’s job now is to battle homophobia with the website FckH8.com, which aims to change the way people view being gay as a choice and raises money for charities and organizations with T-shirt sales. He was instrumental in helping launch the newer website H8Sux.com, aimed at encouraging teens to empower their peers and ignore bullies.
Highlighting his success as a political and emotional advocate for gay youth and adults, he encouraged the audience to find ways to help others.
“If you be yourself and reach out to people, you never know if the life you save could end up changing the world,” he said.
The conference also featured workshops from area LGBT organizations and discussions from student presenters about misconceptions of bisexuality and how to be out and open on conservative campuses. It was the second such conference TCU has planned and hosted, although this year it was a regional event and included students from Arizona State University among the roughly 40 people in attendance.