In a YouTube video titled “BEST Super Bowl Commercial 2014,” two straight couples sit on a couch watching football's biggest event. After a few rounds drinking "Queer Beer,” though, they switch partners. The women begin making out, then the men follow suit. In the stilted style of a commercial jingle, a voice sings, “At the end of the night after three or four beers, we guarantee you’ll be drinking queer.”
The video was written and acted by the real-life lesbian couple Bria Kam and Chrissy Chambers and has been viewed more than 4 million times since its release last year. That's an impressive number considering their pro-gay message and that it's commentary on a sport which just drafted its first out player.
Chambers will tell you the secret for making equality go viral is merely a good video title and teaser photo. Plus, “timing is important.” But they're being modest. Kam and Chambers, known popularly as Bria and Chrissy, are 20-something YouTubers at the forefront of a movement of young people advancing LGBT equality through the Web.
Their set of YouTube channels, anchored by their primary channel BriaAndChrissy, have tallied more than 37 million views and boasts nearly 250,000 subscribers who tune in weekly for fresh content. What viewers find might include comedic sketches like “Queer Beer,” top 10 lists like “10 Worst Ways to Come Out,” musical performances like the politically provocative song “Dear Chick-fil-A,” as well as serious confessionals and conversations that address topics such as coming out, relationships, and suicide.
The result is hilarious, heartbreaking, and a helpful resource for young people looking for support, particularly when the offline world can seem intolerant.
“Everyone wants to have a voice and to be heard. And YouTube allows that,” Kam says.
Chambers, who recorded coming out to her parents for YouTube (now a frequent practice among online-savvy LGBT youth) said watching other people do the same first helped her come out.
“And making my own video helped me come out further because I knew it would help other people," she says. "When people see there’s such a support group out there, they feel safer. We always try to stress to people that if the environment around you is toxic, just remember that there are so many people, luckily, at the click of a button, who love and accept you just for who you are. And that’s the hope that YouTube brings to so many young people.”
As a real-life couple of nearly three years and the most-viewed lesbian couple on YouTube, their influence extends beyond LGBT youth to changing the hearts and minds of straight people who may not initially have been so accepting.
“We’ve had people write us saying 'I was homophobic before,'” Chambers says about feedback from their vlog "Our Lesbian Love," a daily journal-like update of their life and relationship. “And even just watching our vlog channels, they say, ‘You are a normal couple! It’s the same issues, problems, and happiness [as ours].’ Seeing our life and relating to it makes them rethink and reflect upon their own beliefs.”
The idea that YouTube can engender acceptance of the LGBT community is also embraced by R.J. Aguiar and Will Shepherd, another same-sex couple making an important impact online, though in a very different way. The pair strives to post a video every single day, documenting life’s small dramas as well as its larger milestones — like Shepherd’s recent proposal to Aguiar.
Their goal, according to the introduction video of their main channel, "A Gay in the Life," is to show the world “just how normal a gay relationship can be.” Eschewing scripts and slick production, they strive to portray their life as authentically as possible to their loyal audience of over 150,000 subscribers with longer videos that often span a handful of events over the course of a day.
The video "Naps vs. Sleep," for example, follows the pair over Shepherd’s birthday weekend with a few close friends and their dog, Dobby. ("People love Dobby," the couple confirms.) The video begins with the group recounting the raucous evening they're all recovering from, and includes a stop at Taco Bell, opening mail from fans, whom they encourage to leave feedback in the YouTube comments, regarding whether or not they should incorporate custom notebooks in future videos. The video ends with the couple heading to bed, and Aguiar practically nodding off. Their videos could not be any less like reality shows that follow around nouveau riche people in semiscripted situations. Shepherd and Aguiar extend access to their viewers. And that's what differentiates YouTube from other outlets as a means of enacting positive change.
“It’s a great place to get it straight from the horse’s mouth,” says Aguiar, who along with his partner also maintain Twitter accounts and a website for their brand, Not Adam and Steve. “It’s a great way to get a message out there and not necessarily have it distorted through a medium. Take this interview for instance. You’ll be pulling quotes … but depending on how you arrange those quotes and what parts you sample, you could theoretically alter slightly what we’re trying to say, or distort it or magnify it, or do whatever. Social media is a great way where I can get my message out there and not have it travel through any kind of filter or any kind of middleman.”
The relationship between Shepherd and Aguiar began at Florida State University, where mathematics and statistics student Shepherd first introduced Aguiar, who was studying media production and writing, to the power of YouTube. It was a perfect pairing. After a straight couple from their university, Alli and Charles Trippy, achieved a degree of Internet stardom by vlogging about their relationship, Aguiar and Shepherd recognized an opportunity to tell their story as a same-sex couple, which they did not see represented in television or film at the time.
“I thought this would be really cool if it was from the perspective of a gay couple, because you’re letting people see what they do with their lives, and they’re not sitting around and plotting the destruction of the American family,” Shepherd says. “They actually eat food and go grocery shopping and have pets and have jobs. I liked the idea of painting this picture that was against what people were thinking about gay people at the time. YouTube was the perfect platform to do it.”
Since the channel's founding five years ago, the pair has used their voice to educate and encourage discussion about a number of issues, including Aguiar’s bisexuality, which he has written about on Advocate.com. (“The straight community is more baffled by it, and the gay community is more judgmental toward it,” he notes.)
Their impact has registered throughout all corners of the globe, leading to their casting in small roles in a new film starring Michael Urie, Such Good People, as well as a European tour, where they planned meet-and-greets with fans in several countries. Naturally, they recorded the trip for YouTube.
And while Aguiar and Shepherd may not have millions of followers like other vloggers, they take pride in actively talking their audience, providing questions and support for those seeking answers.
“Subscribers are only worthwhile if they’re engaged,” Aguiar says. “For us, it’s not the amount of subscribers we have. It’s the amount of people we help.”
This is one of eight profiles that The Advocate released this week for the annual "40 Under 40" list. From now through Friday, August 8, readers are asked to vote on who you think should be on The Advocate's digital edition cover. Then the remaining 32 honorees will be released in August along with the new cover. Go to Facebook to vote now!