Behind the Smallest Screen: The Lives and Loading Times of Gay YouTube Stars

What does it take to make it as an LGBT vlogger? The well-defined personal brands of these five passionate YouTubers are showing the world what it means to be us.



As dinner wraps up, Aguiar recalls his and Shepherd’s experience at Playlist Live in March. Unlike Oakley, who Aguiar says was constantly swarmed (“Bless him,” Shepherd adds), they had considerably more tranquil time.

“We’re not one of those people that gets mobbed,” Aguiar says. “We get stopped periodically, we say hi, we hug them, we talk, we get to know them.”

It’s indicative of Shepherd and Aguiar’s following — at just under 150,000 subscribers, it’s good, but it doesn’t put them in the same class as a Tyler Oakley, or even a Hartbeat. But the couple insist the number isn’t important.

“We don’t like to measure our success in the number of subscribers we have,” Aguiar says, noting that they’ve never lost followers throughout their time on YouTube. “We don’t have the most subscribers; we have the best.”

So if it’s not in the search for millions of followers, what keeps Shepherd and Aguiar uploading videos daily? What makes chronicling over 800 days in less than three years worth it? What makes cultivating that core audience so important? Simply put, it’s the same thing that got Shepherd interested in the first place: helping others.

“I think what makes gay YouTube different than regular YouTube is that we all are united behind that one purpose of finding those kids in those really isolated pockets of the world and telling them that they’re not alone,” Shepherd says.

Oakley agrees. “Maybe there’s a gay kid in the middle of America that might feel like they’re alone in the middle of coming out, and they may find my video,” he speculates. “And hopefully, that’s the reason that they find me. Because I want them to know they’re not alone in the world, that they have a person they can connect to on whatever level.”

For those needing role models, there’s a vast range of resources — after all, LGBT YouTube is larger than ever. But as it grows, Salomone says, the community will change. “That’s the thing about YouTube ... the things that people are interested in watching change constantly,” he explains. “You either have to keep up with it or fall behind. I’ve seen it happen over and over. The people who are popular now are going to be challenged.”

Though it may be unbelievable to think of gay YouTube without Tyler Oakley — a place where he’s happy for the moment and “a firm believer of never wanting to leave something that makes me happy” — one day, he will move on from the smallest screen. But, he emphasizes, he’ll be taking the people who were with him from the start.

“Even though I have those other aspirations, I always want to incorporate my people,” he says. “Because that’s the reason why I’m able to do the things that I can do.”

Likewise, Aguiar and Shepherd will find new ways to continue to serve out their mission. “I’m on YouTube to portray what gay life really is,” Shepherd says. “Our goal when we got on YouTube was not to be a huge YouTube channel. It was to provide a resource for people who might need it.”

Aguiar agrees: “That’s what keeps us going.”