We at the Pride Foundation of Maryland are quitting YouTube. We’ve already pulled our videos from the site and don’t intend to use it in the future. We’re confident that no one at YouTube will miss us because we had so very little content on our channel. And though we understand the site has afforded some LGBTQ creators an outlet for expression and has been an equally important source of self-affirming content for others, we certainly won’t miss YouTube. It’s never been essential to the work we do on behalf of Maryland’s LGBTQ community. We can do without it.
Our decision is a direct response to YouTube’s decision regarding Steven Crowder’s targeted harassment and homophobic abuse of Carlos Maza, the openly gay journalist at Vox and producer of its Strikethrough web series. We’ve watched the various video segments on Crowder’s channel in which he offers rebuttals to content created by Vox. Not all of the videos Crowder attempts to rebut feature Maza, but those which do are characterized by repeated antigay slurs, sexual innuendo, and mocking references to Maza’s speech, mannerisms, and identity as a gay man. It didn’t take us an algorithm to find the blatant homophobia in Crowder’s videos. We knew it when we saw it.
YouTube saw things differently. The company’s management reviewed the videos and decided they wanted them on the site. They justified their decision by claiming that as an “open platform” YouTube would carry homophobic content as it might only be “potentially offensive” and is otherwise “valuable speech” depending on its context.
As a private company, YouTube has the absolute right to decide what is consistent with the community guidelines it has established for its creators. The same is true for its decisions about what constitutes a violation of its policies. The people who implement and interpret those policies, YouTube’s corporate managers, have the capacity to change them at any time. In their sole discretion they can remove from the site whatever videos they choose. They have no obligation to propagate content simply because a creator uploads it to a channel.
In the case of Steven Crowder, YouTube’s management has chosen to retain his explicitly homophobic videos. By retaining them, especially in light of their own justification for doing so, they have ratified Crowder’s views as “valuable speech.”
Elaborating on their decision, the company’s management stated, “For harassment, we look at whether the purpose of the video is to incite harassment, threaten or humiliate an individual; or whether personal information is revealed. We consider the entire video: For example, is it a two-minute video dedicated to going after an individual? A 30-minute video of political speech where different individuals are called out a handful of times? Is it focused on a public or private figure? For hate speech, we look at whether the primary purpose of the video is to incite hatred toward or promote supremacism over a protected group; or whether it seeks to incite violence. To be clear, using racial, homophobic, or sexist epithets on their own would not necessarily violate either of these policies. For example, as noted above, lewd or offensive language is often used in songs and comedic routines. It's when the primary purpose of the video is hate or harassment. And when videos violate these policies, we remove them.”
According to this statement, YouTube’s management would have us believe that homophobia is implicitly acceptable if embedded in some broader qualitative context and that its impact can be mitigated if it doesn’t exceed some minimal quantitative threshold. But their argument sidesteps two critical facts: homophobic speech is always harassment, and nothing that exists at the scale enabled by YouTube is ever just a “wee bit o’ content.”
Expressions of homophobia inherently represent an attempt to intimidate LGBTQ people, to humiliate us, to cow us into silence, or to make us fear for our own safety. When Crowder looked into the camera and called Maza a “lispy queer” it was harassment — full stop. For its part, YouTube is now compounding that harassment by calling Maza a “lispy queer” in more than a million instances, once to each person who views the offending content the company has decided to retain as “valuable speech” on its “open platform.”
With its decision, YouTube is participating in Crowder’s homophobic abuse and its attendant stigmatization of the entire LGBTQ community. Disclaiming its decision as being necessary to create an environment where people can “participate in the critical cultural and political conversations of our day” demonstrates a deep ignorance of the impact homophobic speech has when it’s endorsed and amplified by validators.
The Pride Foundation of Maryland exists to promote the culture, history, and general well-being of LGBTQ people. We will not associate ourselves, or our name, with any company that knowingly, willingly, and directly promotes harassment of LGBTQ people. We dispute the aim of YouTube’s management that the removal of grossly homophobic content would constitute the loss of “valuable speech.” We will not ourselves ratify YouTube’s decision to coddle homophobes and broadcast their hateful messages to millions of viewers.
We don’t need YouTube. Our subscriber base is negligible, and we have the capacity to find an alternative location for the content we might want to share. The same is true for other LGBTQ organizations in Maryland, and we’ve already reached out to them to ask that they relocate their content as well.
National organizations serving our community should do the same. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest such group, claims over three million members and supporters with less than 2 percent of that number as subscribers to their YouTube channel. They don’t need YouTube any more than we do, nor does GLAAD, our advocate to the media, with its 25,000 subscribers (a number that likely represents a small fraction of their email list). In fact, the combined number of YouTube subscribers for all the nation’s LGBTQ organizations comes nowhere close to the nearly four million subscribed to Crowder’s channel.
YouTube is a profit-motivated corporation, and given the cumulative relative contribution of LGBTQ organizations to their business model we will never be as important to the company’s bottom line as Crowder and his ilk. Our greatest value to YouTube at the moment comes from staying put in order to validate the company’s treatment of its LGBTQ creators and to sustain its pretense to be something other than a growing right-wing echo chamber.
Like YouTube, we have a choice to make about how we will respond to this situation. Either we stand up for members of the LGBTQ community, or we stay on YouTube when it serves us no purpose. We cannot do both. To choose the latter option is to condone YouTube’s spread of homophobia, and that is something we at the Pride Foundation of Maryland will not do.