Never underestimate the power of your story. It could change the world.
Growing up in Ohio, Raymond Braun wasn’t exposed to a wide LGBTQ community. Thanks to the power of technology, he was able to tap into the lives of others by watching their stories online. That inspired him to spearhead his own venture, which has led him to become one of the most successful gay Millennial media personalities.
Out magazine recently called Braun “one of the preeminent queer activists of his generation.” He topped Financial Times’s 2016 list of Top 50 Future LGBT Leaders, and was named to 2014’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list. As Logo’s inaugural political correspondent, he helped to establish the TV network’s election coverage.
Braun founded his own consulting firm, RWB Media, which is focused on LGBT consumers and social outreach and counts several Fortune 500 companies and nonprofit organizations as clients. Previously he led YouTube’s social media campaigns and programs aimed at LGBT users.
What does it take to build a media empire and to reach the masses through social media and digital tools? The media consultant breaks it down to three strategies: education, empowerment, and community building.
Even with the internet, says Braun, it was still difficult “for LGBTQ folks to learn about their history, learn about how they can get involved in the movement, learn about sexual health, and learn about what it means to be LGBTQ. I think it’s important for us to, first and foremost, use social media and digital tools to educate people about what is going on. What is happening in the political climate? What is at stake for LGBTQ people? How can we get involved?”
Then, Braun says, you have to empower people to “feel confident in who they are. Maybe they don’t see openly LGBTQ people in their own community or in their small town or in their church or school; but if they can go online and see lots of LGBTQ people who are living full, vibrant, interesting, diverse lives, I think that can inspire them. Or just, at the minimum, to know that they’re not alone. If we use social media to help empower and embolden and instill confidence in LGBTQ people, then those people will feel more comfortable coming out.”
Braun calls it a “rainbow ripple effect:” When you tell your story, you then inspire other people to tell their own. As a result, authenticity blooms in places that are often ignored. That’s the power of social media — and stories.
“What’s really powerful about technology and social media is that we can now tell our stories and accelerate acceptance,” Braun says. “Before we had these digital tools that helped us tell our stories on our own terms and reach a global audience, you had to have those one-on-one conversations in person, but now it’s scalable. You can make a YouTube video. You can do a series of tweets talking about something you’re going through, or about how a certain law or policy will affect you. It has the possibility to reach people all around the world.”
But it’s not enough to just reach those people, we also need to build relationships with them, Braun argues.“The third piece is about building a community online. I have met so many of my friends online. I think it’s really powerful that you can live in a small town in Ohio, like I did, and have a global friend group of LGBTQ people who care about the same topics you do, who are supporting you, who are sharing ideas and are here to brainstorm about how you can do things in your local community.”
Of course, building a community of digital advocates, is a tool that can be used for both good and evil. And sometimes it’s a wobbly line to walk, especially when the Twitter trolls rise up to meet you.
“No one is ever going to change [a troll’s] mind or their heart if you yell at them, if you critique them, if you demean them, if you insult them, if you ignore them,” Braun says about handling hateful messages online. “So I am always trying to think about what are ways that as a community we can respectfully engage with people who don’t support us. If we want to achieve full equality, we have to have everyone supporting us or understanding our community in some way.”
The other reality is that sometimes we are most vocal against the very thing we fear we may be. That’s a lesson Braun learned when he reached out to the person who left one hateful comment.
“Some of the people who get most spiraled up about LGBTQ issues are having their own internal conversations about whether they’re part of the LGBTQ community or dealing with shame in some way. The person ended up coming out and apologizing. I ended up getting him linked up with the Trevor Project, and I think that I was the first person he came out to.”
Braun believes personal stories can turn even those who seem to be our enemies into our friends. And that’s what continues to motivate his work.
“We can use social media and different forms of advocacy to change the hearts and minds of people who aren’t currently with us,” he says. “I think that storytelling and personal narratives, personalizing the issues that we face, and having people who don’t support our community currently get to know someone who’s part of it — whether it’s online or in person — is really key.”