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LGBTQ+ TikTokers: Banning app will 'eliminate' online communities & activism (exclusive)

LGBTQ TikToker Content Creators Cody Conner V Spehar Jeffrey Marsh
tiktok @underthedesknews @beezay22 @thejeffreymarsh

From left: V Spehar, Cody Conner, and Jeffrey Marsh

LGBTQ+ TikTokers are warning that a ban on the app would have a "disproportionate effect on the queer community."

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to ban TikTok, jeopardizing the LGBTQ+ users who have built communities on the platform, as well as the queer content creators whose livelihood depends on it.

The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act passed Wednesday with overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans, garnering 352 votes in favor and just 65 against. The bill would remove TikTok, owned by Chinese company Bytedance, from app stores in the United States unless Bytedance agrees to sell it to an American company.

The bill still must pass the Senate before it goes to President Joe Biden, who has said he would sign the legislation if it makes it to his desk. Some officials have advised against approving it, warning that the move would alienate young voters, many of whom spent the days leading up to the vote calling their representatives and urging them to reject the bill.

A similar law in Montana was blocked after a lawsuit from TikTok, signaling that the national legislation could face legal challenges even if it makes it through the Senate and is signed by the president. Content creators have still been urged to cultivate their audiences on other platforms in case of its passage, leaving their income and careers up in the air.

LGBTQ+ TikTokers have warned that the ban will have a "disproportionate effect on the queer community" and eliminate "networks of support and activism." One content creator, nonbinary TikToker and best-selling author Jeffrey Marsh, has created a community of nearly 700,000 followers that they fear will cease to exist if TikTok is banned.

“If TikTok is banned, a vibrant, kind and supportive queer community would disappear overnight,” they told The Advocate. “I am old enough to have been famous on Vine and have experienced how devastating it can be when your community evaporates.”

This will be especially true for marginalized creators and their followers, they continued: “I think it may have a disproportionate effect on the queer community because we look to the internet to see representations of ourselves while we wait for the film and TV industry to catch up to telling our story."

Marsh admitted that TikTok is far from perfect, but it provides something they haven’t been able to find elsewhere: a way to connect.

“It’s been clear for a long time that TikTok is a haven for transphobia and LGBTQ+ hatred, so it wouldn’t necessarily be sad if those things went away, but of course, it’s also a place where we see ourselves and can connect, and for that to end would be quite sad,” they said.

Cody Conner went viral on TikTok last year when he gave an impassioned speech at a Virginia Beach, Va., school board meeting defending his trans daughter against the state's anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Conner said that while many people rely on TikTok for their income or to publicize their small business, he uses it for political organizing and community-building.

“My TikTok, my social media platform if you will, is all about connecting with people and sharing information, organizing, and providing support for people in a lot of ways,” Conner said. “So losing TikTok would eliminate a lot of work that I’ve done to create a network of support and activism in my community.”

TikTok was instrumental in helping him spread his message and connect with people all over the country who were looking for support or guidance on how to fight back against the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation sweeping the nation. It eventually led the father of three to work as an organizer with the trans rights nonprofit Calos Coalition, and now, every month, he hosts a “trans family dinner” with people in his community whom he met through the app.

“None of that would exist were it not for my TikTok platform,” Conner said.

While they also host a successful podcast, V Spehar began their career on their TikTok account, which has garnered over 3.1 million followers.UnderTheDeskNews, which got its name from its host's tradition of delivering the news from under their desk, began during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to bring people together and make current events more digestible.

While the effect a TikTok ban would have on those connections is not lost on Spehar, they specifically highlighted who stands to gain from the app's potential sale.

“Just because they force a sale to an American company doesn’t mean it will be in the interest of everyday Americans," Spehar said. "Congress folk who got rich in the stock market see it as a boon for people like them ... well, those aren’t the people creating the value in the app. Average folks are."

"TikTok has been a source of upward mobility for millions of Americans, and this bill seeks to steal the value, community, and economy we created," they added.

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Ryan Adamczeski

Ryan is a staff writer at the Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel 'Someone Else's Stars', and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.
Ryan is a staff writer at the Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel 'Someone Else's Stars', and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.

Ariel Messman-Rucker