I grew up in a small, conservative town in Northwest Ohio. I knew I was gay as early as I can remember, but for many years, I tried desperately to hide that aspect of my identity. I did everything from deliberately lowering my voice and playing sports that I didn't enjoy to faking crushes on girls and lying about my hobbies, interests, and even music taste for fear of being seen as "feminine." (I got bullied for singing the chorus to "Oops! I Did It Again," so I quickly learned to talk about Eminem and not Britney!)
I can't remember interacting with any openly gay people in my community. There were a few gay characters on TV, but I was afraid to watch shows like Will and Grace or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy because I was scared my family would see this and connect the dots that I was gay, too. I only heard the word "gay" in negative contexts: when I was being bullied at school or told by peers that "gay is a sin." The message that I internalized was that being gay was wrong, scary, and something to hide, so that's exactly what I tried to do. Unfortunately for me at that time, trying to hide my identity was like trying to cover a light bulb with tissue paper. I still got called "Ray the Gay" and I was still picked last at recess. I felt isolated, confused, and anxious about what my future held as a gay man.
Everything changed when my family got our first Internet connection. That slow, dial-up connection became my portal to the rest of the world, and I was amazed by the community I cobbled together online through message boards, articles, and LiveJournals (anyone remember those?!). For the first time, I felt like I could interact with people like me and hear LGBT stories in a positive light. The Internet quickly became my most treasured resource.
When I was in high school, YouTube started to take off. YouTube was a game changer because it made the LGBT community even more real and accessible. I was constantly hunting for new videos with LGBT themes; and though there weren't many at the start, there were enough to give me hope for my future. YouTube and the Internet played a huge role in instilling the courage and strength for me to be more confident in myself and ultimately come out.
Now, I want to pay that forward. I started working for YouTube as an intern in 2011. I was hooked immediately and haven't left since. YouTube provides a platform and a voice for everyone. Anyone can upload a video, share a story, and be heard. As a result, the LGBT community has become one of the most vibrant, dynamic, and diverse groups on the platform (though I'm admittedly biased!). I've had the opportunity to meet and work with many talented, thoughtful, funny LGBT creators who inspire me daily, and together, we've launched projects like #ProudToLove and #ProudToPlay.
I want to speak to 12-year-old-Raymond through YouTube, so I just launched a channel focused on topics impacting LGBT teens - or anyone who feels disconnected from the LGBT community and wants to learn more. We're going to talk about coming out, family issues, body image, self confidence, how to support a friend who's LGBT, what to do if you're questioning your sexuality, overcoming bullying at school/home/church...and so much more. To help me tackle these topics, I'm going to collaborate with LGBT creators and people who inspire me with their courage, strength, and unique perspectives on what it means to be LGBT or an ally. I'm excited to share this journey with you and evolve the channel with your feedback, questions, and perspectives.
Finally: To the young gay kid in a small, conservative town who's hunting around online to find more information about what LGBT means -- or to anyone out there in a similar situation -- this channel is for you. I want to hear from you and I want you to know that I've got your back.
Raymond Braun leads social campaigns for YouTube. He is currently on a volunteer leave of absence from his job to focus on launching an LGBT-themed YouTube channel. He was named to the 2014 Forbes 30 Under 30 class for his work on LGBT marketing, community engagement, and partnerships for YouTube and Google.
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