In exciting news today, this year’s British LGBT Awards has included a whole bunch of YouTubers amongst their different nominations. But while we celebrate this honour in the name of #TeamInternet, there’s one tiny little glaring thing that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
The annual event, created “to showcase individuals and organisations who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the LGBT community” sees the return of the utterly questionable “Celebrity Straight Ally” category this year. This award is based on a public vote for influential heterosexuals who have done, in a few apparent cases, the absolute bare minimum to show their support for gender and sexual minorities (last year it went to Daniel Radcliffe, because reasons).
Nominees for this year’s Straight Ally award have an interesting record of LGBT-positive accolades: Celeb chef Nigella Lawson, noted on the site for the quote “I’m a gay man in a woman’s body“; actor Eddie Redmayne, whose strong performance as trans woman Lile Elbe in The Danish Girl polarised audiences; and then there’s Zoella.
Zoe’s biography on the nominee page, designed to herald her work as an advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, reads more like a CV where half the Work History section is about a person’s first job as a paper boy. Referencing her co-written novel Girl Online as a chance to “spread awareness of anxiety, of gay teens struggling with how their parents dealt with their sexuality and hard friendships, amongst other things” feels like an enormous stretch for award-winning material – especially considering the only gay character in the novel was GBF stereotype Elliot. This is a point that is painfully shadowed by her other biography credit: having Tyler Oakley as her “best friend”.
However, I have to be clear in saying that none of this is Zoe’s fault; this award is kind of a gimmick and she definitely did not write that cringeworthy paragraph on the British LGBT Awards site herself. Plus, it’s important to note at this stage that Zoella has undoubtably done a lot for the inspiration and self-esteem of her enormous (predominantly straight) audience; but of course, we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t down to the size of that audience that she is likely even being considered.
It’s quite apparent that in 2016, there are still many British media/corporate bodies who don’t entirely understand the diversity, history, or hype of the YouTube world. So when they try to get their heads around it in order to get “down with the kids”, there’s always one figurehead that immediately springs to their mind. With over 10 million subscribers and counting, an endlessly controversial publishing deal and constant media coverage, “Zoella” is usually the first name that rolls off the tongue of anyone trying to display an understanding of YouTube. But frustratingly, for many, hers is the only name. And then they stop trying.
“The fact that the awards are looking for inspirational LGBTQ+ people from the YouTube community is no doubt a fantastic thing,” admits Jazza John, gay British vlogger and LGBTQ+ advocate. “But when there are more straight people up for awards than trans individuals, and Hannah Hart has been nominated as a rising star for a ‘British LGBT Award’, despite being American and based in LA, it’s hard not to see this as less a celebration of diversity and more a popularity contest.”
“And though Zoe has done amazing things in raising awareness of anxiety and mental health, she hasn’t yet been formally involved with any LGBTQ+ campaign or charity. Is she really the best example of what it means to be a ‘straight ally’?”
Hannah Hart is nominated for Celebrity Rising Star
Although I speak as a heterosexual, I believe I share the opinion with a large percentage of the LGBTQ+ communities that “Straight Ally” is not something to be awarded. It is a requirement of basic human decency. We cannot fairly celebrate or even normalise the idea of differing gender and sexual identities if we insist on giving a participation award to the already heavily represented (and often obtusely resistant) majority. But if a body like the British LGBT Awards absolutely insists on validating the most baseline expectations of equality with a trophy, then it should go to someone who has made a significantly stronger statement than the lukewarm efforts of the current nominees; and not shoehorning Zoe in there for the sake of getting that sweet #TeamInternet vote.
If you have to want to reward a straight ally and a YouTuber at the same time, consider filmmaker Bertie Gilbert; who, at aged 18, co-wrote and directed the emotionally charged “trans coming out” story Blue Sushi with Sammy Paul in 2015 – making sure to consult with non-binary peers on the whole production process, and casting trans actor Poppy Harrold in the leading role.
Consider Hannah Witton, the British sex education vlogger who doesn’t allow herself to be blinded by heteronormativity, and frequently educates on the history and culture of other identities; usually collaborating with other creators who identify as such.
And if you’re really just looking for someone with social media influence, consider Orange Is The New Black actor Matt McGorry – who spends a disproportionate amount of time on his social media channels educating and advocating for all forms of equal rights, ensuring to maintain a crystal clear understanding of his own privilege.
Bertie Gilbert and Poppy Harrold in BLUE SUSHI, 2015
These people might not have 4 million Twitter followers, but they definitely have the thing that matters: respect from their own audiences as vocal advocates for LGBTQ+ rights. As we have seen from several bouts of #youtubefandomhonestyhour, calls for Zoe to use her influence in a more activist capacity have so far fallen on deaf ears; and rewarding passive advocacy such as occasionally collabing with a gay YouTuber will not do anything to further her attempts. Since the British LGBT Award body insists on rolling out this baffling Special Cookie For Not Hating Minorities; why not instead nominate someone for whom the award would actually mean something?