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LGBTQ YouTube: Community and Branding through New Media


Since the late twentieth century, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people have become a familiar presence on the media landscape. Drawing from sociology, LGBTQ media studies, feminist media studies, and cultural studies, this dissertation interrogates broader narratives about LGBTQ media representation, using YouTube as an entry point. Through digital ethnography and content analysis, I provide three key findings. First, I illustrate that YouTube brands itself as a progressive company by strategically representing advertiser-friendly LGBTQ video creators (also known as YouTubers) who vary in their identities, yet the platform algorithmically discriminates against YouTubers producing controversial content that threatens its digital presence and advertising relationships. Second, I show that video creators modify their production and algorithmic strategies to navigate the platform’s restrictions, and some creators then use YouTube to develop personal brands that grow beyond the platform. Third, I underline the communities and social bonds that form because of LGBTQ creators. By sharing stories of identity development, pride, and belonging, these YouTubers inspire viewers to accept their own identities and, in some cases, become video creators themselves. Creators persist in their community engagement and media production despite working within platforms structured by algorithmic bias, capitalism, and heteronormativity. This dissertation ultimately suggests that media is polysemic and the site of ambivalent, contradictory politics.

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