Film & TV

Coming out online: YouTube stars discuss their stories at LGBTQ+ panel

Image by Emily Stanton

‘Coming out’ can be a daunting prospect for any person; when you are in the public eye, there’s an even greater number of people to come out to. At an LGBTQ+ panel at Vidcon London, online personalities Patrick Starrr, Elle Mills and Riyadh K discussed their experiences of coming out online and gave advice of for those wanting to come out, as well as for those wanting to be an ally to their LGBTQ+ loved ones.

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Patrick Starrr is a beauty guru with over 4 million subscribers on YouTube who has worked with celebs such as Kim K, Paris Hilton, and most recently, Naomi Campbell.

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Elle Mills is a popular vlogger who recently came out as bisexual to her friends, family and online following.

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Riyadh Khalaf is an Irish-Iraqi YouTuber and documentary maker, he is one of Ireland’s leading activists for LGBT+ rights.


Coming out stories can vary massively, but they’re all important and valid…

 All three panellists have very different coming out stories, but this simply proves that there is no right or wrong way to come out. They all did it in a way that they felt comfortable and confident doing so, which is really important message to reiterate to their audiences.

Elle Mills was unsure of her sexuality herself when originally starting her channel and so coming out was a totally new experience both off and online. She had a very creative idea for the event, “I decided to film a video, I started it by sitting my friends down and describing my crush to them. They all had to draw what they thought my crush would look like, they all drew boys…I showed them my crush off-camera and that was that!” When coming out to her family, Elle had another innovative idea, which was to wrap her entire house in rainbow wrapping! “The response was overwhelming, all positive, my experience coming out online has been the best thing. It completely changed my life.”

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Patrick Starrr joked that he didn’t really have to come out, “I was just born gay”. Sat on stage in a sparkly blue one piece with the British flag proudly displayed in rhinestones on his chest, he explained that he had always just been himself -flamboyant! Especially online, he never felt that he needed to explain his sexuality.

Riyadh Khalaf, like many, feared the consequences of coming out to his parents, “my father was from Iraq and was a practicing Muslim at the time, so I was terrified of his reaction.” Riyadh struggled to get the words out when coming out to his dad, he grabbed a school book, tore out the back page and wrote the words ‘I’m gay’ before sliding it across to his dad. At first his dad was determined to send him to the Middle East and find him a pretty girl, so he could ‘see the light’. “Thankfully he saw the right kind of light and has come to love me and my boyfriend; he comes to pride, he gets drunk with drag queens, he’s an activist!” Riyadh happily assured the audience if there was hope for him and his dad, then there is hope for anyone.

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Coming out online can have an enormous impact…

Coming out to a huge online audience can be massively impactful on those watching who may be questioning their own identities and sexualities. Patrick Starrr explained that “just existing on my own channel allows me to help others…I use my leverage and visibility to be an LGBT role model!”

Riyadh himself was inspired by the coming out of YouTuber Tyler Oakley several years ago, describing him as his ‘saviour’ because he could see Tyler was existing happily as a homosexual person. “Growing up in Ireland it wasn’t quite the same but there was a glimmer of hope for me. When I started YouTube, I wasn’t making explicitly LGBT content as I wasn’t sure of my identity. When I did, I started getting comments asking for guidance and thanking me for helping…it’s like you’re speaking to yourself at 16.”

Elle had a similar experience as in her hometown, sexuality is a taboo subject but she explained that ‘being in the YouTubecommunity really helps’ as there is so much support and acceptance.


Future job prospects were not a concern…

For some, coming out in such a public manner could make them fearful for future job prospects as, unfortunately, not everyone/everywhere in the world is as accepting as they should be of all identities and sexualities. Riyadh suggested that “being brave can actually get you more work”; he was performing as Ireland’s youngest pro drag queen several years ago in the biggest gay bars. He had been concerned that this would affect his future plans to be a journalist, but it turned out that this made him more unique and interesting with companies such as the BBCasking him to work on projects about drag.

Patrick had been working as a make-up artist in MAC, he had LGBT colleagues but had been asked to take off his make-up by a manager. He realised he had to overcome his self-doubt, he left his job and became a successful beauty YouTuber, eventually getting his own lines of make-up at MAC! Again, being brave gave him a platform for success.

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Although Elle has never had a ‘proper job’ outside of YouTube, she was not worried that coming out would affect her online career much. The video she made is now one of her most popular and received thousands of supportive comments.


Constantly having to come out?

 As not everyone you meet will know your sexuality, some people feel obliged to constantly explain and come out over and over. However, Riyadh thought that “it’s not like you have to have a disclaimer on your head every time you meet someone…your sexuality is an aspect of you, but it’s not all of you”.

“It’s a reminder that you should always be an advocate and an ally to the LGBT community” Patrick suggested. By showing yourself to be an ally, this can relieve the pressure on those feeling forced to constantly have to explain their sexuality and identity.


Gender education…

 One of the most asked questions Patrick Starrr gets is about his gender; as he wears make-up and dresses in a variety of clothes which would traditionally have been labelled as ‘women’s’, some assume his gender identity. “It doesn’t aggravate me when I get asked this, I explain that there can be more than two labels…it’s a matter of educating people. I’m a man but I love wearing make-up and make-up doesn’t define who I am gender wise.”

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What you can learn from coming out…

The panel agreed that what they had all learn about coming out was that it was not as scary of an experience as they had expected. “You underestimate how much love you have in your life” explained Elle.

Riyadh admitted that before coming out he believed “50% of people must hate queers” but later realised that actually “98% of people love us… there are so many allies I was oblivious to”.


Advice for parents…

 Patrick offered this advice for parents and loved ones who want to be supportive; “If you know your child, or even someone else may be struggling, let them know you’re there for them. Reassurance and time are key, let them do it on their own terms. We all deserve to be on this earth.”

“When I came out I was ready, no gentle approach!” Riyadh explained, “your child isn’t trying to be difficult, they’ve been battling with this for a long time.” He also suggested that by going to events like Pride with them, allowing them to dress as they wish and always standing up for them will be massively helpful; “they will honestly thank you for it”.


If you could give your past-self advice for coming out…

“Chill! I was scared and confused, I was just making my life harder and getting made at myself for no reason.” -Elle

“I used to try and trick myself into being straight, stop thinking you don’t have a right to fancy Zac Efron, that’s what he’s there for! The thing you hated most about yourself will be the thing you love the most.” -Riyadh


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Words by Martha Hughes