“I used to be that gay who said being gay was just one small part of me,” Tyler Oakley said in an interview with NBC Out. “Then I realized that to do that is to minimize where I’m coming from.”
Over his 10-year YouTube career, Oakley has amassed nearly 8 million subscribers to his channel, with videos that cover everything from personal confessionals to collaborations with fellow YouTubers.
But "Chosen Family," his latest video project, might be his most political to date. The eight-part series, which will be posted on YouTube throughout Pride Month, tells stories of "queer resilience" from various intersections of the LGBTQ community and seeks to shine a light on elements of queer history that often go ignored.
The most recent video in the series, which debuted Tuesday, tells the stories of two refugees, Shadi and Sharifa. Shadi is a gay man from Syria and has a fiancé. Shadi is a lesbian activist from Uganda. Oakley sat down with both in their homes to listen to their stories.
“There are so many places around the world we need to fight for in the LGBTQ+ community, but it’s not all roses here,” Oakley said. “To talk about leaving one form of discrimination in their country and then to come here and face another form of discrimination from the general public or people in power, it was an enlightening experience.”
Oakley said in today’s political climate, it’s more important than ever to listen to the stories of marginalized people.
“I have found just by making this series, there’s so much I can learn and ways to be a better ally,” he said. “If I want to be the best ally for disenfranchised people, it’s not by speaking up for them. It’s by letting them speak for themselves.”
Among the other videos in the series is one that focuses on Pulse, the Orlando gay nightclub where 49 people were killed by a gunman last June. Oakley traveled to Orlando with fellow YouTuber Raymond Braun.
“When I left after filming with Christine Leinonen, the mother of a victim at Pulse, we laughed and there were tears, and I was just so grateful,” Oakley said. “I left Orlando with my soul enriched, and I felt the same way after filming with refugees.”
Oakley said his ultimate goal for the "Chosen Family" series is to tell his audience that there are a million ways to be queer.
“If there’s one thing I hope people take away from 'Chosen Family,' it’s to listen more, experience empathy and celebrate queer life now,” he said.