Social impact
min read

How are Gen Z using social media to celebrate queerness?

Written by
Izzy Hall
Published on
November 15, 2023
Last updated
January 23, 2024

What this article covers

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Social media is the place to go if you want to find out what Gen Z really thinks. It’s a place for honest opinions, authenticity, and creativity. And, as a generation of digital natives, Gen Zers have unfiltered access to one another and a detailed understanding of what’s going on around the world. 

Online, young people are confident within themselves. By using social media to connect with likeminded folk who share their opinions and experiences, platforms like TikTok are making them feel less alone, and in turn, braver. They know what’s right, and they’re not afraid to stand up for it. 

In this blog post, we’ll be exploring how Gen Zers are using social media to celebrate queerness. We’ll be discussing how the media has furthered their education and will be looking at how young people are using TikTok to engage, educate and celebrate one another. 

We know that Gen Zers value those businesses and brands that champion DE&I and value representation - in fact, our research revealed that 49% of Gen Zers from the UK and US think it's important to see transgender people represented in the media and advertising. So, it’s about time you learnt from the best. The best being, of course, Gen Z…

LGBTQ+ representation in the media

Historically, the LGBTQ+ community have not been portrayed well in the media. Whether that's being faced with direct mockery (we're looking at you, Friends) or an all-round lack of representation, it's been a difficult journey.

But 2014 and 2015 saw two huge moments in pop culture which changed the way the media spoke about transgender people. In 2014, Time Magazine's cover girl was Laverne Cox (of Orange is the New Black fame), with the issue titled 'Transgender Tipping Point'. And in 2015, in perhaps one of the biggest moments in TV history, Caitlyn Jenner (parent of Kim Kardashian and ex-partner of Kris Jenner) came out as a trans woman. This was monumental and documented, naturally, on TV show The Kardashians.

Fast forward to now and, for the most part, Gen Zers are more than comfortable talking about queerness. They're using the appropriate pronouns and are unafraid to correct one another. They celebrate others for who they are and expect equal rights for everyone. The future is, as we know, Gen Z.

And, at long last, the media is catching up. A study from GLAAD revealed that the 2021-2022 period saw a record high for LGBTQ+ representation in broadcast television in America, as well as racial diversity. When asked how they'd like to see trans people represented in the media, one of our Gen Z survey respondents said: "I would like to just see trans people live life, being liberated and happy, just like everyone else. I feel like when trying to make a grand, big representation, you just end up singling people out. Trans people are just people, so they should just be represented as that." Another said "However those from the community feel is best."

Many Gen Zers grow up with exposure to and understanding of these communities thanks to their representation in the media*; from Sex Education to Euphoria, some of their favourite shows and raising awareness and boosting representation. But which TV shows are leading the way?

* Don't be fooled into thinking that this is enough - more can always be done. We're just celebrating the wins where we can.

Transgender representation in Gen Z’s favourite shows

Heartstopper - Yasmin Finney's portrayal of Elle Argent

If you haven't watched Heartstopper yet, you're a fool. You're missing out on some of the most entertaining, sweet, educational and interesting TV out there, and it's all perfectly aimed at Gen Z.

One of the show's key characters, Elle (Yasmin Finney) has been praised for normalising the trans experience, and importantly refusing to conform to harmful tropes. The viewer knows that Elle is a trans woman, but it's not her key personality trait in the show.

We couldn't write about Heartstopper without mentioning Joe Locke and Kit Connor's portrayals as central characters and love interests Charlie and Nick. Outside of the show, Connor has taken to social media to address rumours surrounding his sexuality, writing that endless rumours forced him to come out as bisexual.

Euphoria - Hunter Schafer's portrayal of Jules Vaughn

Euphoria has been a huge hit with Gen Z. Thanks to its hard-hitting storylines and beautiful aesthetics, the show has gained an almost cult following online.

One key plotline follows central character Rue Bennett as she falls in love with new kid on the block, Jules Vaughn. Much like Elle in Heartstopper, Vaughn's status as a trans woman isn't ignored in the show, but it's certainly not the defining aspect of her character.

Sex Education - Dua Saleh's portrayal of Cal Bowman

Sex Education, we love you! Covering everything from interabled relationships to therapy, Sex Education is Gen Z's one-stop-shop for good vibes and even better education.

Shout out in particular to Dua Saleh's portrayal of Cal, who uses they/them pronouns and struggles with identity issues throughout the show. This raw and honest portrayal from Saleh has taught more Gen Zers in one series of the show than they ever learned at school.

Gen Z and pride: Using social media to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community

The internet is, for the most part, a truly wonderful thing. It instantaneously connects people across the world, opening communication and encouraging conversation - something that’s particularly important for marginalised communities. For the LGBTQ+ community, social media allows people to connect with others who share their experiences and situations, helping them feel less alone and empowering them to be their authentic selves. 

As digital natives, social media is a way of life for Gen Z. It’s a place they go to unwind and escape from the real world. So what are the key trends and creators who are using social media to celebrate queerness? 

1. TikTok trend: One of Your Girls

Australian singer Troye Sivan's latest single release, One of Your Girls, was a big hit with Gen Z. Actually, that's an understatement: it was a massive hit. But aside from being a total bop, the accompanying music video was the real hit with young people. In it, Sivan, in drag, seduces ex-Disney star Ross Lynch. Sivan channels total pop girl energy and oozes sex appeal.

@marciax3nyc By popular demand: the @Troye Sivan ♬ One Of Your Girls - Troye Sivan

And with this mainstream portrayal of a Sivan in drag, a new TikTok trend was born. The 'One of Your Girls' trend involves TikTokers miming along to the song's pre-chorus ('Sweet like Maribu / look at you'), before cutting to them in full drag singing the chorus ('Give me a call if you ever get lonely / I'll be like one of your girls or your homies'). Gen Zers were totally obsessed with the trend, taking the opportunity to get creative, express themselves and celebrate how bloody amazing they all look.

2. Dylan Mulvaney and Bud Light

Content creator Dylan Mulvaney first reached viral success with her TikTok series '365 Days of Girlhood', in which she documented her life as a trans woman.

Amidst a sea of media appearances and brand deals, Mulvaney made headlines earlier in the year following her partnership with Bud Light, which saw criticism from transphobes across the internet. Some threatened to boycott the brand, whilst Mulvaney received death threats.

The brand's response? Initially, nothing. Mulvaney, rightly so, called out the brand for refusing to publicly stand by her when times got difficult. She said: "For a company to hire a trans person and then not publicly stand by them is worse in my opinion than not hiring a trans person at all.".

We can all learn from this incident: work with a diverse board of people and stand alongside them. Back up your allyship with action.

3. Ezra Butler

Ezra Butler is a British Gen Zer who initially grew a following on TikTok with their series ‘doing things you’re afraid of to show you it’s okay!’. Since then, Ezra has come out as a trans man and has documented his entire journey on the platform, from surgery to hormone treatment.

Popular posts include caring for post-surgery scars, get ready with mes, and binder-wearing, many of which are used as educational opportunities. TikTok users flock to Ezra's accounting to comment on videos like he's their 'irl' friend, with comments like 'AHH IM SO HAPPY FOR YOU EZRA!!!'.

Importantly, users also use the comments section to ask questions, such as 'how come you put a binder on after surgery (genuine question i'm on the waiting list rn)' and 'thanks for your videos, they've got me through a lot and i find them really comforting.' Ezra allows himself to be vulnerable on TikTok, sharing the highs and lows of his journey and supporting others along the way. Love you, Ezra x

Using social media to educate and vulnerable

Once upon a time, people would debate sociopolitical issues in societies or in the pub. Now, they use TikTok.

With Gen Zers spending so much time online, it makes sense for news sources such as the BBC and NBC to have accounts on the platform. From creating short videos to sharing the key facts, these accounts are a great example of how to get news to Gen Z quickly. And, naturally, it makes sense for any subsequent discussion to also happen on the app, be that in the comments section or via new videos.

One recent example which shocked the Gen Z community was a speech from PM Rishi Sunak at the 2023 Conservative Party conference, in which he stated: "We shouldn't get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be... A man is a man and a woman is a woman."

And how was this met by Gen Z? Predictably, and understandably, not well. Users took to TikTok to film their live reactions whilst others took the opportunity to analyse the speech in more detail, discussing it within the context of LGBTQ+ rights and history. In other words, Gen Z educated one another.

We often discuss the fact that TikTok is a space for young people to be authentic and unfiltered, and this situation was no different. Transgender Gen Zers shared incredibly vulnerable videos, sharing how they really feel and how their community will be impacted by this speech. To quote one TikToker: "I wish I could sit in front of Rishi Sunak and ask him what he's so afraid of. What did we do? What did we do?!".

TikTok is more like a diary than a social media platform for Gen Z, and reactions such as this resonate with and empower them to stand up for what's right. When push comes to shove, Gen Zers are empathetic, and social media gives them the tools to act on it.

Social media empowers young people to be their authentic selves

In summary, social media has helped millions of people boost visibility and raise awareness. But with that increased visibility comes increased backlash - the more people who are aware of LGBTQ+ issues, the more people there are to stand against the community.

It's important to remember that, on the whole, Gen Zers use social media to celebrate queerness, raise awareness and educate one another. Social media is a revolutionary tool which allows young people to truly be themselves before they feel able to do so in real life, and we couldn’t be happier for them. 

Want more like this? Sign up to our Weekly Briefing for Gen Z trends, delivered straight to your inbox.

Affected by any of the issues discussed in this blog post? Check out the resources below:

  • GLAAD (A non-profit LGBTQ advocacy organisation)
  • Stonewall (An LGBTQ+ rights charity and support network)
  • Mermaids (Helping gender-diverse kids, young people and their families)
  • Young Minds (A charity fighting for children and young people's mental health)

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