YouTuber Tyler Oakley discusses politics at Illini Union on Thursday


Jacob Singleton

YouTube and podcast personality Tyler Oakley speaks to the campus community in the Illini Union I-Rooms on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 at 7 p.m. In this free event, Tyler spoke about everything from his coming out story and current activism to his experience meeting the Obama family.

By Isra Rahman, Staff writer

YouTube celebrity, Tyler Oakley, visited campus Thursday to talk about intersectional activism and the role of being an influential YouTuber.

Oakley has over seven million subscribers on YouTube. He has done work with former President Barack Obama and an array of other TV personalities. Aside from meeting with these “celebs,” Oakley also specializes in queer activism.

The event was organized by the Illini Union board titled, “An Evening with Tyler Oakley.” According to Illini Union board member, Dixie Limbachia, senior in Media, the purpose of the event was to unify the campus.

“With the new administration, I knew how their mindset was and with stuff going on campus, all this negativity coming in, I was thinking, ‘Oh we need to bring someone who is really positive like Tyler. I know the impact he has had and the lives that have changed because of him,’” Limbachia said. “This is such a big thing especially with the trans bill coming in and how the administration is responding.”

The show began with an informal conversation between Limbachia and Oakley on stage. Oakley’s first speaking event in his career was at the University seven years ago.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    “This is truly where this part of my life began and I could not have been more nervous here seven years ago,” Oakley said.

    Oakley was recently Michigan State University’s youngest and first openly gay grand marshal during its homecoming parade. As an MSU alum, this was especially important to him.

    “It was truly an honor to be the first openly gay grand marshal,” Oakley said. “Especially because it meant a lot for them to honor a YouTuber since it only began when I was there as a student.”

    Oakley began his career on YouTube in freshman year dorm room at MSU. He started his channel, not with the goal of gaining millions of subscribers, but to let friends and family keep up with what he was doing on campus.

    His career later spiraled as he realized more than just friends and family were watching his videos. Oakley’s initial dream job was to work at Google, but after a rough rejection, he moved out to San Francisco and kickstarted his career.

    “When I started, YouTube was just a way to connect,” Oakley said. “YouTube is great right now, it is harder to break through just because how saturated it is with content but it is so diverse. You can get a glimpse into a person’s perspective around the world.”

    An advocacy organization especially important to Oakley is called The Trevor Project. It is an organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.

    Oakley has been an advocate for coming out when it feels right and having a support system in place. The Trevor Project serves as a support system by providing a 24-hour hotline for anyone in the U.S. who needs someone to speak with.

    “It is important to have someone there just as a listening ear,” Oakley said.

    His support for the organization started after he selected it as his Project for Awesome in 2008.

    Project for Awesome is an annual charity event on YouTube where users all over the world upload videos about their favorite charity. Since the event’s inception, Oakley has been involved in The Trevor Project. He even used his birthday as a way to raise money for the organization.

    “We have collectively raised over a million dollars, with the average donation being 10 to 15 dollars,” Oakley said. “It really shows the power of community especially the internet community.” 

    In addition to supporting the project, Oakley visited the previous administration in the White House, partnering on initiatives for higher education and healthcare involvement.

    “Obama reached out to a group of YouTubers to reach out to younger individuals for initiatives like health care,” Oakley said. “I appreciate the way I can reach a big audience in a meaningful way with this platform.”

    The YouTuber answered questions submitted via notecard to the union board.

    He spoke on the uncertainty of his job and the direction he is going in. Oakley said as long as he likes YouTube, he will keep doing it as it is both intimidating and liberating.

    Attendees of the event ranged from high school students from the area to college students. Some, have watched Oakley’s videos for years.

    “It means so much to have him here, especially because I remember growing up and watching his videos,” said Heena Hira, sophomore in LAS. “He has transformed the way YouTube has become more an inclusive space for people.” 

    To close, Oakley spoke about how to be a good ally in today’s political climate.

    “An ally isn’t a label you plop on it, it’s a verb you do every day,” he said.

    [email protected]