YouTube’s LGBTQ Problem Is a Business-Model Problem

A new lawsuit highlights a basic injustice in YouTube’s ‘ad-friendly’ policies

Will Oremus
Published in
8 min readAug 15, 2019


Photo by Szabo Viktor on Unsplash

YYouTube wants to be a platform for self-expression for all kinds of people. It also wants to make piles of money selling and placing ads via automated systems with minimal human review.

It’s having trouble doing both.

This week, a group of LGBTQ video creators sued YouTube and parent company Google in federal court, alleging that it has systematically discriminated against their content. Specifically, the lawsuit accuses YouTube of filtering, demonetizing, and otherwise limiting videos that deal with LGBTQ identities, making it hard for their creators to reach a wide audience and make money. The suit alleges violations of free-speech protections and civil rights, among other statutes, and seeks class-action status.

The lawsuit cites, for example, videos about gender identity that YouTube demonetized; accounts focused on transgender issues that YouTube suspended; and a news and entertainment show aimed at the LGBTQ community to which YouTube declined to sell ads. At the same time that YouTube was restricting this content, the suit alleges, it was failing to moderate an avalanche of bigoted comments directed at the creators on their own video pages. The suit, which you can read in full here, also cites examples of videos mocking or criticizing LGBTQ people that YouTube appears not to have subjected to the same restrictions.

You don’t have to assume it’s a conscious effort to see how the platform could be discriminating in systematic ways.

On the one hand, YouTube and Google bill themselves as LGBTQ-friendly companies. Google is an official sponsor of the San Francisco Pride parade and has campaigned for gay rights around the world. “We’re proud that so many LGBTQ creators have chosen YouTube as a place to share their stories and build community,” YouTube spokesperson Alex Joseph said in a statement.

On the other hand, this is not the first time the LGBTQ community has felt betrayed by the company, and by YouTube in particular. There was an uproar in June when video journalist Carlos…