Why Has ‘Transgender’ Become a Trigger Word for YouTube?


‘I feel like trans people and others under the LGBT umbrella are getting their videos demonetized, because they don’t follow the straight, white way of life,’ says Chase Ross.

Chase Ross is embroiled in a dispute with YouTube that seems to show the platform’s algorithm discriminates against transgender users like him.

On May 30, Ross uploaded a video comparing his emotional wellbeing now to five years ago, when he underwent surgery and transitioned from female to male.

The video, originally titled “FIVE YEARS POST-OP EMOTIONAL COMPARISON”, was approved for monetization by YouTube, meaning adverts would be served alongside the video. But then he decided to amend the title, adding in “(FTM TRANSGENDER)” to the end.

“The second I added ‘trans’ in the title the second time, it was demonetized,” he explains. Although the demonetization has affected Ross’s income – one other video that fell foul of YouTube’s algorithm earned him just $1.15 for more than 200,000 views, he revealed on Twitter – the broader issue of censoring trans videos concerned him more.

“It makes me feel depressed and not want to make videos anymore. I feel like a second-class citizen. I feel like trans people and other people under the LGBT umbrella are getting their videos demonetized because they don’t follow the straight, white way of life.”

This isn’t the first time that the video sharing platform has been accused of bias against its minority creators. In March 2017 Tyler Oakley, one of YouTube’s biggest personalities, tweeted that one of his videos highlighting LGBTQ+ trailblazers was blocked because YouTube allegedly did not show videos containing phrases that had anything to do with LGBTQ+.

The same month, British LGBTQ+ creator Rowan Ellis, who has 31,000 subscribers, uploaded a video claiming that at least 40 of her videos had been siloed into YouTube’s restricted content mode, which the platform claims helps remove “potentially objectionable content”.

At one point, a video produced by YouTube celebrating marriage equality was even sectioned off into the restricted content section. The site apologized to its LGBTQ+ creators at the time, saying “Our system sometimes make mistakes in understanding context and nuances when it assesses which videos to make available in Restricted Mode.”

The 2017 anti-LGBTQ+ restriction affected Ross, too. At the time, he had around 650 videos posted on his YouTube channel. But had you visited his channel using YouTube’s restricted mode, you’d have seen just four videos.

“It is filtering out a hell of a lot of LGBT content,” Ellis said. “This is something which goes far beyond just a mistake YouTube might have made.”

After a backlash – including YouTube elder statesman Hank Green tweeting “‘YouTube Restricted’ is for a way for parents to block potentially offensive content. Apparently that includes the existence of gay people?” – YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced a slew of changes meant to placate the LGBTQ+ community, including partnering with LGBTQ+ charity The Trevor Project and hosting feedback sessions and roundtable discussions with minority creators.

A year on from those initiatives, YouTube’s algorithm still seems by default to be flagging up videos containing the word “transgender” as something not suitable for all audiences.