A Multi-method Examination of Race, Class, Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Motivations for Participation in the YouTube-based "It Gets Better Project" Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 20, 2019
  • Phillips, Laurie Marie
    • Affiliation: Hussman School of Journalism and Media
  • On September 15, 2010, Dan Savage and Terry Miller created a YouTube channel that turned into a global phenomenon: the It Gets Better Project (IGBP). This multi-method study employs: 1) Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis (MCDA) to examine race, class, gender, and sexual orientation within IGBP videos; and 2) video chat-based in-depth interviews for determining participants' motivations for IGBP participation and production of crowdsourced, social media-based strategic communication. Using sociologist Patricia Hill Collins' matrix of domination as a theoretical framework for understanding structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal oppressions that led to the IGBP's creation, video production, and video content, this empirical study draws from a sample of 21 videos and 20 interviews. MCDA findings reveal that participants presented a pared-back version of their own racial, class, gender, and sexual identities; projected their identities onto viewers; and created and perpetuated myths through their video narratives. In doing so, certain identities are presented to the exclusion of others, potentially leaving viewers outside of these boundaries more isolated, at risk for being even more suicidal because again they do not fit in, and confused about what identities are even possible. Thus, the IGBP videos both challenge the matrix of domination and reify its very existence. Interview data reveal four categorizations, including participants': 1) felt sense of camaraderie with at-risk LGBTQ and questioning youth; 2) urgency to rectify what was missing from their own sexual identity development; 3) need to alter the media representation of lesbian and gay men in - and through - the IGBP; and 4) impact of their current positionality. Participants were forthcoming about the intersectionality of their racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, age, religious, and geographic identities and how those led to their IGBP participation, though that intersectionality rarely surfaced explicitly in their video content. In addition to contributing to numerous literatures on LGBTQ suicide, bullying, and harassment; LGBTQ media representation; strategic communication; and online participatory culture, this study has several methodological, theoretical, and practical implications for both scholars and practitioners, including participant recruitment, video chat-based interviewing, application of the matrix of domination to strategic communication efforts, and more.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Riffe, Daniel
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2013

This work has no parents.