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R.J. Aguiar, Will Shepherd, vlog, YouTube, gay news, Washington Blade

R.J. Aguiar, left, and Will Shepherd, a gay vlogging couple. (Photo courtesy Shepherd)

In a world of stereotypes, two couples want to show gay relationships are normal by putting their own on YouTube for the world to see.

Will Shepherd, 24, and R.J. Aguiar, 25, have been daily vlogging their relationship on their YouTube channel “shep689” since January 2012. It started as a month-long experiment to video every day of their lives together. Since then, their channel has expanded to more than 100,000 subscribers and almost two years worth of daily videos.

“Daily vlogging happened by accident,” Aguiar says. “We decided to try it for a month and thought it would fail completely, but instead it took off. We tried it for another month and it took off even more than the first.”

Shepherd started the channel as a hobby to respond to funny videos his friend posted. It grew into posting self-help advice and book reviews and eventually included “day in the life” videos after he met Aguiar. Occasionally the two would record themselves on vacation and at the request of subscribers, they decided to try vlogging every day. From there, the channel’s focus became Shepherd and Aguiar’s everyday lives together.

“I wanted to portray gay life as it should be,” Shepherd says. “We wanted to show that there are very little differences between the daily life of a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple.”

Shepherd, who works in advertising, and Aguiar, who works in marketing, have documented large parts of their lives like their move from their home state of Florida to Los Angeles and getting a dog. They’ve also recorded little moments such as going to Chipotle, being stuck in traffic and getting locked out of the house. Their channel led to the launch of their website,, a mix of everything from advice and reviews to recipes and personal stories.

Kaelyn Petras, 25, and Lucy Sutcliffe, 21, started their YouTube channel “Kaelyn and Lucy” to stay connected in their long-distance relationship, which began online. Sutcliffe had been following Petras’s Taylor Swift Tumblr and saw that Petras posted she was ready to come out to her family.

Lucy Sutcliffe, left, and Kaelyn Petras vlogged their long-distance relationship. (Photo courtesy Sutcliffe)

Lucy Sutcliffe, left, and Kaelyn Petras vlogged their long-distance relationship. (Photo courtesy Sutcliffe)

“I’d spent the springtime obsessively watching all six seasons of ‘The L Word’ and had sort of just begun accepting myself as a gay woman,” Sutcliffe says. “So I decided to send Kaelyn a quick email, just letting her know that she wasn’t alone and that I was here if she ever wanted to talk. A few hours later she responded and we just haven’t stopped talking.”

Sutcliffe, who resides in England, had planned a road trip in the United States and decided to fly to visit Petras, who was in veterinary school in Saint Kitts (an island in the West Indies), at the end of her trip. Sutcliffe, a student filmmaker, filmed the trip and uploaded it to YouTube, mainly as a memento for the couple. Instead, it gained unexpected popularity.

“A few months passed and then literally overnight the video had gained several thousand views,” Sutcliffe says. “People had started commenting, ‘This video saved my life,’ ‘You girls have showed me that I don’t have to be ashamed of my sexuality,’ and ‘Our daughter has just come out to us and we didn’t know how to react. We’ve just stumbled upon your video and you’ve showed us that our daughter needs nothing from us but support and acceptance.’”

Now, their channel has reached more than 100,000 subscribers. They record videos of their visits together both in England and the United States and have expanded into separate vlog posts of their lives when they’re apart. They film themselves watching television shows on their laptops and going to get sushi while also filming the emotional turmoil they face when they have to leave each other. They’re the sort of situations any couple can relate to.

“The main goal of the channel is to normalize lesbian/gay relationships and that it’s OK to embrace who you are and be proud of it,” Sutcliffe says.

Exposing your life to thousands of people does have its downside. Shepherd and Sutcliffe, who edit their videos, both are careful not to reveal too much personal information. However, Shepherd says some viewers have been able to piece together where he and Aguiar live and have spread the information on the Internet. Sutcliffe admits that it can also be difficult for people to comment and question her and Petras’ relationship.

Yet both couples plan to continue sharing their lives on YouTube.

Shepherd and Aguiar recently got engaged; both of their proposal videos to each other are on their channel. They expect to continue vlogging at least until their wedding set for 2015. They want to let subscribers share in that day as well with plans to have it professionally filmed or vlogged by friends.

“Since we embarked on this as an experiment, it’s kind of difficult to know how it’s going to end,” Aguiar says. “It has to be organic the same way that it started.”

Petras and Sutcliffe plan to move in together this summer. They still want to continue making videos even though they recognize their videos will change as their long distance situation changes. They hope to continue to show a gay relationship is like any other relationship.

“Nothing we do or say is scripted or fake. It’s just us being our normal, sometimes boring, selves,” Sutcliffe says. “We love having people countdown with us, cheer us on when we’re together and cry with us when we leave. It sounds cheesy, but it’s like having loads and loads of supportive friends, really.”

Helping young people struggling with coming out who are searching for solace on YouTube is something Shepard and Aguiar hope they can ultimately accomplish.

“When I was coming out,” Shepherd says, “I thought I had to change who I was and be a magical quip machine or a ‘Queer as Folk’-type gay. The point of our videos is to show that you don’t have to change who you are.”


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Gay man attacked during Detroit Pride

Christin Howard, Detroit, attacked, gay news, Washington Blade

Christin Howard was beaten at Detroit Pride in a hate crime that was captured on video and posted to YouTube. (Screen capture courtesy ABC 7 News)

DETROIT — A gay man said he was attacked outside Detroit’s annual Pride celebration on June 8 because of his sexual orientation.

Christin Howard told the Detroit Free Press that a group of men beat him near Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit where Motor City Pride was taking place after he stopped to take a picture with a girl whom he said recognized him from Instagram. Howard told the newspaper he suffered a broken finger, bruises on his face and back and damage to his left eye during the attack.

A video of the attack has also been posted to YouTube.

“It scared me,” Howard told the Detroit Free Press. “Now every time I see a group of guys I get that same feeling that I’m about to be bashed or they’re about to say something. I feel like I have quick flashbacks and just jump a little bit.”

Detroit Police Chief James Craig has categorized the attack as a hate crime.


Gay country singer Steve Grand sends video viral

Steve Grand, All American Boy, Country Music, Gay News, Washington Blade

‘All-American Boy’ by Steve Grand features a gay man who skinny-dips with his straight friend. (Screen capture via Youtube)

CHICAGO—A gay country singer’s first music video has received more than 840,000 views since he posted it to YouTube on July 2.

The video for “All-American Boy” by Steve Grand features a gay man who skinny-dips with his straight friend while they are on a camping trip. The two men briefly kiss, but the straight man playfully rejects his advance.

Grand told ABC News on July 9 his song is “about that longing for someone” as opposed to “about being gay.”

“I wrote it from the most [pure] genuine place of my soul,” he said.

Some gay rights advocates have criticized Grand’s video for depicting a scenario they say could prompt anti-gay violence.

“Maybe Grand figures that his fellow gays will be too distracted by the video’s lascivious preoccupation with his pouty lips and sculpted abs to notice that,” Mark S. King wrote on the Bilerico Project on July 8. “As portrayed here, he is one false move away from some serious gay bashing.”


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YouTube accused of ‘protecting’ anti-gay church

Brent Childers, gay news, Washington Blade

Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America. (Photo courtesy of Childers)

The LGBT advocacy group Faith In America says YouTube has refused to explain why it removed from its website a video produced by the group about a 22-year-old gay man who says he was held against his will for four months and assaulted by members of a North Carolina church that considers homosexuality a form of “demonic possession.”

Brent Childers, executive director of Faith In America, said he believes the Spindale, N.C., based Word of Faith Fellowship church misled YouTube into thinking the video infringed upon its religious freedom.

Childers and others who have monitored the church say it has the characteristics of a cult and exerts extraordinary control over the lives of its members and their children. They say Word of Faith Fellowship, which operates on a 40-acre campus, has a long history of abusive treatment of gays.

“It is really dumbfounding,” Childers said. “YouTube allows a controversial video that pokes fun at Islam. But here we have a video in which a person is telling his own personal knowledge of how this bizarre Christian church treats gay youth or those suspected of being gay, and they remove the video.”

Attempts by the Washington Blade to reach YouTube, which is owned by the search engine giant Google, have been unsuccessful. A YouTube spokesperson couldn’t be reached by phone and the company didn’t respond to email sent to an address listed for “press inquiries.”

Pastors Jane and Sam Whaley, the founders and leaders of Word of Faith Fellowship, posted a message on the church website denying the church has mistreated gays and said the allegations made by the Faith In America video were false.

The gay man who is the subject of the video, Michael Lowry, told the Washington Blade his parents raised him as a church member since he was born and that he attended church operated schools on the church compound from kindergarten through 12th grade.

He said church members subjected him to severe pressure since his early teens to expel what they said were “demons” within him that were causing him to embrace homosexuality.

“I was very different than a lot of the other kids,” he said. “I was viewed as being gay. I never said I am gay…It was a very hard time. Through my whole school years I was very bullied, hurt because of that.”

Lowry said that around July of 2011, church members came to his home while his parents were out of town and forced him to go with them to a building on the church compound known as the Fourth Building, where male church members reportedly are taken for punishment for violating church rules.

He said he was held in the building against his will for four months and at one point was assaulted by church members assigned to watch over him during his stay at the facility. He said church officials released him in November 2011.

FBI may have been contacted by U.S. Attorney’s Office

Jerry Cooper, a Baptist minister and former member of Word of Faith Fellowship, said he has been assisting Lowry since last year in his role as a counselor to people who leave the church and who often suffer psychological scars from their experiences with the church.

Childers said the video that YouTube deleted consisted of an interview with Cooper talking about Michael Lowry’s case. Childers said for unknown reasons YouTube did not delete a separate video that includes an interview with Lowry.

According to Cooper and Don Huddle, a member of Faith Freedom Fund, a North Carolina group that helps ex-Word of Faith Fellowship members adjust to life outside the church, said church members brought Lowry to a nearby hotel after they released him.

“They took him to the hotel with just a few of his belongings,” said Huddle, who noted that someone familiar with the church alerted his group to Lowry’s plight and informed him that a confused and emotionally distraught young man had been taken to the hotel.

“I picked him up from the hotel and brought him to a safe house,” he said. Huddle said Faith Freedom Fund has a network of volunteers and supporters who spring into action when they learn of Word of Faith Fellowship members who desire to leave the church.

Cooper said he met Lowry through Huddle’s group in 2011 and advised him to consider reporting the church’s actions against him to the Rutherford County Sheriff’s office, which is the law enforcement agency in the area where the church is located.

He said Lowry reported to a Sheriff’s Office investigator that he had been taken against his will and held against his will by church members, and the office began an investigation that resulted in Lowry being called this week to testify before a county grand jury. His testimony was scheduled for Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Childers said Faith In America contacted the U.S. Justice Department about Lowry’s allegations in October and called on the department to investigate the church’s alleged detention of Lowry and his claim of being assaulted by church members as a possible anti-gay hate crime.

A spokesperson for the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of North Carolina, which represents the Justice Department, said she would make inquiries about whether her office has responded to Faith In America’s request for an investigation. The spokesperson didn’t immediately get back to the Blade.

However, Cooper said an FBI agent interviewed Lowry for several hours last week about his allegations against the church, a development that suggests the U.S. Attorney’s office contacted the FBI to investigate the matter.

A copy of an incident report taken from Lowry by the Sheriff’s Office in February 2012 and released by Faith in America, says a group of men affiliated with the church “held him down and hit him about the face and chest area” at the time the church held him against his will in August 2011.

“Mr. Lowry stated that he told them to let go but they would not,” the report says. “The reason they [did] this was because he was homosexual and they [were] trying to get him to stop being homosexual. When this incident was taking place, the group would tell him he had demons in him and he was going to hell,” the report says.

‘YouTube… is giving cover to a church that believes it is OK to harm gay youth’

A statement released by Faith In America says that during Lowry’s forced stay at the church facility “he was subjected to humiliating acts, such as being made to sleep on the floor in the hallway and had to submit to supervised bathroom visits because church members feared he might be masturbating.”

“What YouTube is doing, perhaps inadvertently in this particular case, is giving cover to a church that believes it is OK to harm gay youth and families in the name of religious teaching,” Chiders said. “In doing so, it is giving cover to a vast number of churches who do the same thing, whether a small charismatic church in rural North Carolina or a large Methodist church in some American suburb.”

In a posting on its website, Word of Faith Fellowship disputes Lowry’s allegations and accuses Faith in America of “repeated vicious lies” about the church.

“We have always been a church that has loved everybody, because God is love,” the statement says. “What Michael Roy Lowry has said never happened. We would never allow it to happen. We do not discriminate against anyone, and we never have.”

The statement adds, “We never knew Michael Roy Lowry was gay until we heard it on the news program. It would have made no difference to us, because we love him.”

Cooper, who said he has closely followed Word of Faith Fellowship since he left it in 1998, said evidence is “overwhelming” from people who leave the church that church leaders abuse people suspected of being gay or suspected of engaging in any type of sexual activity not deemed appropriate by the church, even between consenting adults, gay or straight.

He said the church has prohibited Lowry’s family from seeing or talking to Lowry, a practice he said the church carries out with most people who leave it.


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