Irish LGBT vlogger, Riyadh Khalaf is a coming phenomenon. Here, he challenges the dangerous lies peddled by far-right activist Milo Yiannopoulos and discusses his forthcoming BBC3 series, Queer Britain.
YouTube activist Riyadh Khalaf has watched the rise of alt.right provacateur Milo Yiannopoulos with a mix of horror and disbelief. Yiannopoulos recently generated huge controversy with remarks that were interpreted as condoning pederasty– that is sexual activity between young boys and grown men.
“When I see him and when I hear him – it’s an oxymoron, but I see a very intelligent imbecile,” Khalaf, a native of Bray, Co. Wicklow says. “Milo says disgusting things about pretty much every minority in the world. I look at him and what I see is an opportunistic, money hungry, attention hungry, very literate, very intelligent young man with absolutely no morals.”
Lost Book Deal
Almost inevitably, Yiannopoulos chosen targets include feminists (he has called feminism a ‘cancer’), immigrants (he encouraged students at his university talks to turn in any of their undocumented peers), and, of course, trans people. He took particular delight in outing a trans student at a talk at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
The right embraced Yiannopoulos and used the fact he is gay as a cloak to hide their bigotry. It was a variation on the classic ‘I have a black friend’ defence.
Recently, however, Yiannopoulos finally crossed the line. A video surfaced of him defending intimacy between young boys and grown men, claiming such experiences could be a ‘coming of age’ and ‘beneficial’. “The views that he was talking about – young men being helped by older men through a rite-of-passage to figure themselves out and to create a bond – well, it’s BULLSHIT,” says Khalaf, whose YouTube channel has more than 250,000 subscribers.
“There have been situations where I, as a gay man who clearly looks gay, have been sitting on a train, where there’s been a child opposite me. I’d be waving at them and talking to them. And I can see the parents getting uncomfortable,” Riyadh says, “I’ve seen parents turn their children away, and that’s hurtful – it’s a non-verbal communication. They’re thinking there’s a predator or they’re thinking: that man fancies my child. Would they do that if I was a 26 year-old female? Milo’s views and Milo’s message reinforces that.”
Yiannopoulos’ comments have cost him dearly. He lost his job at alt.right website Breitbart; his CPAC conservative talk was cancelled; and he lost a $250,000 book deal with Simon & Schuster. The high cost notwithstanding, Riyadh feels that Yiannopoulos sees this controversy as another opportunity. “I can guarantee,” he observes, “that right now, wherever he is in the world, he’s sitting there rubbing his hands smiling, looking at all of the headlines he’s appeared in.”
For his part, Riyadh is ready to take his advocacy of LGBTQ rights to new heights with his forthcoming BBC 3 series, Queer Britain. The name, it turns out, was the subject of considerable behind-the-scenes debate. “It was was going to be called Gay In The UK. Then my executive producer threw Queer Britain into the mix. I had an absolutely allergic, angry reaction, I said: ‘Lizzie this is highly offensive, no way it’s not happening!’ And then she said, ‘Well that reaction says it all... that’s the name of the show’.
“We’re trying to uncover the issues that exist in the LGBTQ community that aren’t spoken about,” he continues. “We’ve got six individual documentaries and through them we explore LGBTQ homelessness; racism, faith and sexuality; the word ‘queer’ and how people are now identifying as queer before they identify as LGB or T; queer porn, and body image.” Coming out to your parents can be the most nerve-wracking event in a young LGBT person’s life. This difficult experience was movingly addressed by Khalaf in a video, in which he and his parents recalled the day he made the announcement at home. His father confessed to considering suicide. Not only was his son gay – he worried as to how his own conservative family might react.
“It’s never easy to hear a loved one tell you that they were contemplating suicide,” Khalaf says. Coming out videos are a staple of LGBTQ YouTubers: they serve an important function, by showing hundreds of thousands of young LGBTQ people that exiting the closet can be a positive experience.
“It was a tough video to make and thankfully it had a positive outcome,” he says now. “The emails that we receive even still, over a year later, are incredibly moving. Kids that have watched this have been moved to not self harm or to not take their own life – but instead to have the courage to come out to their parents. They see that even when things are that bad they can still be turned around and there’s always hope.”
Accepting your queerness can be a slow process. “It took me about four years,” says Riyadh, “of asking myself: are you really this way? That’s four years of asking yourself can you change it? Four years of asking yourself when you’re lying in bed at night, ‘If I think about breasts and vaginas enough maybe, just maybe I’ll turn myself straight and everything will be fine’. Now, being queer is something I identify with. I am queer. And I love my queerness.”
The battle for wider LGBTQ acceptance rumbles on. In America, President Donald Trump recently rescinded Obama’s protections that allow transgender students to use the restroom corresponding with the gender they identify as.
“If you look at human history and human nature,” Riyadh observes, “we’re actually embarrassingly predictable. As a race we go in these circles and these waves. For example: at one point in history it was okay to be blatantly racist. At one point in history it was okay to be blatantly homophobic. At this point in history it’s okay to be blatantly transphobic. And this is where we’re at now.”
Riyadh has no truck whatsoever with the religious views that so often underpin prejudice.
“I have absolutely no religion,” he states. “I’d go as far as to say I am atheist. That’s been a journey for me, of getting over the fear that’s instilled in you that if you don’t believe you will burn for eternity. I am a spiritual person, but it is more human to human. When it comes to organised religion indoctrinating young people with scripture and fear, I am 100% against it.”
Queer Britain will be broadcast on BBC3 later this year.
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