‘State of Pride’ maker Raymond Braun wants LGBTQ youth to know there are people ‘who love you’ and ‘you are not alone’

PHOTO: Participants with rainbow flag during the Motor City Pride Parade at Detroit, Michigan, June 10, 2018.PlayNurPhoto via Getty Images, FILE
WATCH 'State of Pride' documentary peeks into the lives of LGBTQ youth in the US

To Raymond Braun, an LGBTQ+ advocate and documentarian, the meaning of “pride” depends on who you ask.

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“Pride is a celebration. Pride is a party. Pride is rebellion. Pride is protest. Pride is empowering. Pride is a community event. Pride is visibility at any cost. Pride is a conversation starter. Pride is a beacon of hope. Pride is a connection to our history. Pride is political. Pride is advocacy. Pride is hope. Pride is a kaleidoscope… Pride is love,” Braun told “Nightline.”

The 28-year-old internet star, journalist and activist set out on a mission to explore and show what pride means to different people across the country.

With the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion this month, Braun spent last June traveling to three different communities for his documentary “State of Pride,” which is now available for free on YouTube.

“Since Stonewall, Pride has been a looking glass into the entire LGBTQ community, so I want to know what it means to young people today.” he said. “There are so many closeted LGBTQ kids who have written me and said, ‘Turned off my lights, put my headphones in and I watched the documentary because I can't go to Pride, but because I watched this documentary I feel like I did.’”

Braun said he relates to those kids. Having spent his childhood in what he described as a “small, rural, conservative town” in northwest Ohio, he said he “didn't see any openly gay man, any trans people, any non-binary people growing up.”

“It was the internet that was my connection to learning about my community and finding stories and experiences that I could relate to and that served as kind of a lighthouse for me,” he said.

PHOTO: Activist Raymond Braun’s YouTube documentary, ’State of Pride,’ explores the meaning of pride to LGBTQ youth in three communities across the country. ABC
Activist Raymond Braun’s YouTube documentary, ’State of Pride,’ explores the meaning of pride to LGBTQ youth in three communities across the country.

Braun went on to study the use of social media to create communities and social change as a student at Stanford University. He then landed a job in YouTube’s marketing department and said he quickly proposed a way for the platform to elevate its LGBTQ+ content.

“I created this hashtag #proudtolove which was all about people sharing who and what they were proud to love within the context of the debate for marriage equality,” he said. “And it really caught fire.”

That hashtag brought in millions of views to YouTube and its massive success raised Braun’s profile. It landed him a spot on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list in 2014.

“That was really my first foray into understanding how powerful social media can be in communicating positive messages and coalescing a community around a message of empowerment and support and education,” he said.

Braun eventually left his job to start his own YouTube channel, which he uses to connect with the LGBTQ+ community. His “State of Pride” documentary was a natural extension of this mission.

Through working on this project, Braun said what impacted him the most were the small town pride celebrations, where turnout can be low and the risks of attending can be high.

“I think it would be cool if some of the LGBTQ folks who live in big cities, as you're planning your summer tourism, why don't you go to a Pride that's a little under the radar and show your support there, and because the more bodies that are there, the more support that people feel,” Braun said.

Braun’s point is that for many young people today — especially those living in larger cities — the era of hiding sexual identity may seem like a relic of the past. But there are many in the LGBTQ+ community across the country who do not feel safe.

“If you are a black trans woman, you could be facing discrimination and oppression for being black, for being a woman and for being transgender. And when all of those intersect that can create a lot of toxicity for you — particularly if you're living in the Deep South like Daroneshia Duncan Boyd, who's one of the women that we highlight in the documentary,” he said.

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay- and trans-friendly bar in the West Village neighborhood of New York City. The raid sparked a violent confrontation between the New York City Police Department and the bar’s patrons who were fed up with years of harassment and mistreatment by the police. It birthed a movement to fight for LGBTQ+ rights that continues to this day.

PHOTO: People on motorcycles make their way past the Stonewall Inn during the annual New York Gay Pride Parade, one of the oldest and largest in the world, in the West Village of Manhattan, June 25, 2017, in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images, FILE
People on motorcycles make their way past the Stonewall Inn during the annual New York Gay Pride Parade, one of the oldest and largest in the world, in the West Village of Manhattan, June 25, 2017, in New York City.

On the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, a group gathered in New York City to march from the West Village to Central Park. It was the United States’ first Pride parade.

This year, as the Stonewall uprising hit the 50-year mark, the NYPD commissioner for the first time publicly apologized to the LGBTQ+ community for the officers’ actions that day.

“I do know what happened should not have happened,” James O’Neill, New York’s police commissioner, said in a public statement on June 6. “The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong — plain and simple. The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize to the LGBTQ community...this would never happen in NYPD 2019.”

Braun called the commissioner’s apology a “step in the right direction of healing” for a lot of people “in terms of opening up a dialogue about how the police and the LGBTQ community can have closer dialogue about protecting everyone.”

It’s important for young people to know about the significance of Stonewall and know that the origins of pride came out of protest and activism, he said.

“People, a lot of times now, see Pride as just this big party — an excuse to stay up all night. Or, you know, people see Pride parades as a backdrop for a really cute Instagram photo,” Braun said. “They're not thinking about the history, the activism, the protest and the generations of LGBTQ trailblazers who made it possible for us to celebrate the way that we do today.”

Braun hopes his documentary will allow LGBTQ+ youth, particularly those who are closeted, he said, to see and connect to others who they can identify with, and feel empowered by that.

“I know that there is a kid who's sitting at the kitchen table right now… I want to turn to him and say, ‘You might not be ready to come out right now. You might be afraid there might be a lot of discrimination and misinformation and miseducation in your community, but I want you to know that there are people like me out there who think about you every day, and who love you, and who support you and pride is for you… You are not alone," he said. "And I'm wishing you a happy pride, and you’re who is on my mind while I'm marching."