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Transgender influencers bring visibility to social media in spite of online hate

Only about one-fourth of Americans know a trans person in their everyday life.

Sixteen years ago, Gigi Gorgeous hit record on her digital camera and began to upload unusually candid videos to a new and fast-growing website called YouTube.

"I remember being in high school and I was, like, the only one that was online. They thought that it was weird, talking to a camera alone in a room before anyone else was really doing it is a little weird," Gigi told ABC News Live.

While classmates may have poked fun, a growing community of viewers online eagerly watched as Gigi came out as a transgender and later documented the intimate process of transitioning to her followers. In the process, she became one of the first internet stars to bring trans visibility to social media.

PHOTO: Social media star Gigi Gorgeous is shown during an interview with ABC News Live.
Social media star Gigi Gorgeous is shown during an interview with ABC News Live.
ABC News

"People go through these transitions every single day. But it's like, if you have the power to share your story and put it all out there, that is, like, one of the most vulnerable things that you can do and I commend people for that," said Gigi, who now has nearly 3 million subscribers on YouTube and just over 2 million followers on Instagram.

But that kind of visibility also comes with online attacks, especially as trans rights have recently become a battleground issue in state legislatures across the country.

"I have days where I don't read the comments, for sure. It can really hit you deep. And you can act like it doesn't, but it really does," Gigi said.

Jesse Sullivan is another content creator who is part of a new generation of transgender activists and influencers on TikTok. His videos documenting his transition went viral overnight, generating more than 60 million views.

He's also a father to 14-year-old Arlo, who he had as a teenager, before his transition.

"There was times when I was younger, and I had just come out as a lesbian. And Arlo was so accepting. There was never anything but love. And then coming out a second time as, you know, their dad and as trans, once again, just so much love and support," Sullivan said.

Reality TV personality Francesca Farago, Sullivan's fiancée, is also part of the family, which Sullivan says has been a prime target for anti-trans hate.

"I'm everything that they want to hate. [People said,] 'Your child should be taken away from you,' like, 'You're a pedophile if you're trans,' and, 'You shouldn't have children around you,'" Sullivan said.

PHOTO: TikTok star Jesse Sullivan is shown with family during an interview with ABC News Live.
TikTok star Jesse Sullivan is shown with family during an interview with ABC News Live.
ABC News

Raquel Willis, an activist and author, says only about one-fourth of Americans know a trans person in their everyday life.

"Social media continues to be a bridge for a lot of folks who may be isolated from folks that are similar to them, isolated from stories that can empower them," Willis said.

Some of the first and most common ways both trans and cisgender people learn about trans and non-binary people is through the media, according to data from the Human Rights Campaign.

Meanwhile, prominent transgender influencers are facing more criticism than ever amid a barrage of anti-LGBTQ legislation sweeping the country.

The latest example was a boycott of Bud Light, spearheaded by conservative activists upset by an advertisement spotlighting transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. After months of backlash and criticism, Mulvaney posted on social media that she felt abandoned by the brand.

"For a company to hire a trans person and not stand by them, is worse in my opinion than not hiring a trans person at all," Mulvaney said.

In a statement to ABC News, an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson said, "We remain committed to the programs and partnerships we have forged over decades with organizations across a number of communities, including those in the LGBTQ + community. The privacy and safety of our employees and our partners is always our top priority. As we move forward, we will focus on what we do best – brewing great beer for everyone and earning our place in moments that matter to our consumers."

They have not publicly commented on the backlash Mulvaney received.

Emira D'Spain, the first Black trans model to work with Victoria's Secret, says she believes that "if a brand is willing to put forth that talent, they have to stand behind that talent."

D'Spain has partenered with brands, including Nars, Google and Charlotte Tilbury.

"Still to this day, I struggle like whether or not I want to share certain things on social media that have to do with my identity," D'Spain said.

As one of the first transgender content creators, Gigi believes she has an obligation to use her platforms to amplify the fight for trans rights.

"Trans people are not a threat. We're not here to disrupt the community in a negative way. We are just living in our true bodies and our true souls," she said.