TikTok Phenom Josh Helfgott Energizes a Queer Army for Election Day
Author: Andrew Sciallo
The need for escapism initially inspired Josh Helfgott to create content. Like many of us, he downloaded TikTok at the start of the pandemic. He started by making informative, research-based videos on LGBTQ+ history. As his following quickly grew, he evolved to a more journalistic style of reporting on contemporary political issues impacting the gay community, as he opens each video with his now famous intro, “Gay News.”
Today he has over 5.1 million followers on TikTok, and he’s recently been nominated by PinkNews as Influencer of the Year. In a recent video where he announced his nomination Helfgott said, “Two years ago, I posted my first ‘Gay News,’ and since then, we’ve gone through some of the darkest times together and some of the best.”
Helfgott was referring to a previous video he made after Arkansas announced a ban on health care for trans youth back in early 2021. The creator also called back to some of the positive videos he’s made over the years that showcase LGBTQ+ representation in film and TV and the passing of progressive policies in the U.S. and around the world. Helfgott tells me that his mission has been to inform the Gen Z LGBTQ+ community, which makes up a large percentage of his following, about the political fight they’re up against in America and, more generally, on a global scale. While he knows young people don’t need anything more to be cynical about, his videos are meant to inspire LGBTQ+ youth to make a difference in their communities. He has worked tirelessly to help obtain thousands of signatures on several petitions that aim to protect the human rights of women and queer/trans folks around the world, in addition to encouraging his millions of followers to vote in the upcoming midterm elections this November.
Helfgott says he’s still making videos for that closeted 13-year-old Josh, who felt unlovable and alone. “I make videos for these kids, so they don’t feel as alone as I did.” Helfgott is a native New Yorker and says he still technically lives in NYC but recently moved to Los Angeles to “test it out and see if I like it.”
Watch more of Josh’s TikTok videos here.
How did your time on TikTok begin?
I made a YouTube video in college. And the first comment someone wrote after I posted it was the F slur. I deleted the video and never made another one again for over 10 years. When COVID happened, I left the city, and now I don’t have any distractions. So I downloaded TikTok and made my first video about a gay couple that fell in love in the 1950s. And it got 100,000 views in a day. So I took that, and I went from there. It’s been over two years now. And millions and millions of people have joined me along the way.
You brought so much love and spirit to our lives. You will be missed but never forgotten. Rest In Peace Sources say Leslie Jordan was involved in a fatal accident this morning in Hollywood and at 67 years old has passed away.
Sad Background Music – Tender Memories – Melodrama
What’s one challenge you face in communicating short news stories to millions of people?
It’s making sure that I get the intention of why I’m sharing this. With TikTok, it can still be hard to communicate my message because of timing. It’s choosing every single word carefully. Every word is really critical, and how I say a single word could change the entire tone of a video because things move so fast.
Most people older than Gen Z underestimate the political potential of both TikTok and Gen Z. I’m wondering how you contend with that?
I think that whenever there’s a new social media platform, or whenever there’s anything new, everyone who’s not on it criticizes it. And when you look at TikTok and the power of its algorithm, which is based on an interest graph rather than a social graph. On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, they are showing you, historically, at least, because they’re evolving content based on who you follow. But TikTok’s algorithm shows you content based on your interest, not necessarily who you follow. I think it amplifies the voices of minorities in ways that have never happened before. Because of the socialized bubble you’re in. Once you go on to TikTok, you are way more likely to be exposed to somebody you don’t know, someone in different life circumstances and with a different perspective.
Do young LGBTQ+ people express their concerns to you about what’s going on in our political climate right now?
Last week, a trans girl in a state with an extremist governor reached out to me and said that she feels physically and mentally unsafe in this country and in her town. What I told her was to hang on. When you are young, your parents choose your house; they choose the town you’re in, the four walls you’re in, and the school you attend. You don’t have a say in any of that. But you will in a few years, I told her. And everything will change. I wanted to make sure that she knew her people were here; they just might not be showing themselves in her town. And her town does not represent the whole world. I told her to hang on and wait.
Do you think that the Biden administration is doing enough right now to protect LGBTQ+ youth?
During Pride month, Biden signed an executive order to protect LGBTQ rights and also to make sure that trans kids, especially trans youth, had the backing of the federal government; he’s been pushing his Justice Department to go to court, and they have in a lot of these extremist states to push back against the anti-LGBTQ laws. I don’t think what any politician ever does for the LGBTQ community is enough. But Biden has also done more for LGBTQ+ rights than any other president.
I imagine this experience of cultivating this following has been an evolving process for you. What’s something you’ve learned about yourself on a personal level from all of this?
If there’s one thing I learned, I think it’s that when you get older, there’s so much of your younger self and your younger experiences within you. I make these videos for my younger self because when I was 13 years old, I felt so invisible and alone, and I don’t want any other kid to feel that way. But the reality is so many are. I believe every LGBTQ kid feels that way on some level. I want them to know that there are people like them. I want them to feel accepted and loved in my videos because I didn’t have that. You always carry your past with you no matter how many years or decades later.
Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Andrew Sciallo