Why Twitch’s Disabled Queer Streaming Spaces Matter More Than Ever

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I was featured for Twitch’s 2021 Pride event, appearing on the front page along with an impressive list of queer streamers. I played the game “Dream Daddy,” and to this day, it’s one of my favorite streaming experiences.

See, I had recently come out as non-binary, and she/they was new to me. I never would’ve tried they/them pronouns without encouragement from friends online. Twitch itself underscored the significance of this moment, using a soundbite of me talking about it, affirming that it’s okay not to know.

Gender is complicated. Non-binary folks in online spaces like Twitch helped me realize that—and that I was definitely she/they. ADHD and chronic fatigue friends I met in queer disabled streaming communities on Twitter and Twitch helped me embrace those elements of my identity on top of my queerness—to the point that I finally got an ADHD diagnosis at 31.

During that 2021 stream, I also mentioned that I’m a childhood cancer survivor dealing with chronic illness, pain, and fatigue. Some people in chat said that honesty from myself and other streamers about disabilities, mental health, and queerness helped them embrace their own. That’s why I love streaming. 

Twitch might be a lot to navigate, especially during Pride, but that moment of finding people like you? It’s beautiful. There’s something special about a Twitch stream chat  (when the chat is moderated and not bigoted and toxic, at least) that no other streaming platform has yet managed to replicate, especially for queer people.

That sense of community, togetherness, and connection is part of why Pride is so powerful in the first place. 

Pride Month is an essential time for queer folks but is often inaccessible to disabled people. As public Pride events are increasingly threatened, queer streaming spaces on Twitch are more critical than ever.  

COVID is Still Here, Making Pride Complicated

While the CDC declared an end to their COVID-19 public health emergency protocols, COVID is still considered a pandemic and a global concern, according to the World Health Organization. The push to return to “normal” has left disabled, immunocompromised, and chronically ill folks behind.

The CDC recommended a list of actions to keep ourselves safe, including wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet from people, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Even still, the risk is often too much for disabled people. 

“When it comes to being disabled, chronically ill, or high risk, people like us are often excluded from the conversations that affect us the most,” says Meleemira, a Black, queer, disabled creative and voice actor. “We’re now several years into the pandemic, and it isn’t treated as seriously as it should be. For example, cons, where people gather en masse, have resumed as normal. For folks like us, we cannot afford to ignore the risk that poses; being lackadaisical about safety precautions is an effective death sentence for our community.”

Unfortunately, most events have removed masking requirements and other safety measures. For D.C. Pride events (local to me), only one listing out of 27 mentions masks. NYC Pride events and many major city Pride events across the US have no mask information.

Eliminating safety measures excludes immunocompromised and disabled members of the LGBTQIA+ community who can’t risk getting COVID. There are also other accessibility issues, such as events being held in buildings with no ramps or seating, which can make Pride inaccessible to disabled queer folks who want to participate.

This can be isolating, frustrating, and demoralizing. Despite the month’s message being inclusivity, it can often feel like queer spaces aren’t for you. 

I started streaming in May 2020 to help combat the feeling of isolation brought on by the pandemic. This wasn’t a unique experience: Twitch saw a 99% growth in 2020, with people spending 1.6 billion hours watching streams. Although in-person gathering was impossible, streamers made space during the pandemic, and I joined. Thanks to the connection to others in the queer, disabled, neurodivergent streaming communities, I’ve stuck with it. 

“Being queer, you already have a hard time finding community, then add disability in, and your space for accessing important community support shrinks a lot,” says disabled, autistic, nonbinary artist and variety streamer Jinxperegrine.  “Online spaces during Pride are precious to us folks in the disabled community as they provide a place where we can access folks with similar experiences, feel seen, get support, and find kinship that we are often denied at in-person Pride events.” 

This year, the political and corporate landscape during Pride has been tense. Items in Target Pride displays have been removed, and their collections shifted in some states after conservative backlash. Bigoted, transphobic laws enacted in states like Florida are causing so much harm that the Human Rights Campaign officially declared a state of emergency for LGBTQIA+ Americans and LGBTQIA+ travelers to the state. It’s a scary and uncertain time for queer people.

That’s why places like Twitch have become even more meaningful. Twitch can play a role in providing safe spaces for queer folks, but rather than leaning in, the platform seems to be pulling back. 

Pride on Twitch, But Not Too Loudly

Twitch holds a Pride event every June highlighting LGBTQIA+ streamers on the platform. While they’re still doing a Pride event showcase on June 30, Twitch has less Pride content this year than in previous years.

In 2021, when I was part of Twitch’s front-page lineup, they even gave some streamers billboard space in Times Square. So far, their 2023 Pride content consists of only one Pride blog post featuring three queer streamers and four promo tweets from Twitch US and Twitch UK and Ireland. Meanwhile, Twitch US has recently posted about a Street Fighter 6 event and TwitchCon Paris. 

Twitch still features LGBTQIA+ streamers on its front page, but it primarily relegated any promotion to a separate shelf: the Together for Pride shelf. It’s technically on the front page of Twitch, but you’ll have to scroll down a bit to find it. 

Twitch continues to make choices that don’t prioritize streamers, and that’s always felt strongest by marginalized streamers. On June 6, the platform enacted a series of surprising policy changes that restricted sponsorship opportunities, such as on-screen ad placements—only to immediately walk them back due to negative creator feedback.

Then on June 15, they introduced the Partner Plus program, which offers a 70/30 split for streamers who qualify. The only problem? Only the top 2.5% of streamers do. The rest are stuck at a 50/50 sub-split, with no sign of improvement. The outrageously high numbers required to get better income rates on Twitch hurt disabled streamers especially, as we aren’t always well enough to maintain streaming consistently.

Community in Spite of Everything

Twitch communities are far from perfect. They can be hateful and difficult to navigate, and the platform certainly doesn’t help marginalized folks stay safe.

 “The ‘good vibes only’ approach that many Twitch communities take dismisses my lived experience and does not make me feel welcome,” says Smolecule, a queer Filipinx-American who plays indie games, does voiceover art, and lives with mental illness. “However, Twitch streamers that protect queer and disabled viewers through their content, chat moderation policies, and real-time actions ensure that we do not feel alone on the platform.” 

Despite the circumstances, some of us will stubbornly remain on Twitch. Others are slowly shifting to TikTok or Instagram. Others are eyeing YouTube, with its recently expanded YouTube Partner Program’s newly lowered thresholds. Making a move is hard because building a community takes time—and we’re disabled, which means energy can be difficult. But we’re still here.  

Twitch still has the chance to highlight disabled streamers for Disability Pride Month in July in the US. There’s been a request on UserVoice, Twitch’s official feedback and request forum, about this since January 2022. It has nearly 1,500 votes in favor of the proposal, although Twitch has yet to acknowledge it.

But our community is pressing on. “I’ve found that the online disabled community is supportive and understanding of one another, no matter how exhaustive it is to be vigilant about our wellbeing,” Meleemira says. “It can feel isolating to watch the world around you continue like normal while we take every precaution to safeguard our health. Having fellow disabled folks validate these feelings is a form of support in itself. The saying ‘it takes a village’ can and does apply to us too.”

Twitch may be unwilling to prioritize queer streamers, but the communities that form in streamers’ chats are invaluable. These are spaces where small, accessible Pride events can happen safely online, where folks can yell Happy Pride at each other in a space they know is moderated.

That’s where disabled queer folks can find community with other disabled queer members. That’s where, if someone isn’t out in person, they can freely be themselves.

Community members have often felt safe enough to test out new pronouns or names in my spaces. That alone is worth so much, and that connection goes both ways. That connection can be complicated; it’s a parasocial relationship, and there are certain healthy streamer-community limits to the dynamics, but it’s still essential. While in-person Pride events can and should do better for disabled queer members of the overall community, at least we have some small virtual spaces to be ourselves. 

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