Q+A: Kristin Russo of First Person

Kristin Russo

Since its launch in February, First Person has covered such topics as trans visibility, queer fashion, and coming out in sports, in a series of video shorts shot at the YouTube studios in New York City. Host Kristin Russo spoke with THIRTEEN about her work on this new, original Web series.

What is the goal of First Person?
The main goal is to share the experiences of people in queer and trans communities. There’s a considerable amount of media coverage about people in these communities, but there aren’t many outlets that allow them to speak for themselves. That’s what First Person does. It acts as a platform for people who may not often get a chance to have their voices heard.

Is there a story on your First Person wish list?
Asexuality. That idea came to us directly from the viewers. I’m also excited to do an episode about non-binary gender identities. We did an episode on transgender artist Skylar Kergil and his experience documenting his transition from female to male on YouTube, but we haven’t done an episode on gender identities that exist outside the binary – gender identities that are not female or male.

What kind of viewer feedback have you received?
There are too many to list here because so many people have shared such wonderful comments about the series. What I love most is that the stories we feature on First Person are helping people connect the dots they need to connect to put together their own identities and feel proud about who they are.

Do you consider yourself a role model?
I know people consider me a role model, but it’s hard to say that I consider myself one. What I do know is that since 2010, when I co-founded the LGBTQ youth organization Everyone is Gay with Dannielle Owens-Reid, I’ve been putting my life out in the public and I’ve been honest every step of the way. I don’t say I’m happy all the time or have all the answers. More than anything, I think people need to know that it’s okay to have conflicting feelings, like “I wish I weren’t gay.” It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. You just need to look at those feelings and move through them. That’s the responsibility I feel as a role model. I try to be as authentic as possible and allow people to know that I’m on a journey, as well.

Why did you start Everyone is Gay, and what kind of impact has it had on the LGBTQ community?
It started in 2010 when I met Dannielle, who is now my business partner. She had just launched a website called Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber that was receiving a lot of attention. Because it had gone viral, she was receiving questions from lots of people in the community. We talked about those questions one day over ice cream in Union Square, and she she suggested we start a Tumblr to answer them. We thought we were creating a silly Tumblr that would make people laugh — and what happened was that it uncovered this huge need within the LGBTQ youth community for a place to ask questions and get answers, but also share stories and laugh. Five years later, we’ve received over 75,000 questions and have answered thousands.

We started with written advice, then added videos. In late 2010 – with media coverage increasing public awareness about suicides directly related to LGBT bullying — we reached out to our readers and said what else can we do, and they asked us to come to their schools. So we’ve been touring high school and college campuses since 2011. The most recent chapter for us has been to create resources for parents whose kids have come out to them. In September of last year, we released This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids (Chronicle, 2014) and launched TheParentsProject.com, where parents can find answers to questions they may have when their kids come out to them.

If you ever have to miss a First Person shoot because you have the flu or need to fly to L.A. to shoot a big budget movie, will your cat Trey step in as guest host?
He would be honored! He’s been training his whole life for that moment. When he glares at me across the room, I think it’s because he wants me to get the flu so he can take over the series. In fact, our fifth episode, Feminine Men Not Wanted, begins with Trey sitting in my guest chair. I was nice enough to do a voiceover for him (he can’t speak English), but honestly think I have to watch my back!

Watch episodes and join the conversation at YouTube.com/FirstPersonPBS.