Welcome to a series on Proudly dedicated to sharing the stories from a variety of influential LGBTQ+ content creators who come from all different backgrounds within the media.
This series will enable us to showcase their achievements and experiences within the industry and give advice to inspire future content creators from the LGBTQ+ community.
Proudly wants to shine a light on the people who have made strides in a very competitive industry. Hopefully, this series is the start of something special for Proudly where we have been lucky enough to interview inspiring people such as Jo Currie, Jon Holmes, Amazin LêThi, Benjamin Cohen, Kaylee Golding, Jon Lee-Olsen and Michael Gunning who have shared their incredible stories with us already.
Today’s article is dedicated to our latest LGBTQ+ influencer. Levi Shaun might be a familiar face for our readers as Levi is a UK reality TV star who has appeared on our television screens multiple times.
Firstly appearing on MTV’s Love Squad and TOWIE, Levi returned to our screens most recently in October 2020 when he appeared as a contestant on Channel 4’s The Bridge where 12 strangers had 20 days to work together to build an 850ft bridge to get an island that has 100K reward awaiting them.
Despite not winning the prize, Levi already felt like a winner as this show gave him the opportunity to use the platform to represent the LGBTQ+ community on mainstream television. He has since went on to continue to use this experience to educate and inspire young LGBTQ+ people who are struggling with acceptance or bullying within schools.
This is everything you need to know about the West Midlands based television star using his platform to make a difference and amplify voices within the LGBTQ+ community.
My name is Levi-Shaun and I am a UK reality tv star from Wolverhampton.
After appearing on MTV’s Love Squad in 2019, Levi has gone on to appear in minor roles on other tv shows such as TOWIE.
Most recently Levi was a contestant on The Bridge, which aired on Channel 4 in October 2020.
“I have recently been featured in The Sun, The Express & Star, Wolverhampton city life magazine and numerous online publications in relation to my reality tv career.”– Levi sharing to Proudly the incredible amount of press attention he has received since appearing on the show.
As well as Levi’s TV work, he is a huge advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and most recently has worked with charity ItsJustUs, amongst other recognisable faces in order to raise awareness.
Currently, Levi is working alongside his previous high school in order to create a safe space in school in which LGBTQ+ students can discuss any issues they may be having.
Levi has hopes of taking this movement around other schools in Wolverhampton.
“In the long term, I aim to create a local youth club in the Wolverhampton area that offers support and assistance to any young LGBTQ+ people struggling in any aspect of their life.”– Levi sharing his future LGBTQ+ advocacy ambitions in Wolverhampton
LGBTQ+ Representation within reality TV
“I believe that although we are somewhat represented within the media as LGBTQ+ people, we still have a long way to go.
I often find that when we are cast on tv shows, we are portrayed as a gimmick and something to make the viewers laugh.”– Levi discussing about how he believes LGBTQ+ people are portrayed as more of a gimmick on reality television.
Levi spoke with Proudly about certain concerns he has about stereotypical ‘alpha males‘ types that feel the need to exert their masculinity constantly. This was discussed when the casting directors at The Bridge quizzed Levi about what traits he like and dislike in a person.
Not to Levi’s surprise when he first walked onto the set and met the other cast members, it was very clear that all the qualities that he stated prior about not liking a person were apparent in numerous other cast members.
“At this moment I realised that my role on the show was that of the sassy gay man who would have an issue with all the alpha males in the group.
Because I am strong-minded and was not willing to play up to the cameras, I did not play up to this role and therefore did not get as much camera time as somebody who may have been willing to play ball.”– Levi sharing the Proudly the importance of staying true to yourself and not creating an on screen character.
This is a passionate subject for Levi who went into details about how damaging these steortypes within the media who objecitfy gay men and only see them for their sexuality. These people like to protray within their reportings of gay men, a lot of people now believe that we are all very camp, speak in a high pitched voice and only have female friends, all of which are false.
In this aspect, the media have a very long way to go.
“We should be represented and taken seriously just as much as a heterosexual would.
I often watch tv shows such as first dates and become very angry as a gay viewer, because a lot of the gay contributors are just so happy to be given a chance to be on television, they don’t realise that they are being exploited as a gimmick for ratings and giggles.”– Levi talking about the disrespectful handling of LGBTQ+ people within reality television
Also, I find that the industry is more than happy to use LGBTQ+ people as hairstylists and makeup artists, but when it actually comes to putting us on a mainstream television show this rarely happens.
Levi believes that there is still a long way to go before there is enough LGBTQ+ representation within the mainstream media in television.
An example he brought up is the hottest reality competition around the world right now which is Love Island. Despite the worldwide audience watching at home, sadly the reality competition has not shown the same representation within its contestants as it has alluded to potentially hosting an LGBTQ+ series.
“I can assure you that behind the scenes there are plenty of LGBTQ+ members that play a huge role in making the show the success it has been, unfortunately, these same people are not seen as good enough to appear in front of the camera as opposed to behind it.”– Levis discussing that LGBTQ+ people are working on these shows yet are not being seen or heard about.
Starting out in reality television
Levi described himself as a very outspoken person who after years of people telling him that he should enter the realm of television, finally Levi decided that he would take the plunge and apply.
The first show that he applied for, he actually managed to get on. The process was very quick and within days of being cast on the show, Levi was in Manchester on set filming.
Unlike the other contestants, he went alone and did not choose to bring any friends or family with him.
Levi did this becuase he wanted to prove to himself that he was able to do it alone and if any other
opportunities arose after that he would be comfortable going it alone.
‘My overall experience was amazing and the producers were very friendly and made me feel very welcome, although after being on set for a short while, I quickly learned that reality tv is not always ”reality”.
Without giving too much away about how these shows are filmed, although I was not told what to say with an exact script, I was certainly guided and manipulated to have certain conversations that the producers wanted to capture.’– Levi discussing his first time on reality television
After this experience, Levi quickly realised that in this indsutry that if you dont have a thick skin and the ability to say no, producers will take advantage of that and potentially have you doing some crazy things on camera.
The aftercare for all the shows that Levi has been on has been brilliant and all the support has been offered if needed, after all the issues following the deaths of numerous reality stars, he felt the protocol for the aftercare has been improved greatly and this is a positive.
Whilst filming the shows is often fun, the aftermath after the shows airs can be very draining on your mental health.
During the filming of the bridge, I was very much involved in the building and day to day running of the camp.
When the show aired a lot of this was edited out and i was portrayed as the gossiping gay man that doesn’t do much but bitch and complain.
Unfortunately I had no control over the narrative that the producers chose to take with my role on the show and although i had a full understanding going into the show that this may happen, it certainly took a tole on my mental health.
The social media aspect of being on television is also very draining, against whilst The Bridge was airing there were a lot of people on twitter trolling the majority of the cast members.
During the penultimate episodes of the show, I was involved in a scandal that actually made me trend on Twitter.
I was told by one of the other cast members that there were other cast members plotting to evict me from the camp, this confused me because I was under the impression that we got along. I believed what Rowan had told me and therefore
took this information back to the rest of the group for some moral support.
It came out in the end that what Rowan had told me was a complete lie and he had used me to cause drama because he felt he wasn’t getting enough camera time.
After these episodes aired, people on Twitter were calling Levi a ”gossiping queen” along with ”a useless twat’‘ amongst other things.
Although Levi expected some backlash from social media, these comments took Levi completely by surprise and he was not sure how to react to complete strangers having an opinion on a situation that they actually knew nothing about.
More to the point, what people actually did not know that Levi was involved in a romance with Rowan and although he was promoted as the only gay male on the show, we had been involved for the majority of the show.
The producers knew about this and were obviously very keen to keep this a secret because it did not fit in with the narrative of the show, although they obviously knew this information Levi wasn’t able to say anything because he was under contract and potentially have been sued.
“I went to bed that evening with a lot of self loathing thoughts and opinions of myself, all based of what people were saying about me on social media.
“This is the side to the indsutry that I don’t believe anybody can prepare for, although you are briefed by the network as to what may happen once the show airs, nobody is ever ready to have compete strangers rip their character apart of such a public platform as social media.”– Levi Shaun discussing the impact trolls on social media has on your mental health.
Favourite element of reality television?
Levi’s favourite moment throughout the whole experience within the media industry was seeing his face on a screen on mainstream television.
‘Although this may sound vain to some people, after years of bullying and being told that I wasn’t good enough, this was a huge moment for me.’– Levis discussing why he loved seeing his face on reality television and why it meant so much to him
For years Levi felt that he couldn’t follow his dreams because of his sexuality and that made him very unhappy.
Levi knew that all the bullies would be able to see his face on their tv screens thriving and breaking down barriers in mainstream media made him feel like he had won and that felt great.
‘Funnily enough, some of the people that used to name call at school and make me inferior would message me and offer their support.
I found this very amusing that now I had a little bit of fame that these people were more than happy to now be associated with me, whereas when we were at school they would treat me like I had a contagious disease.’– Levi sharing with us the true irony of people who bullied him in school now becoming fans because he has featured on television
These media experiences have helped provide a platform for Levi that allows him to wave the flag for all LGBTQ+ people that have ever felt like they aren’t good enough to follow their dreams and that fills him with copious amounts of joy.
Diversity within the media
Levi believes that being a minority in any industry puts you at an advantage, this is because breaking the norms of society if so hard to do and even when you do, there is always a chance that this was just a phase and you will be forgotten about.
Although Levi thinks that we as LGBTQ+ people have broken down a lot of barriers since when he was a child.
‘I feel we have a long to go in terms of being represented as people to actually take seriously.
‘I would love to see more of the community break stereotypes on reality television, I find that networks always cast what society thinks we are, rather than what we actually are.
‘There are plenty of gay men that do not fit the stereotype who are never cast on reality television because they arent what producers think people want.’– Levi sharing the casting secrets of reality television and how these shows needs a broader demographic of representation
Although on the flip side, you often find that reality tv shows always want at least 1 member of the community to appear so that they don’t appear biased.
This is a huge leap from when I was growing up as there was no representation whatsoever, but we shouldn’t be seen as the ”token” but instead seen as regular people like everybody else.
Advice for aspiring LGBTQ+ influencers
‘The only advice that I could offer for aspiring LGBTQ+ influencers or creatives is to live in their own truth.
‘People will try and mould you into what they want you to be for your whole life, and when you succumb to these advances this is when you become unhappy.
‘As long as you are happy with the person that you are, everything else will fall into place nicely.
‘Trust the process, things don’t always happen when you want them to, but everyone’s blessings align when they are supposed to.’Levis offering advice for aspiring LGBTQ+ influencers
As mentioned previously, Proudly.blog will be taking an insight into various LGBTQ+ creators to help inspire the young and upcoming journalists of today. If you have a story you would like to share or think you know someone who would like to share their story. Get in touch and get involved.
A huge thank you to Levi for sharing his story and advice to our readers.
Levi Shaun social pages
Our readers can stay up to date with everything Levi Shaun by viewing their social media pages below.