When gamer Harry Brewis, known more widely by his gamer name Hbomberguy, started live-streaming himself playing Donkey Kong 64 on Friday night (January 18) for Mermaids UK, a charity that supports trans children, he didn’t expect more to raise more than a few hundred dollars.
The initial goal Brewis set for the Twitch stream, he tells PinkNews, was $500. His “most liberal estimate,” he adds, was $3,000.
But the 26-year-old gamer’s fundraiser—streamed from his home near Chester, north-west England—quickly went viral. By Saturday morning, he had already raised $26,000.
Over the course of the next 60 hours, Brewis’ live-stream exploded. He received donations of $347,000, a figure which he estimates will “probably” increase by a further $3,000.
“There are so many who are willing to help,” says Hbomberguy
Celebrities and high-profile individuals endorsed Brewis’ campaign, including US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who both called in to speak to him as he played Donkey Kong 64 from start to finish—a game he’d never managed to complete as a kid.
In total, around 600,000 people have watched all or parts of the Twitch stream, with some 25,000 logging on at its peak.
“I actually broke down and cried a little bit about $75,000 in,” says Brewis.
“Because, I’d really expected it to not do very well. Because I didn’t think that many people really knew or cared [about trans issues]. I thought that was part of the territory and that’s why it’s worth doing.
“I think what caused so many people to react the way they did was the utter shock at discovering that there are so many who are willing to help, so many people who care, and they were almost waiting for an excuse to do it.”
“I actually broke down and cried a little bit about $75,000 in.”
Brewis was inspired to donate to Mermaids UK after his friend and fellow YouTuber Shaun created a video on transphobia in the UK earlier in January, and is donating half of the revenue generated from his channel to the charity.
Brewis says he learned about some of the issues facing the trans community a “long time ago.” But, more recently, he witnessed the controversial, and oft misleading, headlines about Mermaids UK in the British tabloid media. (Earlier in January, the MailOnline published an apology to Mermaids after it admitted to “incorrectly” reporting the group’s stance on hormone replacement therapy.)
Brewis says he also wanted to support the charity in response to the anti-trans sentiment peddled by Father Ted creator Graham Linehan on Twitter. In December, Linehan targeted Mermaids by creating a thread on Mumsnet in a bid to stop a £500,000 Big Lottery grant being awarded to the charity. The grant has subsequently been put on hold.
“All I did was step forward and say: ‘This Graham guy is a bit rubbish,'” says Brewis.
“That was it, that was all that ever needed to have been done for people just to get up and contribute to help the children.
“It’s absolutely wonderful but, at the same time, it basically proves wrong the notion that you’re in a hostile world. I think that’s really what caused it to reach people.”
More than anything, however, Brewis is keen to stress that his fundraiser really isn’t about him. Above all, he credits the more than 18,000 people who gave their money to Mermaids UK, the trans community, and his team, who co-ordinated callers and kept the live-streaming event running smoothly.
“So many people have thanked me, and I haven’t done any of it, I literally just played Donkey Kong for 60 hours,” he adds.
“What happened was, so many people who really care decided that now is the time to do something. That was incredibly wonderful.”
Of speaking to Ocasio-Cortez, who urged her 2.59 million Twitter followers to donate, Brewis says: “It was incredible,” adding that the Democrat is “really what we need right now.”
But, says Brewis, the “most fun part” came from the hundreds of trans people and campaigners—from Paris Lees to Laura Kate Dale—who phoned in and conversed with him.
“At one point, we made thousands of dollars streaming an empty chair. It’s absolutely absurd just how generous people are. It’s been an exercise in optimism.”
Mermaids CEO Susie Green checked in three times throughout the live-stream, while journalist Owen Jones also dropped in to show his support.
Brewis says the session increased his understanding of the trans community. One thing that really got him, he says, is the concept of “gender euphoria.”
“We talk a lot about dysphoria and about the problems of not feeling like you’re in the right body—or your body isn’t how you see yourself,” he says.
“Euphoria, of course, is the exact opposite—the sudden realisation that you do look how you want and how you feel. To discover that it actually happens and that there is a word for it is really wonderful.”
Throughout his 60-hour gaming session, Brewis took two eight-hour breaks to sleep. His friends, who became known as “The Skeleton Crew,” and even started their own Twitter account, came round to provide support, placing a large toy skeleton in his chair whenever Brewis was away.
“At one point, we made thousands of dollars streaming an empty chair,” he says.
“It’s absolutely absurd just how generous people are. It’s been an exercise in optimism.”
Brewis has a clear message for Linehan and his Twitter cronies: “I want to make it very, very clear to people who oppose trans rights and this sort of thing … if you go for these people, a lot more people will see what you’re doing and it won’t work.”
Mermaids UK’s Susie Green: “”I will never forget this. Neither will they. Ever”
The gamer hopes to continue fundraising for the trans community in the future, noting how #TransCrowdFund circulated in response to his stream as users posted links to various individual crowdfunding pages for gender reassignment surgery. Brewis says he realises “just how much a small amount of money can really affect a specific person’s life.”
Mermaids UK, meanwhile, has been taken aback by the enormous show of support for the charity’s work from across the world.
Speaking to PinkNews, Green explains that she was first made aware of Brewis’ initiative on Friday evening when the stream had raised $4,000, before waking up on Saturday morning to see it had leaped to $26,000.
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“Our young people saw messages of solidarity and support that has helped negate the hate pedalled by media, and show that the world is full of decent, compassionate human beings.”
—Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids UK
“That in itself was a ‘wow’ moment, unexpected, and such an extraordinary boost following a tough few weeks,” Green says.
“But it wasn’t anywhere near the end of the epic journey that Mermaids, including our young people and their parents, traversed over the next few days.”
Green, who says that the donations will go to “supporting and expanding our information and peer support services,” adds that the solidarity from the likes of Manning, Lees and Ocasio-Cortez was “priceless.”
“Our young people saw messages of solidarity and support that has helped negate the hate pedalled by media, and show that the world is full of decent, compassionate human beings,” she continues.
“Transgender people shared their stories, and the chat in response was respectful in response to openness and honesty, it was heroic.”
For Green, the memories of the past few days will stay with her forever.
“All the money in the world can’t replicate the joy of that weekend, and the magical moments that came from seeing hundreds of thousands of people standing up for transgender children, young people and their families,” she says.
“I will never forget this. Neither will they. Ever.”