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Charges against ENDA protesters to be dropped

Demonstrators must stay away from Pelosi’s office

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Charges filed against (from left) Jay Carmona, Samantha Ames, Chas Kirven and Michelle Wright following a sit-in protest last month in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office will be dropped if they abide by certain conditions. (DC Agenda photo by Chris Johnson)

Charges against Capitol Hill demonstrators who last month targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of failing to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, will be dropped provided they abide by certain conditions.

Jay Carmona, Samantha Ames, Chas Kirven and Michelle Wright pleaded not guilty in D.C. Superior Court Tuesday to misdemeanor charges of unlawful entry. They were arrested March 18 following a sit-in protest in Pelosi’s office in the Cannon House Office Building. The group refused to leave despite police orders to do so.

The group demanded that Pelosi move a transgender-inclusive version of ENDA to the House floor by the end of March. The demonstrators said they wanted a vote on the bill — even if it lacked the necessary votes for passage — to best determine where lawmakers stand.

Representing the protesters in court was Claire Morris Clark, an attorney for D.C. law firm Schertler & Onorato.

Clark said the U.S. attorney general’s office would drop the charges if demonstrators met the terms of the agreement by their next scheduled court appearance, Oct. 6.

If the protesters meet the terms of the agreement, Clark said, they wouldn’t have to appear in court. Any violators would be required to make an appearance and potentially face additional penalties.

One term of the agreement is that demonstrators arrested March 18 must stay away from Pelosi’s office in the Cannon House Office Building unless invited in writing. Another term is that the protestors must not be arrested under probable cause before Oct. 6.

Additionally, Clark said the two protesters who are D.C. residents, Carmona and Ames, must complete 60 hours of community service. Clark noted that because Kirven and Wright aren’t D.C. residents, the D.C. government doesn’t have jurisdiction to require them to meet this term of the agreement.

Clark said another term of the agreement is that protesters cannot engage in activity in the U.S. Capitol that the U.S. attorney’s office deems disruptive.

But she noted that Judge Harold Cushenberry said in court he wouldn’t enforce this part of the agreement because he didn’t think the agreement clearly defined what the U.S. attorney’s office might find disruptive.

The protesters who consented to the agreement said they were happy with the outcome of the proceedings.

Ames, a queer D.C. resident, said she’s “actually quite excited” to do the community service assigned to her as part of the agreement. She planned to fill her time with Transgender Health Empowerment in D.C.

Noting that the ENDA protesters who were arrested weren’t transgender, Ames said being arrested as a transgender person is “so much more dangerous.”

“Working for an organization that does community service that is working making that right and working toward making the prisons safer for transgender folks in the area is, I think, something that I should feel fortunate to have the opportunity to do,” she said.

Carmona, a lesbian D.C. resident, called the court agreement “just another step” toward “getting ENDA passed for equality.”

“So, I think I don’t really feel a sense of joy or accomplishment so much as I feel like we just took another step,” she said. “It’s definitely not party time.”

Noting that an early version of ENDA was first introduced in the U.S. House in 1974, Carmona said that LGBT people have been waiting “close to 40 years for basic employment protections, and we’re not going to wait another 40.”

Clark said after the protesters’ court appearance that the agreement was a “very good outcome.”

“The U.S. attorney’s office has a couple different mediums where they’ll try and work things out, and this is the best one,” she said. “It doesn’t require a guilty plea. It’s a very good deal.”

The protesters also expressed satisfaction with the result of their protest. Ames said she thought the protest led to showing sufficient votes exist to pass ENDA, despite claims to the contrary.

As she was being handcuffed at the end of her protest March 18, Ames said a member of Pelosi’s staff asked her if she thought there were enough votes to pass ENDA.

“And I said, ‘Yes,” Ames said. “And she said, ‘We don’t.’ And I said I really wish we could have had this conversation earlier because I would have liked to have this conservation with her.”

Following her arrest, Ames said media reports emerged quoting Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) as saying that enough support existed in the House to pass ENDA.

“So the fact that that was starting the next day — I don’t want to make this about egos, I want to make this about ENDA — but it would seem that it got something accomplished,” she said.

Present in the courtroom Tuesday to show support for the ENDA protesters was Lt. Dan Choi, who was arrested the same day after chaining himself to the White House fence in opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and Robin McGehee, co-chair of GetEqual.org, which helped coordinate the protests.

Choi said he wanted to show his support for the ENDA protesters because the shared experience of being arrested following their respective protests is “in a lot of ways, like being in combat.”

“We have waged war against inequality,” he said. “Sometimes, as soldiers, you don’t have a lot of money, you don’t have a lot of trappings of what we have in terms of political power — but we have each other, and until we have full equality, this is a battle that none of us are going to step away from.”

Asked whether further acts of civil disobedience could occur to further LGBT civil rights, Choi replied, “Of course,” and said that he personally plans to take part in such protests.

“Until we have that American promise of equality and access to truth and truthful living manifest to everyone, it has to continue,” he said.

McGehee said GetEqual.org is planning further acts of civil disobedience to push for LGBT civil rights.

“We will be back and we will continue to organize non-violent civil disobedience throughout D.C. and other areas across the United States until we’re equal,” she said.

McGehee declined to offer any details, but said she expects the next such event will occur in D.C. before the end of April.

“Our goal with GetEqual is to create the lunch-counter moments that so clearly defined the civil rights movement around racial justice,” she said. “In an equality movement, we believe that we need to create those images that highlight the injustices that are clearly out there.”

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National

GLAAD: Social media platforms continue to fail to protect LGBTQ users

Only TikTok received a passing grade

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(Public domain photo)

GLAAD released its fourth annual Social Media Safety Index on Tuesday, giving virtually every major social media company a failing grade as it surveyed LGBTQ safety, privacy, and expression online.

According to GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, YouTube, X, and Meta’s Facebook, Instagram, and Threads received failing F grades on the SMSI Platform Scorecard for the third consecutive year.

The only exception was Chinese company ByteDance, owned TikTok, which earned a D+.

Some platforms have shown improvements in their scores since last year. Others have fallen, and overall, the scores remain abysmal, with all platforms other than TikTok receiving F grades.

●     TikTok: D+ — 67 percent (+10 points from 2023)

●     Facebook: F — 58 percent (-3 points from 2023)

●     Instagram: F — 58 percent (-5 points from 2023)

●     YouTube: F — 58 percent (+4 points from 2023)

●     Threads: F — 51 percent (new 2024 rating)

●     X: F — 41 percent (+8 points from 2023)

This year’s report also illuminates the epidemic of anti-LGBTQ hate, harassment, and disinformation across major social media platforms, and especially makes note of high-follower hate accounts and right-wing figures who continue to manufacture and circulate most of this activity.

“In addition to these egregious levels of inadequately moderated anti-LGBTQ hate and disinformation, we also see a corollary problem of over-moderation of legitimate LGBTQ expression — including wrongful takedowns of LGBTQ accounts and creators, shadowbanning, and similar suppression of LGBTQ content. Meta’s recent policy change limiting algorithmic eligibility of so-called ‘political content,’ which the company partly defines as: ‘social topics that affect a group of people and/or society large’ is especially concerning,” GLAAD Senior Director of Social Media Safety Jenni Olson said in the press release annoucing the report’s findings.

Specific LGBTQ safety, privacy, and expression issues identified include:

●      Inadequate content moderation and problems with policy development and enforcement (including issues with both failure to mitigate anti-LGBTQ content and over-moderation/suppression of LGBTQ users);

●      Harmful algorithms and lack of algorithmic transparency; inadequate transparency and user controls around data privacy;

●      An overall lack of transparency and accountability across the industry, among many other issues — all of which disproportionately impact LGBTQ users and other marginalized communities who are uniquely vulnerable to hate, harassment, and discrimination.

Key conclusions:

●      Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and disinformation on social media translates to real-world offline harms.

●      Platforms are largely failing to successfully mitigate dangerous anti-LGBTQ hate and disinformation and frequently do not adequately enforce their own policies regarding such content.

●      Platforms also disproportionately suppress LGBTQ content, including via removal, demonetization, and forms of shadowbanning.

●      There is a lack of effective, meaningful transparency reporting from social media companies with regard to content moderation, algorithms, data protection, and data privacy practices.

Core recommendations:

●      Strengthen and enforce existing policies that protect LGBTQ people and others from hate, harassment, and misinformation/disinformation, and also from suppression of legitimate LGBTQ expression.

●      Improve moderation including training moderators on the needs of LGBTQ users, and moderate across all languages, cultural contexts, and regions. This also means not being overly reliant on AI.

●      Be transparent with regard to content moderation, community guidelines, terms of service policy implementation, algorithm designs, and enforcement reports. Such transparency should be facilitated via working with independent researchers.

●      Stop violating privacy/respect data privacy. To protect LGBTQ users from surveillance and discrimination, platforms should reduce the amount of data they collect, infer, and retain. They should cease the practice of targeted surveillance advertising, including the use of algorithmic content recommendation. In addition, they should implement end-to-end encryption by default on all private messaging to protect LGBTQ people from persecution, stalking, and violence.

●      Promote civil discourse and proactively message expectations for user behavior, including respecting platform hate and harassment policies.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court declines to hear lawsuit against Montgomery County schools gender guidelines

4th Circuit last August dismissed parents’ case

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a lawsuit against Montgomery County Public Schools guidelines that allow schools to create plans in support of transgender or gender nonconfirming students without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

Three parents of students in the school district — none of whom have trans or gender nonconfirming children — filed the lawsuit. 

A judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

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National

Bill to support LGBTQ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

Advocates praise Elder Pride Act

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(Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Bonamici, chair of the Equality Caucus’s LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• Provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• Develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• Expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• Disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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