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National news in brief: Jan. 13

Was death of Fla. drum major result of gay bashing? FBI includes men in definition of rape, N.C. official resigns over marriage vote, and more

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Fla. drum major hazing death a gay bashing?

TALLAHASSEE — A member of the prestigious Florida A&M Marching 100 drum major may have been targeted for deadly hazing because he was gay, say several friends and LGBT organizations, according to a CNN blog.

Robert Champion was severely beaten on a team bus on the way back from a football game in November as part of a ritual hazing. On Monday, family attorney Chris Chestnut revealed that several friends and family members say Champion was gay, and some believe he may have been targeted for more severe treatment than other team members.

“The civil rights community can no longer stand on the sidelines while our sons and daughters continue to suffer in silence,” said National Black Justice Coalition executive director and CEO Sharon Lettman-Hicks in a statement calling for hate crime charges on Monday. “Mr. Champion is one of our own and his death will not be in vain.”

The family is suing the bus company that they allege ignored the attack that a medical examiner ruled a homicide.

Alan Cumming, gay news, gay politics dc

Alan Cumming married his partner in New York on the fifth anniversary of their UK civil partnership. (photo by Christopher Macsurak via Wikimedia Commons)

FBI changes definition of ‘rape’ to include men

WASHINGTON — Until recently, the FBI only collected statistics on female victims of rape. With last week’s changes, however, the FBI will now begin including male victims of rape in those numbers.

Last week the FBI changed the definition of rape to ‘any forced penetration,’ to include male victims. This will help authorities better understand the impact of rape on victims, as well as allow the FBI to offer better resources to male victims of rape.

“If you can’t measure it accurately, you can’t monitor it, and you can’t direct appropriate resources to deal with the problem,” said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, according to USA Today.

N.C. official resigns over marriage ballot measure

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The director of elections for suburban Harnett County, N.C. resigned this week in protest of a ballot measure that asks voters to ban legal recognition of same-sex couples in that state’s constitution.

In an interview with influential LGBT blogger Pam Spaulding, former director Sherre Toler, whose county sits adjacent to Fayetteville and Fort Bragg, said she resigned after the legislature forced the ballot measure, saying “I cannot and will not be a party to such actions.”

“Discrimination is discrimination in whatever form it takes,” Toler responded when asked whether or not her analogy of comparing the amendment to voting on interracial marriage was a fair comparison.

Toler expressed hope for the defeat of the amendment and called on other elections officials to follow her lead.

Mizrahi, Cumming each celebrate weddings

NEW YORK — Fashion designer Issac Mizrahi married Brad Goresky, his partner of six years, in New York recently.

“We didn’t want to get married until they said we could in New York,” the Project Runway star told an ecstatic Wendy Williams last week. “We were terrified, so we decided to elope in City Hall.”

Meanwhile, also in New York, Broadway star Alan Cumming married his partner Grant Shaffer on the fifth anniversary of their U.K. civil union, choosing the Soho Grand Hotel over City Hall.

“I just got married!!!!!” the star tweeted over the weekend. “On the 5th anniversary of our wedding in London Grant and I tied the knot again in NYC!!! #eatmericksantorum.”

Two icons of HIV/AIDS activism die

This week, the HIV/AIDS advocacy community lost two major players from the movement.

Unitarian Universalist minister Robert Franke, who in 2009 fought his eviction from a Little Rock retirement community after they discovered he was HIV positive, died Monday at 78. The retired university provost brought attention to issues faced by HIV-positive seniors, a growing demographic as advancements in treatments are made. With the help of Lambda Legal, Franke settled with the company late in 2010.

In addition, Chicago ACT-UP icon Frank Sieple passed away suddenly last week, according to veteran gay journalist Rex Wockner. He was 51.

“I was questioning authority when I was 14,” Sieple told Wockner in an Advocate interview in 1990. “I realized I needed to speak out in the streets if I wanted to see change in my lifetime.”

“We know there are drugs to prolong lives and the knowledge out there to find a cure.”

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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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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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