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Gay Facebook co-founder criticized for failing to give to N.C. fight

Hughes discouraged by marriage polls in his home state

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Chris Hughes (photo by USV via wikimedia)

The gay co-founder of Facebook hasn’t contributed financially to the campaign opposing a measure that would ban same-sex marriage in North Carolina — even though the battle to thwart the amendment is taking place in his home state.

Chris Hughes, who co-founded Facebook along with his Harvard roommate Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 and served as the site’s spokesperson, has made no donations to the campaign against Amendment One since the campaign began last year through 5:30 p.m. on Monday, according to data from the Campaign to Protect All NC Families. According to a Forbes Magazine article published in March, Hughes’ stake in Facebook is worth at least $600 million.

In a statement provided Monday to the Washington Blade, Hughes said he opposes the measure, which will come before voters May 8, because of the negative impact it would have on LGBT families in North Carolina.

“As a native North Carolinian myself, I have opposed this amendment from the start,” Hughes said. “It would write discrimination into the state constitution and hurt gay and lesbian North Carolinians who work hard, contribute to society, and want to protect their families like everyone else.”

Hughes added that he and his fiancé Sean Eldridge, president of the small business investment fund Hudson River Ventures and a senior adviser at Freedom to Marry, have contributed “time and resources” to the fight against Amendment One.

“My fiancé Sean and I have contributed our time and resources to oppose this discriminatory amendment, and we hope that it is defeated next week,” Hughes said. “Along with Freedom to Marry and Equality NC, we helped fund last year’s campaign to keep the amendment off of the ballot and are supportive of the ongoing efforts in the state to win on May 8. Winning the freedom to marry nationwide is a top priority for Sean and myself, and from New York to North Carolina, we’re proud of our work to help make that a reality.”

Same-sex marriage is already barred by statute in North Carolina. Opponents say the measure would also prohibit civil unions and interfere with domestic partner benefits offered by municipalities as well as threaten contractual arrangements between same-sex partners.

Given that Hughes made no contribution to the Campaign to Protect All NC Families, his reference to helping the campaign to keep Amendment One off the ballot could be a reference to contributions made to an effort to stop the state legislature from passing the measure and sending it to voters, which state lawmakers did on Sept. 13.

Hughes did engage in efforts to stop the marriage amendment for coming to the ballot. In a Sept. 9 letter, Hughes wrote an open letter to the General Assembly saying the measure would be “bad for business, bad for the perception of my home state on the national stage and a far cry from job-creating legislation that North Carolina lawmakers should be focused on.” Hughes also pledged to donate $10 for each person who likes Equality North Carolina’s page on Facebook up to a total donation of $10,000.

Born in 1983 in Hickory, N.C., Hughes took on other initiatives after co-founding Facebook. In 2008, he was coordinator of online organizing for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign on My.BarackObama.com, the campaign’s social networking site. Other projects include joining on as entrepreneur in residence at General Catalyst Partners, a Cambridge, Mass.-based venture capital firm, and launching Jumo, a social networking service and website aimed at allowing potential donors to evaluate charities.

In March 2012, Hughes bought a majority share of The New Republic magazine, becoming its owner, editor-in-chief and publisher. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Prior to issuing his statement, Hughes had a brief exchange about Amendment One with the Blade in D.C. at National Public Radio’s “Friday Night Spin” party on April 29. Hughes and Eldridge said they were discouraged from donating by polling data. Some early polls showed the anti-gay side with a double-digit lead in the state. The couple said they instead favored contributing to fights over state ballot measures with better prospects for the pro-gay side, such as in Washington State or Maine.

But recent polls show momentum turning against Amendment One. Data published last week by Public Policy Polling found only 54 percent of voters in the state plan to vote for it, while 40 percent are opposed to the measure. That’s the lowest level of support for the measure that PPP has found in polling since last October.

Adam Bink, director of online programs for the Courage Campaign and an organizer for grassroots efforts against Amendment One, criticized Hughes for failing to donate money to efforts opposing the amendment.

“The question is, will Chris give or won’t he,” Bink said. “It’s disappointing that he’s given up when, with polls the closest in history and an outpouring of support today online from people who work hard to make ends meet, he couldn’t be bothered to give.”

Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for the Coalition to Protect All NC Families, responded to Hughes’ lack of contributions by more broadly calling on major donors to give to the campaign.

“With only days until the election, I am overwhelmed by the over 9,500 donors who have contributed over $2 million,” Kennedy said. “We are very close to having a fully funded campaign that can close the gap, and pull an upset by defeating Amendment One. I am hopeful that the major donors across the  country who have yet to give will understand that their resources can make a difference and will help us get to the finish line.”

Hughes isn’t the only noteworthy gay entrepreneur who hasn’t donated money to the campaign against Amendment One. Mitchell Gold, co-founder of the furniture manufacturer Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, also hasn’t made a contribution; his company is based in Taylorsville, N.C. Gold declined to comment.

Major donations to the campaign against Amendment One include $200,000 from Jon Stryker, president and founder of Arcus Foundation. Dan Savage, a Seattle-based gay political pundit and sex advice columnist, gave $1,000.

According to the campaign, just under 10,000 donors in total have given so far. The average gift is less than $100 and donations have ranged from $5 to $250,000.

NOTE: This post has been updated.

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Virginia

Two anti-LGBTQ bills die in Va. Senate

Democrats maintain 21-19 majority in chamber

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The Virginia Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two anti-LGBTQ bills died in the Virginia Senate on Thursday.

A Senate Education subcommittee voted against state Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County)’s Senate Bill 20, which would have eliminated the requirement that school districts must implement the Virginia Department of Education’s transgender and non-binary student guidelines.

The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee in an 8-7 vote tabled state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 177, a religious freedom measure that critics contend would have allowed anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing.

Virginia’s statewide nondiscrimination law includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Peake’s bill would have removed “the provision of the exemption for religious organizations under the Virginia Fair Housing Law that denies such exemption where the membership in such religion is restricted on account of race, color, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, or disability.”

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office three days later.

Democrats, who maintain a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, have vowed to block any anti-LGBTQ bill.

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Federal Government

Department of Education investigating BYU LGBTQ+ discipline policy

“They’ve wronged marginalized communities at BYU and they need to be held accountable for it” ~ former gay student at BYU

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Bradley Talbot, a former gay student at BYU (Photo courtesy of Bradley Talbot)

PROVO, Ut. – The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into policies at Brigham Young University (BYU) that discipline LGBTQ students, aiming to determine whether or not the private religious school, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), is violating their civil rights. 

The Education Department is investigating a complaint that came after BYU removed rules banning “homosexual activity” from its honor code in 2020, only to clarify weeks later that same-sex partnerships were still prohibited.

The probe, which opened in October of last year, will focus on Title IX, a law prohibiting universities from discriminating against students and others based on gender. 

Last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order mandating every federal agency, including the Education Department, clarify that civil rights laws protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. However, religious schools have Title IX exemptions, making federal scrutiny rare.  

“It’s really significant that investigators are stepping in now,” Michael Austin, a BYU alumnus and vice president at the University of Evansville, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It means there’s some reason to think the university has gone beyond the religious exemptions it has and is discriminating even beyond those.”

The investigation, headed by the Office of Civil Rights within the department, seems to be about whether faith-based exemptions apply even if the behavior is not directly related to education or expressly written in the honor code. BYU also bans alcohol, beards and piercings, among other things. 

BYU did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment. But a spokesperson told the Associated Press that the school does not anticipate any further action because “BYU is exempt from application of Title IX rules that conflict with the religious tenets” of the LDS.

Though the LDS has softened some of its rules around LGBTQ issues, the church remains opposed to same-sex marriage and sex outside of marriage. 

In a November 2021 letter to the Education Department, Kevin Worthen, president of BYU, argued that religious exemptions do apply to the school. The letter adds that all BYU students, faculty, administrators and staff “‘voluntarily commit to conduct their lives in accordance with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’”

The Department of Education responded to the letter, affirming that the university has some religious exemptions, but the department had to investigate if the complaint falls under those exemptions. 

An Education Department spokesperson confirmed the investigation to the Blade but declined further comment. 

Queer students at BYU celebrated the school’s removal of the anti-LGBTQ language in the honor code. Yet, the university announced weeks later that there was “some miscommunication” as to what the changes meant, clarifying that “the principles of the Honor Code remain the same.”

Bradley Talbot, a former gay student at BYU, was on campus during the apparent reversal, saying it “instilled a lot of fear and a lot of students.” 

“There are still a lot of feelings of betrayal and apprehension around it,” he told the Blade.

At BYU, students who hold hands or kiss someone of the same sex can face punishment, including expulsion. LGBTQ+ students face harsher discipline than heterosexual couples at the school. 

Talbot said he knew of “quite a few people” who lost their degrees and were kicked out during his time at BYU because of the gay dating ban. “People were turned in by roommates. Some people were turned in by their own parents,” he added. 

Courtesy of Bradley Talbot

The university’s clarification frustrated LGBTQ students, according to Talbot. In response, he organized a demonstration in March of 2021, lighting the “Y” that sits above BYU’s campus – one of the school’s oldest traditions – in rainbow Pride colors on the one year anniversary of the university’s letter sent to students that clarified the LGBTQ dating policy. 

“We did it to reclaim that traumatic day and spin in a positive light of support, love and unity to create more visibility and awareness,” said Talbot. “And also to take a stand that we weren’t going to put up with just being tossed around by BYU. We deserve to be a part of the BYU community and a part of the LGBTQ community.”

The school has since updated its policies, banning protests and other demonstrations on Y Mountain, where Talbot staged his demonstration, in December of last year. 

“Demonstrations should be consistent with BYU’s faith-based mission, intellectual environment and requirements described in the policy,” a statement added. 

Still, Talbot, who is now graduated, has hope that the Education Department’s investigation will “finally change” things at BYU. “This has been something that’s been going on for decades,” he said. “They’ve wronged marginalized communities at BYU and they need to be held accountable for it.”

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National

LGBTQ advocates fight on for trans athletes, but they may be losing the battle

Transgender women competing in women’s sports remains unpopular in polls

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From left, Lia Thomas, Caitlyn Jenner and Michael Phelps. (Screen capture of Thomas via YouTube, Washington Blade photo of Jenner by Michael Key, photo of Phelps by kathclick via Bigstock)

In the wake of the NCAA changing its policies regarding transgender athletes and state legislatures advancing new legislation against trans inclusion in school sports, LGBTQ advocates continue the fight to ensure athletes can compete consistent with their gender identity, although they may be losing the battle.

As public polling has demonstrated, transgender athletes competing in sports — especially trans women in women’s sports — remains unpopular even among pro-transgender people. Key figures have emerged in recent days opposing transgender inclusion amid the focus on Lia Thomas, a recently transitioned swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania who has been smashing records in women’s aquatics.

Nonetheless, LGBTQ advocates charged with fighting for transgender rights are continuing the efforts. After a coalition of LGBTQ advocates sent a letter to the NCAA urging the organization to include a non-discrimination provision in its updated constitution, the Human Rights Campaign condemned the organization for refusing to keep the language, which appears to have the effect of allowing the sports division to decline to allow transgender athletes to compete consistent with their gender identity, and sent an action alert to supporters.

Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the NCAA “needs to show us their playbook for protecting LGBTQ+ and specifically transgender athletes from discrimination” as state legislatures advance legislation against transgender kids in sports.

“The NCAA has so far proven to be an unreliable ally to LGBTQ+ athletes across the country who depend upon the organization to protect them from discrimination and now they owe these athletes answers,” Madison said.

Instead of reaffirming non-discrimination protections, the NCAA announced a change in policy that goes in different directions but appears aimed at limiting participation of transgender women without taking full responsibility for it. On one hand, the NCAA delegates to the bodies governing individual sports the policies for transgender participation, but on the other hand requires transgender women to document having limited testosterone levels over a certain period of time.

The fight now continues in state legislatures as sports bills are among the latest crop of measures seeking to limit access for transgender people. After South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem made a push for legislation against transgender kids in sports at the start of the year, the state legislature responded by advancing such a measure. On Wednesday, a South Dakota House committee favorably reported out legislation already approved by wide margins in the Senate that would make biological sex the standard for sports in an attempt to limit transgender participation.

Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement upon the committee vote the legislation “has nothing to do with fairness — and everything to do with South Dakota politicians using transgender youth as pawns on a political chessboard.

“Proponents of this blanket ban are hard-pressed to find examples of transgender students making South Dakota sports less fair or safe,” Ames said. “Research from The Trevor Project makes clear that many already opt out of sports due to fear of bullying and discrimination.”

Although the issue of transgender women in sports has emerged in recent years as conservative activists found a way to challenge LGBTQ rights in a way that was palatable to the public, the fervor peaked as Thomas made headlines for breaking records in the pool.

After having previously competed in men’s aquatics, Thomas — after she transitioned — began competing in women’s events and was beating her competitors by wide margins. In one event in December, Thomas came in first in the 1,650-yard freestyle and 38 seconds ahead of her closest competitor. The NCAA rules would appear to have the effect of barring Thomas from further competition.

Public polling, which has shown strong support for LGBTQ rights in general, continues to show the sentiment is against transgender women competing in sports, although the outcome of the poll can change considerably depending on the wording of the question. One Gallup poll last year found only 34 percent of those surveyed supported transgender athletes participating on teams consistent with their gender identity, while 62 percent said transgender people should have to compete with other athletes of their gender designated at birth.

One LGBTQ strategist, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said the time may have come for LGBTQ advocates to admit a fait accompli if they want to seek broader civil rights protections in employment, housing and public accommodations with the Equality Act or other federal legislation.

“Advocates should just admit this is a very different issue than a trans person applying for a job or finding an apartment,” the strategist said. “Equality principles differ by situation — that’s why we have separate men’s and women’s sports in the first place. The same public opinion overwhelmingly supportive of the Equality Act is also clearly skeptical of a one size fits all federalization of all sports everywhere.”

Adding fuel to the fire are recent comments from key figures in athletics.

Caitlyn Jenner, who before she transitioned was an Olympic champion in the 1970s, has been among the more prominent voices to speak out against transgender women in sports and said on a recent appearance on Fox News it represents “a woke world gone wild.”

Jenner, who came out against transgender participation in sports during her unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign last year in the California recall election, said the NCAA “just kicked the can down the road” on the transgender sports issue and had choice words for Thomas.

“When you do transition and you do go through this, you have to take responsibility and you have to have integrity,” Jenner said. “I don’t know why she’s doing this.”

Michael Phelps, the decorated Olympic swimmer, also declined to support transgender athletes fully when asked about the issue during an interview on CNN, bringing up doping in sports in comparison.

“I don’t know what it looks like in the future,” Phelps said. “It’s hard. It’s very complicated and this is my sport, this has been my sport my whole entire career, and honestly the one thing I would love is everybody being able to compete on an even playing field.”

To be sure, advocates for allowing transgender people to compete in sports consistent with their gender identity also have their supporters in the sports world, including tennis legend Billie Jean King. On Monday, Dorian Rhea Debussy, who’s non-binary and one of 54 facilitators in the NCAA Division III LGBTQ OneTeam program, resigned in protest over recent NCAA actions.

“I’m deeply troubled by what appears to be a devolving level of active, effective, committed, and equitable support for gender diverse student-athletes within the NCAA’s leadership,” Debussy said. “As a non-binary, trans-feminine person, I can no longer, in good conscience, maintain my affiliation with the NCAA.”

Arguably, schools complying with the new NCAA policy and states enacting anti-transgender laws would be violating Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County finding anti-transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.

One federal court last year blocked a West Virginia state law against transgender participation in sports on that legal basis. No litigation, however, appears to be in the works at this time challenging colleges or the NCAA policy.

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