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Report criticizes U.S. religious groups’ support of Belize sodomy law

Southern Poverty Law Center said organizations further inflame homophobia in country

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Belize, gay news, Washington Blade

Belize (Photo by Greg Westfall via Wikimedia Commons)

A report the Southern Poverty Law Center released on Thursday criticizes U.S. religious groups for supporting the campaign to defend Belize’s anti-sodomy law.

The organization specifically singles out the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom and the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, which has offices in D.C. and New York, for sending lawyers to the Central American country to advice Belize Action, a group opposed to a lawsuit currently before the Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize that seeks to overturn the statute under which those found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual acts face 10 years in prison. The Southern Poverty Law Center report also notes that Extreme Prophetic Ministries, a Phoenix-based group, has also publicly backed Belize Action.

The The report further documents that Scott Strim, who heads Belize Action, was born in Texas.

The report further alleges that the aforementioned groups’ support of Belize’s anti-sodomy law has only inflamed existing homophobic attitudes in the country.

Caleb Orozco, co-founder of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM,) the HIV/AIDS group that challenged the statute in the Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize in 2010, told reporters on Thursday that two masked men broke into his yard and vandalized his car around the same time the justices heard the case in May. He said he has also received hate mail and saw a YouTube clip with a caption that encouraged someone to shoot him in the head.

Orozco further accused Belize Action of using the media to “confuse, conflate” and “intensify whatever prejudices that already exist to create a culture of fear and hate.” The editor of a leading Belizean newspaper wrote in a column before the country’s highest court heard UNIBAM’s case that “homosexuals pray on children and boys.”

A participant of a demonstration in southern Belize on July 5 carried a hanging effigy with UNIBAM written onto it.

“The involvement of these American groups is adding fuel to the fire in that country,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said. “To inject these ideas into a country like Belize is beyond irresponsible.”

Belize is among the 11 English-speaking Central American and Caribbean countries in which colonial era anti-sodomy laws remain on the books.

Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development Minister Lisel Alamilla described the UNIBAM effigy as “extremely concerning and even frightening” in a post to her Facebook page on July 11. Belizean First Lady Kim Simplis-Barrow spoke out against anti-gay discrimination and violence in a video in which she appeared to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow in the same month also defended the government’s revised gender equality policy that specifically includes sexual orientation.

The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute declined to comment on the Southern Poverty Law Center report. The group’s website, however, contains a statement in French under the headline “Christian churches of Belize are third parties in the sodomy case” that appears to have been written in May 2011.

“Powerful advocacy and international organizations have made the poor country of Belize a target in the international fight for homosexuality,” it reads.

The Alliance Defending Freedom did not return the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

Belize Action, which posted a statement on its website against the UNIBAM effigy, defended its efforts in support of the country’s sodomy law in an e-mail to the Blade on Thursday.

The group said the statute that “Orozco wants to change” has “never been used to prosecute any person for a consensual act, not once.” Belize Action said more than 80 percent of prosecutions under the country’s anti-sodomy law have been for “sexual abuse against children.”

“We say it’s a good law, leave it as is,” the organization told the Blade. “It’s not stopping gays from doing what they want to do.”

Belize Action sought to further discredit Orozco.

“Orozco says this is an issue of loving who they want to love, but in truth this is not about the bedroom. It’s about the classroom,” the group said, noting Belizean men who have sex with men have the country’s highest HIV/AIDS rate. “They want their lifestyle legitimized so they can have it in kids’ curriculums as ‘normal, natural, healthy and productive’ when it’s not.”

Orozco maintained the sodomy statute is “not a good law” as he responded to Belize Action’s claims.

“It does not separate consensual sex from forced sex and mixes sexual practices with bestiality,” he told the Blade. “It serves only to sanction current attitudes of extreme Christian right leaders like the Belize Action representative.”

While not responding directly to the Southern Poverty Law Center report, a State Department official told the Blade the U.S. government continues to support efforts to decriminalize homosexuality around the world.

“U.S. policy, articulated by President Obama and numerous other officials, including Secretary of State [John] Kerry is that the United States opposes laws that criminalize consensual same-sex relations,” the official said. “The United States also staunchly defends freedom of association and freedom of expression, even when individuals or groups are advocating policies that are inconsistent with universal human rights and our foreign policy.”

Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize is expected to issue its first ruling in UNIBAM’s case later this month or in August.

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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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South America

Argentine authorities charge 10 police officers with murdering transgender woman

Sofia Fernández brutally killed on April 11, 2023

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Mabel Valdez demands justice for her sister, Sofia Fernández (Courtesy photo)

Argentine authorities have arrested 10 police officers and charged them with murdering a transgender woman in 2023.

In the historic development in the fight for LGBTQ justice in the country, the officers who were arrested on May 1 face murder and hate crime charges in connection with Sofia Fernández’s brutal death on April 11, 2023. The case has uncovered not only entrenched institutional violence, but also the ongoing struggle against impunity for hate crimes.

The initial investigation, which began last September, faced numerous obstacles, with only three points of expertise completed out of the 16 required for a formal indictment. Ignacio Fernandez, a lawyer who represents Sofia Fernández’s family, told the Washington Blade “the lack of confidence in the initial prosecutor and the need to recuse him marked the beginning of an arduous but vital legal battle.”

Ignacio Fernández described the long process to unravel the truth behind the brutal murder.

The legal and forensic teams faced numerous challenges that included coordination with gender-specialized prosecutors to the meticulous analysis of thousands of pieces of data on seized cell phones.

“The forensic report revealed the gruesome nature of the crime; Sofia was killed by asphyxiation with a piece of mattress and her own underwear, in addition to suffering beatings and physical torture,” Ignacio Fernández told the Blade. “The investigation also highlighted the alleged involvement of police officers in the crime, which triggered intense scrutiny of the conduct of law enforcement.” 

The indictment, according to Ignacio Fernandez, “not only covers the triple homicide, but also the cover-up and falsification of documents by seven other police officers.” 

“The application of a gender perspective in the judicial process has been crucial, underlining the importance of recognizing and addressing violence directed towards transgender people,” he added.

Ignacio Fernández represents Sofia Fernández’s family (Photo courtesy of Ignacio Fernández)

The road to justice, however, has been far from smooth. 

Despite the arrests, defense lawyers have requested the dismissal of certain charges, arguing the lack of hearings with the victim and rulings that could be questionable in their gender-specific perspective.

Sofia Fernández’s family, fearful for her safety, hopes the defendants will remain in pre-trial detention during the judicial process. They also yearn for a speedy and fair trial, aware that prolonged time may undermine the search for truth and justice.

Ignacio Fernández indicated “the inaction of the Ministry of Women of the province of Buenos Aires” is serious because “with Estela Diaz at the head, it is added that the defense lawyers of all the police officers charged and with a very clear conflict of interest are from the Directorate of Police Legal Counsel of the Ministry of Security of the province of Buenos Aires.”

Although the judicial investigation could take between two and four months, with possible delays due to legal appeals, it is estimated the trial could be delayed at least another year. The fight for justice, in the meantime, continues with the hope that Sofia Fernandez’s case will set a precedent in the fight against transphobic violence and impunity in Argentina.

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Politics

HRC invests $15 million in six battleground states ahead of November elections

Group made announcement on Monday

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Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign will target a record-high 75 million pro-LGBTQ voters nationwide with a public education and mobilization campaign ahead of the 2024 elections, which includes a $15 million investment in six key battleground states, the group announced on Monday.

The initiative will focus on voters in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Nevada with “hired staff, field efforts, events, paid advertising, mobilization, and grassroots engagement,” HRC wrote in a press release announcing the campaign, which is titled “We Show Up: Equality Wins.”

HRC defines Equality Voters as constituents who are “united by the advancement of LGBTQ+ equality, and are younger, more racially diverse, and more female than the general electorate.”

Among those who would vote for third-party candidates if the election were held today — 22 percent, or 16.5 million people — survey results show half would support President Joe Biden if they reach the understanding that their third-party vote would support Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.

Along with re-electing Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, HRC’s campaign will work “to defeat escalating anti-trans attacks” and “electing historic LGBTQ+ and pro-equality candidates down-the-ballot,” the group wrote.

HRC will support LGBTQ candidates in California, Texas, New York, and Delaware with the aim of helping to elect a pro-equality majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.  

“Trump and his MAGA allies are promising a hate-filled agenda that hurts everyone who doesn’t look and live like them,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said. “They think they can bully and scare us and take away our fundamental freedoms. But the LGBTQ+ community has won these hard fights before — and we refuse to go back.”

HRC noted “Trump has promised to not just undo all the progress made by the Biden-Harris administration; but to erase LGTBQ+ people from federal law, further dismantle access to health care for transgender people, and dictate curriculum for school children.” 

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