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Activist sees little evidence of LGBT advocacy in Sochi

Hudson Taylor of Athlete Ally in Russia for games

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Hudson Taylor, Athlete Ally, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade
Hudson Taylor, Athlete Ally, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Hudson Taylor started his LGBT advocacy work during his college wrestling career. (Photo courtesy Athlete Ally)

Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview from Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday that he has thus far seen little evidence of LGBT advocacy in the city ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Many of the athletes we are working with are just getting here and getting their bearings,” he told Blade contributor Kevin Majoros during a telephone interview.

Taylor, a former college wrestler who coaches the sport at Columbia University, said he has yet to talk with any of the athletes about Russia’s LGBT rights record since he arrived in Sochi earlier this week. He said he had a “very interesting conversation” with a Russian Olympic volunteer and a driver on Wednesday as they drove them to a television interview.

“I was reluctant to talk to them about why we were in Sochi at first but then the Olympic volunteer saw the Principle 6 shirt we had on,” said Taylor, referring to the campaign in support of the International Olympic Committee adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination statement his group has spearheaded. “The text was in Russian and she said to me, ‘I understand. That is really a problem here.’”

Taylor said the Olympic volunteer told him she had a girlfriend for two years and has gay friends.

“When we were getting out of the car, the driver, who barely spoke any English, surprised me in the nicest way,” he told the Blade. “He had been listening to our conversation and he shook my hand and he said, ‘You’re beautiful and you are right.’”

Taylor also said he has yet to visit any of the protest zones the Russian government has established around Sochi — one of them is located in a coastal village roughly 11 miles southeast of the Black Sea resort city.

“Based on conversations that I’ve had with Russian activists, the protest zones are simply not a viable place to show dissent,” he said. “You had to apply and be approved to enter the zone. Think about the implications of that.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly sought to assure the IOC and his critics that gays and lesbians who travel to Russia for the Olympics would not face discrimination.

The Russian president told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an interview last month that those who protest the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the Olympics will not face prosecution under his country’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors. Authorities detained a Russian LGBT rights advocates who unfurled a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through the city of Voronezh the day after Putin spoke with Stephanopoulos and a handful of other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K.

“We haven’t seen any kind of protest or other issues since I’ve been here,” NBC 4 anchor Jim Handly, who is covering the Olympics for his D.C. television station, told the Blade from Sochi earlier this week.

The Associated Press reported International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said during a Feb. 4 ceremony in Sochi that the games should not be “used as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests.” The news agency said Bach appeared to single out President Obama and European officials who have criticized Russia’s gay propaganda law during his speech that Putin attended.

“Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes,” said Bach as the AP reported. “People have a very good understanding of what it really means to single out the Olympic games to make ostentatious gesture which allegedly costs nothing but produces international headlines.”

Bach delivered his speech on the same day Human Rights Watch released a video that contained what the organization said is proof of widespread and systematic anti-LGBT violence in Russia. One of the clips contained within it shows a gay Uzbek migrant who was reportedly sodomized with a broken glass bottle.

Cuban authorities last month arrested Maxim Martsinkevich, an ultra-nationalist who flew to Havana from the Ukrainian capital after Russian officials charged him with extremism.

Martsinkevich and members of his group, Occupy Pedophilia, lure LGBT teenagers through fake accounts they set up over Russian social media networks. The men then abuse and beat their victims before posting videos of the assaults online.

“The Russian authorities have the power to protect the rights of LGBT people, but instead they are ignoring their responsibility to do so,” said Tanya Cooper of Human Rights Watch on Feb. 4. “By turning a blind eye to hateful homophobic rhetoric and violence, Russian authorities are sending a dangerous message as the world is about to arrive on its doorstop for the Olympics that there is nothing wrong with attacks on gay people.”

LGBT advocates in D.C. have planned a series of events this week around the Olympic ceremonies to highlight the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

The Human Rights Campaign, Team DC, Capital Pride, Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and Pride House International have organized an opening ceremony viewing party at HRC’s Rhode Island Avenue, N.W., office on Friday. Former professional hockey player Sean Avery is scheduled to emcee the event that will benefit the Russia LGBT Sports Federation.

The Council for Global Equality and the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University in D.C. on Thursday will host the Sochi Sendoff Party at Madam’s Organ Restaurant and Bar on 18th Street, N.W., in Adams Morgan.

The event, which will benefit the Russia Freedom Fund, will feature live music from András Simonyi, the former Hungarian ambassador to the U.S. who is managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations, and Misspent Youth. The benefit will also include a contest in which contestants will dress as Putin in drag.

“What we want to do is send a strong message from Washington that not only do we care about this, but the best way to convey a serious message is to do it in a humoristic, ironic way,” Simonyi told the Blade last week. “My experience with authoritarian leaders is they understand it better when there’s a little bit of humor in the message, but it’s dead serious.”

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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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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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