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Russia sought to influence LGBT voters with ‘Buff Bernie’ ad

Materials made public in committee dump of Facebook propaganda

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Russian propagandists sought to influence LGBT voters with a “Buff Bernie” ad. (Photo public domain)

The highly anticipated dump of social media ads Russian propagandists used to influence the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton was made public Wednesday, revealing at least one ad aimed at titillating gay voters with a buffed up version of her opponent in the Democratic primary.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee dumped the ad featuring “Buff Bernie” — an image of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wearing a speedo and with generous muscles — as part of the larger dump of the social media ads through which Russia sought to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump.

“You can color your own Bernie hero!” the ad says. “There is a new coloring book called ‘Buff Bernie: A coloring book for Berniacs’ is full of very attractive doodles of Bernie Sanders in muscle poses.'”

The book isn’t fictitious. Copies of the book, written and illustrated by Nicole Daddona, are still available online for $15.

The ad quotes Daddona as saying she “wanted to stop taking this own thing too serious.” That’s an actual quote from the author from a Buzzfeed article on her coloring book.

“The coloring is something that suit for all people,” the ad continues. “I totally agree with her. I recently heard some hateful from the Hillary supporters about Bernie Sanders and his supporters, so I really love the idea of this color book. I think that Bernie would love it.”

The ad was distributed on the account of “LGBT United,” one of the many social media accounts through which Russia distributed propaganda and one geared toward influencing LGBT people and LGBT rights supporters. Other accounts, such as “Being Patriotic,” “Woke Blacks,” “Blacktivist,” “South United,” and “Army of Jesus,” were aimed at other groups of American voters.

According to metadata the House Intelligence Committee also made public, the ad of Sanders in the buff wasn’t terribly successful. It received a total of 848 impressions and 54 clicks.

Others ads were likely more successful. According to the Daily Beast, more than 70 millions people may have ads linked to Russian propaganda accounts during the 2016 election.

Although intelligence officials have said Russia’s intent was to influence the election in favor of Trump, the ad seems more geared toward a Sanders victory in the Democratic primary. The metadata shows it was purchased and distributed in March at the height of the primary season, not the general election.

The “Buff Bernie” wasn’t the only Facebook ad from the “LGBT United” account unveiled by the House Intelligence Committee. Also included is an ad promoting an event against the Westboro Baptist Church, a vehemently anti-gay group known for picketing the funerals of soldiers with signs reading “God Hates Fags.”

Yet another ad from the “Heart of Texas” social media account seems to target social conservatives by inflaming fears over LGBT rights. The ad features a split image of a Pride flag combined with a picture of an Islamic terrorist in the shape of the United States superimposed over the Texas state flag.

“Fellow Texans! It’s time to say a strong NO to the establishment robbers,” the ad says. “It is unacceptable for us to see them ruin all we’ve been building for decades. For centuries. The establishment thinks they can treat us like stupid sheep but they are wrong. We won’t put up with this anymore.”

Also unveiled by the House Intelligence Committee was a list of Twitter feeds run by Russian propagandists seeking to influence the election. On the list is @lgbtuni, which seems to be the Twitter account for “LGBT United.”

The House Intelligence Committee unveiled the material on the same day tech leaders from Facebook, Google and Twitter testified before Congress as part of the committee’s investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), top Democrat on the committee, said during the hearing the ads the committee made public Wednesday are a representative sample of Russian propaganda seeking to undermine Clinton’s bid for the White House.

“Russia exploited real vulnerabilities that exist across online platforms and we must identify, expose, and defend ourselves against similar covert influence operations in the future,” Schiff said. “The companies here today must play a central role as we seek to better protect legitimate political expression, while preventing cyberspace from being misused by our adversaries.”

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District of Columbia

Bernie Delia, attorney, beloved Capital Pride organizer, dies at 64

Activist worked at Justice Department, White House as attorney

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Capital Pride, No Justice, No Pride, gay news, Washington Blade
Bernie Delia (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bernie Delia, a founding member of the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most D.C. LGBTQ Pride events, and who served most recently as co-chair of World Pride 2025, which D.C. will be hosting next June, died unexpectedly on Friday, according to a statement released by Capital Pride Alliance. He was 64.

“It is with great sadness that the Capital Pride Alliance mourns the passing of Bernie Delia,” the statement says. “We will always reflect on his life and legacy as a champion, activist, survivor, mentor, friend, leader, and a true inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community.”

The statement says that in addition to serving six years as the Capital Pride Alliance board president, Delia served for several years as president of Dignity Washington, the local LGBTQ Catholic organization, where he helped create “an environment for spiritual enrichment during the height of the AIDS epidemic.”

“He also had a distinguished legal career, serving as one of the first openly gay appointees at the U.S. Department of Justice and later as an appellate attorney,” the statement reads.

Delia’s LinkedIn page shows that he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice for 26 years, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2019. Prior to that, he served from 1997 to 2001 as associate deputy attorney general and from 1994 to 1997 served as senior counsel to the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, which provides executive and administrative support for 93 U.S. attorneys located throughout the country.

His Linkedin page shows he served from January-June 1993 as deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel during the administration of President Bill Clinton, in which he was part of the White House staff. And it shows he began his career as Legal Editor of the Bureau of National Affairs, which published news reports on legal issues, from 1983-1993.

The Capital Pride Alliance statement describes Delia as “an avid runner who served as the coordinator of the D.C. Front Runners and Stonewall Kickball LGBTQ sports groups.”

“He understood the value, purpose, and the urgency of the LGBTQ+ community to work together and support one another,” the statement says. “He poured his soul into our journey toward World Pride, which was a goal of his from the start of his involvement with Capital Pride.”

The statement adds, “Bernie will continue to guide us forward to ensure we meet this important milestone as we gather with the world to be visible, heard, and authentic. We love you, Bernie!”

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Africa

Prominent South African activist elected to country’s parliament

Steve Letsike founded Access Chapter 2

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Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

A prominent South African LGBTQ activist has won a seat in the country’s parliament.

Steve Letsike, a lesbian woman who founded Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group, is a member of the African National Congress. She is also part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee that determines the party’s direction.

Letsike won a seat in the South African National Assembly in national and provincial elections that took place on May 29.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority that it had had since Nelson Mandela in 1994 won the South African presidency in the country’s first post-apartheid elections. MPs earlier this month re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa after the ANC and the Democratic Alliance, the country’s second largest political party, formed a coalition government.

Letsike in a statement to the Washington Blade described her election as “a milestone for the people of South Africa, and also affirmative of our party’s posture that is inclusive and intention to transformation agenda.”

“I am not in parliament for myself but the people that trusted the ANC to send individuals that will put people first,” said Letsike. “In that cohort that includes the LGBTI people like myself. Rooted in the teaching of a just society, that seeks equality and believes in the rule of law. That demand on developmental agenda from a queer lens and clear priorities of the people is important.” 

“I am delighted by this task, trust and hope for our people,” she added.

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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