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Gay Obama fundraiser, ambassador launches congressional bid

Rufus Gifford seeks Massachusetts seat vacated by Rep. Niki Tsongas

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Rufus Gifford has launched a bid for Congress. (Photo via YouTube)

A gay Democrat who served President Obama as a fundraiser for his presidential campaigns and as U.S. ambassador to Denmark has a launched a campaign to run for Congress.

In a video message Monday, Rufus Gifford declared his bid to represent Massachusetts’ 3rd congressional district in the U.S. House.

“Like so many of you, I woke up a year ago shocked and heartbroken by the election of Donald Trump,” Gifford says. “As someone who worked for President Obama for 10 years, helping elect him twice and implement his policies, the idea that that profound legacy was at risk on health care, on climate, on equality, that was devastating for me.”

During the second term of the Obama administration, Gifford was appointed and confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Denmark, making him one of seven openly gay ambassadors during the Obama years.

“During my time as ambassador it was my desire to get out from behind my desk, humanize our work, tear down the walls, listen, ask questions and encourage people to engage,” Gifford says. “The groups of people that started to show up, people who had never thought about public service before, that was amazing to me.”

Prior to his role as U.S. ambassador, Gifford worked in Los Angeles in finance for the entertainment industry. In 2008, Gifford was a California fundraiser for Obama’s presidential campaign, then became finance director for the Democratic National Committee. In 2012, Gifford was finance director for Obama’s second presidential campaign.

Massachusetts’ 3rd congressional district is heavily Democratic. The seat will be open because six-term Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) declared she won’t seek another term next year.

But Gifford faces a crowded field in obtaining the Democratic nomination to run in the general election. Among his seven competitors in the race is State Rep. Juana Matias, Westford School committee member Terry Ryan and Troca Hotels Management CEO Abhijit Das.

Gifford is not the only out candidate in the race: Also running is 2014 candidate for Massachusetts lieutenant governor Steve Kerrigan, who’s gay.

Gifford also isn’t the only gay U.S. ambassador during the Obama administration who declared a bid for a congressional seat in the 2018 election. Former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Co-operation in Europe Daniel Baer launched a campaign to run for Congress in Colorado, but suspended his bid after the incumbent in the seat changed his mind and sought to run for another term.

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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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