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Inside the battle over Republican Senate votes for Respect for Marriage Act

Some advocates for religious liberty joined forces with LGBTQ groups to play a vital role in passage of the Respect for Marriage Act

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A mass same-sex marriage ceremony on June 21, 2013. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act on Tuesday 61-36, clearing the threshold required to secure a filibuster-proof majority by just one vote, thereby sending the bill on its way to becoming law.

The landmark legislation’s path out of the evenly divided upper chamber was, until that 60th “yea” vote, far from clear. Tuesday’s passage of the Respect for Marriage Act marked the third time this month in which a few Republican senators held the keys to its fate.

Before and just after Thanksgiving break, the Senate managed to avoid having to debate amendments to the bill proposed by some conservative members of the Republican caucus who felt the bipartisan addition of supplemental protections for religious liberties was insufficient.

Success on the first procedural move was won with a margin of just two Republican senators who voted with their Democratic colleagues. The second, with only one.

Had the Senate chosen instead to consider these amendments, the Respect for Marriage Act could easily have been defeated, with time running out to pass legislation before the new Congress is seated in January, at which point control of the House will flip from blue to red.

Particularly in the days leading up to this week’s votes, lobbyists with a wide spectrum of views on the Respect for Marriage Act were laser focused on winning over members of the small camp of GOP senators who were on the fence or, perhaps, relatively tepid in their support for (or opposition to) the bill.

Tim Schultz (Photo courtesy of the 1st Amendment Partnership)

Among the parties representing special interests engaged in ongoing discussions with Senate Republicans was Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership (1AP), a nonprofit group focused on education and public engagement to promote and protect religious freedom. Schultz’s work on behalf of the organization includes some lobbying activity.

Speaking with the Washington Blade by phone on Tuesday before the final vote was held, Schultz said the key to winning support from these Republican senators was to show them how the Respect for Marriage Act does not threaten – and in some respects, may in fact strengthen – protections for religious liberty.

Other GOP senators opposed to the bill cited different reasons, arguing for example that it is unnecessary or improper for the legislature to preempt the fallout of a potential future U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

Schultz noted that unlike the conservative lawmakers whose primary focus was on religious freedoms, these other objections raised by Senate Republicans were mostly brought forth by members who were never going to vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act in the first place. In some cases, they believed the landmark cases establishing marriage equality as a fundamental right in the United States were wrongly decided, which is a non-starter.

“The lawmakers who have been the margin of victory [in key votes] have cared a lot about religious protections,” Schultz said. They are sincere in their efforts to understand precisely whether and how religious liberties might be affected by passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, he said. “They are serious in their efforts to try to get their arms around those questions.”

The primary arguments happening in the Senate “have been held by [Republican Senators] who all have a broad conception of religious freedom,” Schultz said. “So, the question has been, ‘is this sufficient? Or should we demand quite a bit more?'”

Engaging these GOP lawmakers, he said, often involved “trying to get the senators accurate information, including responses from faith groups and scholars.” This sometimes required addressing and dispelling arguments against the legislation “point by point,” Schultz added.

Schultz said it was an amusing twist to lock horns over the Respect for Marriage Act with other groups that promote and fight for religious liberties, organizations with which he has some deep and longstanding relationships.

“It’s weird, because I am a professional religious freedom advocate and I share their conception of religious liberty. But I think their analysis of this bill is incorrect. So, it’s been a bit strange to be having an argument among folks who, otherwise, I agree with.”

Strange bedfellows?

The bill’s passage through the Senate could be read as a signal of the efficacy of a model of government relations by which LGBTQ groups in some circumstances can reach mutually beneficial compromises with organizations that are concerned with religious liberty, Schultz said.

Compromise was also the goal for the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the House and Senate who sponsored, co-sponsored, or otherwise championed the Respect for Marriage Act.

Writing the legislation within bounds of universally accepted constitutional precepts, part of their aim was to lessen the likelihood that it might face a successful legal challenge. The other primary reason for backing a narrowly construed bill: greater chances of securing the support necessary from congressional Republicans to get it passed.

But the Respect for Marriage Act was conservative in focus, if not in effect, from the jump. It was meant to address the very specific consequences and fallout for same-sex couples that would result if the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority opts to overturn or substantially weaken the two landmark rulings that established marriage equality as a constitutional right in America.

Practically speaking, however, compromise did not come at a cost. “This will be the biggest federal legislative victory for gay rights since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Schultz said. (Incidentally, that hard-won victory also happened during a lame duck session, following the 2010 midterm elections.)

Though some groups acknowledged its limitations, the Respect for Marriage Act was publicly backed by a diverse swath of LGBTQ civil rights and legal advocacy organizations, including: the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, GLSEN, PFLAG National, GLAAD, Equality California, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Lambda Legal, the Interfaith Alliance, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, LGBTQ Victory Fund, and the National LGBTQ Task Force.

The Respect for Marriage Act faced a tumultuous road to passage through Congress

In July, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act with a decisive margin, picking up 47 Republican “yeas” for a total of 267 votes in favor of the bill (with 157 members, all Republican, voting no).

At the time, there was little to no concern expressed publicly by GOP lawmakers in either chamber over the Respect for Marriage Act’s threat to religious liberties, Schultz said. He added that this may be explained, at least to some extent, by members’ focus on the then-upcoming Nov. 8 midterm elections.   

After Congress reconvened with Republicans poised to take control of the House next year, the Biden administration and congressional Democratic leadership had made clear that the Respect for Marriage Act would be a top priority for the brief legislative session before the next Congress is seated in January.

“By the Monday after election week, people started focusing again,” Schultz said. “It was game time.”

Logistically, it was a heavy lift for Congress. Lawmakers had just a few weeks to pass legislation and cobble together end-of-year must-pass spending packages.

Democratic congressional leadership were under pressure from President Biden to allocate more funding for COVID-19 and aid to Ukraine, proposals that both faced resistance from their Republican colleagues. The Senate was way behind on the National Defense Authorization Act, another must-pass bill to fund the military that happens to also require a lengthy review process. And finally, momentum was building behind the bipartisan legislative proposal to revise the Electoral Count Act.

For the key GOP senators, all other considerations were secondary to religious liberty

As the Senate vote neared, campaigns by special interest groups were dialed up, including by opponents of the bill, which ranged from extreme anti-LGBTQ organizations deemed hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center to conservative think tanks with close ties to Capitol Hill.

Liberty Counsel President Matt Staver made the outrageous argument that the protections for same-sex couples provided in the Respect for Marriage Act would lead to “pedophilic marriages,” perpetuating the dangerous lie that queer people are linked to child sexual abuse.

Fortunately, “the crazy stuff you see online doesn’t penetrate into how senators talk about and think about this stuff,” Schultz said. “They are concerned with substantive objections” to the Respect for Marriage Act.

And while there was some discussion of the deadly Nov. 19 shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, the tragedy did not play a major part in GOP senators’ deliberations over passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, Schultz said – perhaps partly because much of the substantive talks had already happened with the Senate vote just days away.

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News Analysis

A.I., TikTok, big tech, and the 2024 elections: Experts break down the risks

Chris Bronk and Barb McQuade call for stronger tech regulations

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Chris Bronk and Barb McQuade (Photos courtesy of the subjects, composite image by Christopher Kane/Washington Blade)

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could decide whether government actors can pressure social media companies to remove certain harmful content from their platforms. A ruling is expected to come in June, just a few months ahead of the 2024 elections.

Meanwhile, as America’s relationship with China has become more strained than ever, the U.S. Congress may force a divestiture of TikTok from Chinese parent ByteDance over concerns with how the platform’s use in the U.S. could imperil national security. The bill would ban TikTok’s use in the U.S. if a sale is not completed within six months.

At the same time, the spread of misinformation and disinformation through online platforms, while not a new phenomenon, is abetted by increasingly sophisticated A.I. technologies that are now capable of generating “deepfake” audio and video content. The associated risks to the information ecosystem could influence American elections in ways that were not possible in years past.

In conversations this week with the Washington Blade, two experts outlined the threat landscape with respect to Big Tech, identifying election-related risks that are both preexisting and new. They also shared ideas for regulatory solutions and thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of various moves that have been undertaken by U.S. lawmakers and other officials.

Chris Bronk is an associate professor with tenure at the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, having previously directed the university’s graduate cybersecurity program and served on the faculty of the College of Technology. He previously held high-profile positions, including a senior adviser role, at the U.S. Department of State. Bronk’s areas of expertise include internet censorship, online surveillance, border security, public diplomacy, organization information technology, and critical infrastructure protection. 

Barbara (“Barb”) McQuade is a lawyer who served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan from 2010 to 2017, becoming deputy chief of the National Security Unit and prosecuting high-profile cases from public corruption and bank fraud involving elected officials to the theft of trade secrets. She is a professor of practice at the University of Michigan Law School as well as a legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. McQuade’s areas of expertise include criminal law and procedure, national security, data privacy, and civil rights.

Is TikTok more dangerous than American tech platforms?

Some critics of the TikTok bill feel the platform has been unfairly singled out, especially since the major American-owned competitors in online social media or short-form video sharing platforms have themselves faced scrutiny over many of the same issues lawmakers have identified with TikTok, from risks associated with the improper collection and misuse of data to design features that knowingly amplify the spread of harmful content.

The difference, McQuade said, is that when it comes to American tech platforms, the “U.S. government could impose laws that could control their bad behavior” whereas because foreign owned entities largely operate beyond the reach of U.S. regulations, “we have to be extra mindful when a social media platform that has so much power is outside of the control of American government.”

“There are a lot of things we just don’t have visibility into,” she said. “So it could be that [foreign actors are] engaging in influence campaigns by putting certain videos online,” and even though “we don’t know that that’s happening,” McQuade noted “it’s a possibility and we lack recourse.”

“With regard to scraping data, I mean, we know Facebook is doing this, scraping our data and giving it away to researchers or selling it, but we have some recourse if we choose to exercise it,” McQuade said. “If it is the government of China who is doing that, we don’t have visibility into what they’re doing with it.”

She added, “Maybe they’re only using [the data] for helpful purposes, like in the same way Netflix suggests content that we like and we look at it and say, ‘yes, in fact I do’ — or is it being used to build dossiers on [users] so that we can be recruited for and leveraged and extorted to engage in espionage?”

“People make a lot of, essentially, the intelligence and information gathering aspect of TikTok, and I don’t know if it’s a whole lot different than what people do on Facebook,” Bronk said, adding that there is probably “too little” concern about Facebook’s conduct and influence among U.S. lawmakers and government officials.

At the same time, he said, “the issue I have with TikTok is that it’s a social media tool from China, or a social media platform from China, and U.S. social media platforms are banned in China,” which has long enforced prohibitions against the use of products made by companies like Google, YouTube, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook.

In the U.S., Bronk said, free speech and expression, including criticism of the U.S. government, are protected (so long as the conduct does not involve, say, leading an insurrection by storming the U.S. Capitol Building). By contrast, he said, “when we were doing our censorship research on China, you know, if you complain about pollution in China, on any given day, no big deal; if you do it for two days in a row, maybe not a problem; but on the third day, you’re gonna get censored because you’re complaining too much.”

Likewise, Bronk said, the information ecosystem in the U.S. is shaped, at least to some extent, by a free and independent press, while China’s is not — further complicating the role played by social media and online platforms in the dissemination of news. And the two countries also have very different records with respect to human rights, Bronk added, noting that LGBTQ Americans enjoy many freedoms and protections that are not available to their Chinese counterparts.

“We’re pretty tolerant and China is not,” Bronk said. “So the idea that China exports this social media platform that it attempts to control very vigorously at home, I think that’s the issue I have, that it’s not a level playing field. And as long as it’s not a level playing field, the question is why should we play at all?”

Part of the problem, Bronk said, stems from the worsening geopolitical relationship between the two countries. “We in diplomacy circles hear this term, ‘no guardrails; no bottom’ — so we don’t know how much worse it can get, and we don’t really have the guideposts that we would have on a relationship like that that we had during the Cold War, through summits and things like that.”

The tussle now unfolding over TikTok, he said, “is part of a much larger geopolitical contest between the West and China. And not even just the West and China, now, but with China and its friends, which means North Korea, which is the only country that has a pact with China, and Russia and Iran. And so the question really becomes, how much are we going to delink the United States from China?”

TikTok’s algorithmic recommendation engine is owned and controlled by ByteDance, and the company would have to obtain permission from the Chinese government to license or sell the technology, which is likely to complicate negotiations over a divestiture.

Should TikTok’s ownership change hands, Bronk said the company would still face an uncertain future — partly because the sale would cause a “forking of the algorithm,” with the underlying software being developed simultaneously by ByteDance in China and by a different firm in the U.S., and also partly because TikTok’s success relies on the scale of its user base and volume of content hosted on the platform.

“Even if the ownership changes, platforms die,” he said. “Facebook is decidedly uncool for a generation of Americans now. X’s usership has declined precipitously since its purchase. MySpace is dead and buried. So what’s to say that TikTok isn’t bought by American buyers who spend billions of dollars and then the train wrecks?”

Election interference, misinformation, disinformation, and A.I.

“This idea that that they have all the interest in the world to try to manipulate — the Chinese and the Russians — to manipulate electoral behavior in the United States to get the candidate they want, I find it very frightening,” Bronk said. “And I think we’re very poorly prepared to monitor the situation.”

However, 2024 would not be the first time in which individuals and groups overseas, acting in the interest of foreign governments hostile to the U.S., have sought to influence American elections through social media and other channels.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election, which was released in 2019, “identified a lot of Russian influence actors,” McQuade said, pointing to the propaganda-peddling Internet Research Agency, a “troll farm” financed by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin with ties to Russian intelligence that supported former President (then-candidate) Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.

She noted that the firm was known to publish fake posts on social media and build large online followings for fake accounts like “Blacktivist,” which posed “as a very reasonable, interesting, Black activist” and “then when it came close to the election said things like, ‘we should not vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s taken our vote for granted. Let’s send a message that we should not be ignored by not showing up at the polls and voting for her.'”

McQuade was quick to point out that these tactics to subvert American elections have been used by American actors, too. She noted, for example, a campaign in which U.S.-based political operatives sought to suppress the vote in Black communities during the 2016 presidential election by telling Black voters voters that they could cast their ballots via SMS text messages.

Drawing a distinction between the various different methods by which American elections might be manipulated, McQuade noted that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has declared election-related “hardware-software processes ‘critical infrastructure'” and is therefore “looking to anything that might intrude upon that or hack into that.”

“Equally important are influence campaigns that peddle in false information and use information as a weapon,” she said. “And I think that’s something that our Department of Homeland Security, our FBI, needs to be looking at” alongside the “private actors who look at disinformation at all of the social media companies.”

Anti-LGBTQ misinformation is an example of how “the far right extreme portion of the Republican Party is trying to sow discord in society” with influence campaigns designed to exploit differences between different people and different groups for political gain.

“This false narrative that the LGBTQ community wants to groom your children for pedophilia,” she said, is evidence of the extent to which rhetoric that was once considered hyperbolic and out-of-bounds for political discourse is no longer taboo. “I used to joke,” McQuade said, that politicians would say to voters, “my opponent wants to eat your children.”

When online content is false or deceptive, McQuade said, “it’s really about flagging, and one hopes that the social media companies” will take steps like directing users “to accurate information rather than taking down information that [they] might find misleading.”

“The other brand, I think, is actual disinformation about the process of voting and I worry about that, which could cause people to become confused about the rules for voting or exhausted by trying to figure it out and discouraged from casting a ballot altogether,” she said.

McQuade said A.I. technologies might continue to play a role in this type of election interference, pointing to a scam in January, days before the 2024 New Hampshire primary elections, in which residents received robocalls in which an A.I.-generated clone of President Joe Biden’s voice urged them not to vote.

It can be difficult to convince people who have been duped by a convincing artificially generated deepfake, McQuade warned, which could show audio or video “evidence” of a candidate saying or doing something objectionable.

Bronk agreed, noting “every generation of those Nvidia chips that gets better, I mean, things look more and more real.” The company on Monday introduced its Blackwell B200 GPU, which according to The Verge is “the ‘world’s most powerful chip’ for AI” and according to Bronk is “30 times more powerful than the prior version.”

How can individuals defend themselves?

When asked how best to mitigate these attacks on elections, McQuade and Bronk agreed the American public must learn how to identify trusted and trustworthy sources of news and information and develop the skills to spot online content that might be false, misleading, manipulative, or artificially generated.

“What we need to do is push people in the direction of credible sources of information so that if and when this wave of disinformation comes around elections, people know their trusted sources online,” like the official government websites for the offices of secretaries of state or content published by nonprofit groups like the League of Women Voters, McQuade said.

“Some of this we’re doing to ourselves,” Bronk said, pointing to the fact that televised ads for political candidates are required to include disclaimers to indicate whether, for instance, the ad was authorized by the candidate or her campaign but funded by a political action committee (PAC), whereas political advertising on social media is regulated much more loosely.

Education is key, McQuade said, so that “when people are reading things online, they are able to be appropriately skeptical. They’re able to ask good questions, you know not just looking at the headline [but] looking for a second source, looking to a sizable data set if there’s a statistical study, understanding the difference between causation and correlation — there are a lot of things that we could all use to learn to build resilience against disinformation.”

She and Bronk both pointed to Finland as an example of a country that has sought to address the scourge of misinformation and disinformation spread by social media and online platforms by promoting digital and media literacy.

McQuade noted that, “in Finland, a country that has been affected by disinformation for a long time because of their proximity to Russia, they have introduced media literacy into their school curriculum to great success.”

The Supreme Court steps in

On Monday, The New York Times reported that the Supreme Court justices largely seemed receptive to arguments that U.S. government actors are free to contact social media companies over concerns about content on their platforms that may be harmful, so long as there is no coercion involved.

McQuade said this analysis “strikes me as the correct outcome” because so long as the government is not urging the platforms to take action by “coercing” them or making demands “with repercussions and consequences and threats, then I think it does not amount to any sort of prior restraint where they’re telling them what they can and cannot publish.”

In many cases, she said, the government is simply flagging content that runs afoul of — or seems likely to violate — the companies’ own terms of service or community standards, which would include, for instance, materials for the recruitment of users into terrorist groups like ISIS or promoting “purported cures for Covid that are, in fact, fatal.”

“Sometimes,” McQuade said, “there are statements that have a grain of truth, and then are pitched in a misleading way to advance a political agenda, and that’s where it gets tricky, because I think the government doesn’t want to be in the business of suggesting any sort of message that would favor one political party over another or one political candidate over another.”

Ultimately, though, responsibility over how to handle content moderation decisions lies with the social media company or online platform, McQuade said. “I don’t think that the government should be telling social media platforms what to do really in any circumstance,” but instead should be “merely flagging things which can be problematic and then letting the social media companies decide for themselves how they want to deal with it.”

Stronger regulation is needed

“We can regulate social media without running afoul of our First Amendment rights,” McQuade said. She suggested, as a “first step,” regulating the algorithms used by the tech platforms, pointing to Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s 2021 testimony before Congress about how the platform’s software was deliberately designed to amplify content that drives outrage and, therefore, engagement.

“Why couldn’t we regulate the algorithms,” McQuade asked, “to either prevent them from stoking outrage or at least requiring them to disclose the way they’re stoking outrage so that people would know when they’re being manipulated and could choose to avoid it?”

“When you look at other industrial processes, like oil fracking, the federal government and state governments have a pretty accurate idea of how it works and what they’re doing with it, what chemicals they put in the fluids, all the processes — the oil companies have to explain all this stuff,” Bronk said.

By contrast, he said, “we don’t have transparency into any” of the algorithms used by large digital platforms. “We don’t know what the Facebook algorithms look like; we don’t know what the Google algorithms look like.”

Online platforms and social media companies “don’t want to be regulated,” Bronk said. “This is where we live now: We have all this technology that we don’t really understand how it works, we don’t know what the second and third-order effects of it are gonna be. And, you know, basically the companies are saying, ‘trust us, it’ll be fine,’ and I don’t think that’s necessarily the truth.”

The government could also establish stronger guardrails around how social media companies collect user data and sell it for purposes of micro-targeted advertising, whether for products or electoral candidates, McQuade said. “There are a number of things we can do without running afoul of the First Amendment.”

Additionally, while the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC established that “corporations and other organizations have a First Amendment right to unlimited spending on campaigns,” McQuade said “we could require disclosure of how they are spending that money.”

“All we see are these big ads with Super PACs, with names like The Red, White, and Blue Grandmothers of America, and we don’t know who they are,” she said. So, “bringing some transparency to campaign finance would be a really good first step to avoiding the influence of big money” from individual donors or special interest groups whose campaign funding apparatuses and lobbying efforts are often deliberately disguised to look like popular grassroots organizing efforts.

The practice is often called “astroturfing.” “The internet makes it so easy,” Bronk said.

***

Bronk is the author of “Cyber Threat: The Rise of Information Geopolitics in U.S. National Security.”

McQuade is the author of “Attack from Within: How Disinformation Is Sabotaging America.”

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News Analysis

GLAAD: LGBTQ people ‘nearly invisible’ in mainstream advertising

Media watchdog released report in Cannes

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(Image courtesy of GLAAD)

Advertisers received failing grades in a new scorecard produced by GLAAD and a marketing analytics company, part of what the media advocacy organization labeled the first-ever LGBTQ visibility index of mainstream TV ads. 

Madison Avenue is deliberately making the community “invisible to appease anti-LGBTQ activists,” according to its president and CEO. 

The GLAAD Advertising Visibility Index, which was released overnight during the 2023 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, also revealed a majority of consumers support brands that are LGBTQ inclusive. 

According to the report, 66 percent of Americans surveyed said they feel advertisers have a responsibility to provide visibility for LGBTQ individuals, couples, and families within their content. And Gen Z respondents were nearly 1.5x more likely to say advertisers are not appropriately representing LGBTQ people.

GLAAD’s scorecard graded ads based on how they showed representation, the type of LGBTQ content in the ads, how much screen time LGBTQ people were given, as well as when and where these ads were shown. Each ad was rated on a 5-point scale that ranged from “Failing” to “Excellent.”

  • Of the 436 ads that appeared on national broadcast, cable and satellite television from the top 10 largest advertisers, LGBTQ people received a paltry 1.42 percent of screen time.
  • Only 3 percent of those TV ads from the top 10 largest advertisers included LGBTQ people.
  • Not one LGBTQ-inclusive ad reviewed in this report rated higher than “Insufficient” in  representation.
  • More than 70 percent of inclusive ads featured LGBTQ celebrities, although celebrity inclusion is the least effective driver for telling LGBTQ stories in advertising, according to GLAAD and Kantar’s survey of U.S. consumers.

“The ad industry is decades behind television and film when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion, but consumers are ready and willing to see the industry grow the quality, quantity, and diversity of ads,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement to the Washington Blade. “Brands that keep us invisible to appease anti-LGBTQ activists are not only missing a large and loyal consumer base today, but are missing a future generation of consumers and employees who demand that brands include LGBTQ people and other diverse communities in authentic and organic ways.”

According to the report, “consumers placed high importance on inclusive ads featuring universal empathy and realism, more than LGBTQ celebrities.”

  • 54 percent of consumers who took part in the survey said quality representation includes LGBTQ people in realistic stories and with instances of empathy and humanity.
  • Only 31 percent of consumers who responded said good representation is rooted in featuring a celebrity who is LGBTQ.
  • 79 percent of non-LGBTQ+ consumers and 88 percent of LGBTQ consumers agreed brands should strive for what GLAAD called “multi-dimensional and human representation” when including LGBTQ people in advertising or content. 

“Consumers have spoken,” said Valeria Piaggio, global head of diversity, equity and inclusion for Kantar. “They want business to do better and are prepared to change their buying decisions if companies do not. Data from Kantar U.S. MONITOR finds that 67 percent of people state that it’s important for companies they buy from actively promote diversity and inclusion in their own business or society as a whole.”


You can read the full report at www.GLAAD.org/AdIndex

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Research/Study

HRC finds more than half of American trans youth will soon face barriers to healthcare

‘LGBTQ+ people are living in a state of emergency.’

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Transgender Pride flags (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign reported Wednesday that more than half of America’s transgender youth are facing or will soon face barriers to access guideline-directed gender affirming healthcare.

The organization’s finding comes as more than 10 states are on the verge of enacting healthcare bans for youth diagnosed with gender dysphoria, in some cases criminalizing physicians and parents for facilitating access to these healthcare interventions for young patients.

HRC’s press release announcing the data noted gender affirming care is supported by medical organizations with relevant scientific and clinical expertise, groups with a combined 1.3 million member physicians and whose guidelines on treatment for minors are backed by decades of research.

Eight states have now enacted laws banning gender affirming care (Ala., Ariz., Ark., Iowa, Miss., S.D., Tenn., and Utah), while three have passed bans (Ga., Ky., and W.Va.) and six have advanced bans through one of the two chambers of their respective legislatures (Idaho, Ind., Kan., Mont., N.D., and Okla.), according to HRC.

The organization noted that Florida effectuated a ban through its Board of Medicine while Texas passed a law last year that deputizes the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services “to investigate the provision or support of gender affirming care by parents, doctors, or others, as child abuse.”

“LGBTQ+ people are living in a state of emergency,” HRC Senior Vice President Jay Brown said in the press release. “Today’s findings illustrate how the ongoing assault against transgender people is taking hold across the country and underscore how dire the situation is growing for our community by the day. “

“Now more than ever, we must fight back against extremism and hold anti-LGBTQ+ politicians accountable for bullying children and terrorizing our families,” Brown said.

In states where bans have taken effect, for some minors who are currently receiving gender affirming care, such as those for whom traveling out of state to retain access to that care is prohibitively expensive or difficult, the law will effectively and forcibly de-transition them.

Because it significantly reduces the likelihood of self harm behaviors and suicide, gender affirming care is in many cases life saving. A study last year by the National Institutes of Health found a link between anti-trans legislation and “suicide- and depression-related Internet searches.”

HRC reports more than 180 bills targeting the trans and nonbinary community have been introduced so far in 2023, of which more than 100 are healthcare bans for trans youth.

The White House has repeatedly spoken out against many of these bills and laws. During a press briefing Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s proposal to expand the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law such that it would prohibit any discussion or classroom instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity in public school classrooms from kindergarten through grade 12.

During a briefing on March 10, Jean-Pierre discussed another Florida bill that proposes to “give the state the right to remove kids from their parents just because that kid is transgender.

“And just think about that. Just think about a kid who is sitting at home in this community who is listening and hearing elected officials talking about how they want to take away their rights or how they want to even threaten their parents with felony charges for seeking healthcare for their children,” said Jean-Pierre.

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