Fifty-seven percent of Americans support a bipartisan deal to reach a compromise on religious freedom and LGBTQ rights, according to new polling shared with the Washington Blade in advance of publication.
With no hope in sight for the Equality Act — legislation to expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law — the poll suggests a compromise alternative, such as the Fairness for All Act, might be the way to go. The poll was sponsored by Alliance for Lasting Liberty, an organization that advocates for a solution along those lines.
The poll finds supermajorities of Americans expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights across the board, including in health care, homeless shelters and employment. Around three-fourths of Americans polled affirmatively for each on whether they were against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in all areas protected by civil rights laws.
At the same time, the poll found a majority of the public supports religious freedom. For example, 55 percent of respondents said religious schools should be able to have religious codes of conduct, while 54 percent said they shouldn’t be denied tax-exempt status over views on marriage and sexuality.
The poll also found a majority of Americans — 57 percent — support a bipartisan solution to resolve the issue of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. Meanwhile, 63 percent say they’d vote for a lawmaker who supports religious freedom, compared to 57 percent who say they’d vote for a politician who supports LGBTQ rights legislation.
Another point of interest is a question on whether Congress and the courts should be the ones to resolve where the line should be drawn on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. A plurality of 47 percent said they support having lawmakers address the issue as opposed to the courts, compared to the 15 percent who say they oppose it.
The polling comes out on the day a virtual panel was scheduled to take place with religious leaders making the case for a compromise on religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. Notable among the speakers is Walter Kim, a theologian who last year became president of the National Association of Evangelicals — a group of denominations and institutions not known for their support for LGBTQ rights.
Other speakers are Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen, an executive director of Parity, a NYC-based national non-profit that works at the intersection of faith and LGBTQ concerns; Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities; and Justin Giboney, president of the AND Campaign, a Christian civic organization made up of influential Black clergy.
Online registration for the virtual panel, set to begin Monday at 10 am, is here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_wO07CXkCT6yIwfAt37laNg
The poll was conducted by APCO Insight in the form of nationally representative survey of 1,000 Americans about their opinions on LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom. The online survey was conducted from July 22-23 and has a confidence interval of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points.
The Ugandan government has made the absurd, offensive claim that some LGBT+ asylum seekers fleeing the country are merely faking their sexuality to live in Western nations.
Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by life imprisonment in Uganda, which has some of the strictest anti-LGBT+ laws in the world. Most queer Ugandans survive by staying under the radar, and many who manage to escape fear death if they return.
Yet foreign minister general Jeje Odongo cast doubt on the legitimacy of queer asylum claims by pointing out that many male gay asylum seekers have wives and children.
“These Ugandans who went out on the pretext of being homosexuals. Now their lie is catching up with them because when they settle, they ask to bring their wives and children,” he said, according to Daily Sabah.
“It is unfortunate that some people who are not gays pretend to be gays so that they get citizenship in countries which sympathise with them. Such people will make developed countries lose trust in all Africans.”
The fact that many gay asylum seekers have wives is hardly surprising in a country where so many gay men are closeted, and societal pressure to marry and have children is strong.
None of this precludes a person from identifying on the LGBT+ spectrum, but Ugandan reverend Solomon Male saw it as undeniable proof that queer refugees’ sexuality is “fake”.
“All those are economic gays. Homosexuality is a business to most Ugandans who claim to be gays,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA). “It is all about getting money. Some people earn by calling themselves gays or working with organisations that deal with them.”
He alleged that some prominent lawyers were making lots of money by preparing fake documents, and claimed that pretending to be gay was now the “easiest” way to get a European visa.
This characterisation was countered by Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the country’s most prominent LGBT+ rights group.
He said there was nothing surprising about gay men marrying and having children as sexuality can be flexible; it’s also the case that many returning Ugandans may lie about their sexuality to avoid persecution.
“Someone might be sexually straight today and then the next day he might be gay and vice versa,” he said. “Because they leave Uganda as gays after being persecuted by [the] state and Ugandans, so they want to come back as different people who are no longer gays.
“The fact that the laws against gays still exist makes them come back with wives and children to live freely.”
The exact number of LGBT+ Ugandan refugees worldwide is hard to determine. In 2016 the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued a report saying 500 Ugandans had applied for asylum in Kenya based on their sexuality.
But LGBT+ activists say those estimates were too low because most refugees were categorised as having fled or claimed asylum for different reasons.
Health insurer Aetna Inc has been sued for allegedly discriminating against beneficiaries that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer by requiring them to pay more out of pocket for fertility treatments.
In a proposed class action filed Monday in federal court in Manhattan, plaintiff Emma Goidel said she and her spouse were forced to spend nearly $45,000 for fertility treatments as a result of Aetna’s policy, which required same-sex couples to pay for fertility treatment out of pocket before becoming eligible for coverage.
A spokesperson for Aetna, which was acquired by CVS Health Corp in 2018, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Goidel is covered through her spouse by Aetna’s health insurance plan for Columbia University students, which provides broad coverage for intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments, according to the complaint.
However, while couples that can try to get pregnant through heterosexual intercourse can receive coverage simply by representing that they have tried for six or 12 months, depending on age, couples that cannot conceive through intercourse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity must first pay out of pocket for six or 12 months of IUI, according to the complaint.
Goidel alleges that beginning last year, she and her spouse paid for four unsuccessful IUI cycles, and one unsuccessful IVF cycle, before becoming pregnant through a fifth IUI cycle, all of which Aetna refused to cover.
She said she chose IUI despite previous failures in part because of the higher cost of IVF.
“Ms. Goidel has endured great emotional distress in having to choose a course of treatment based on cost, rather than based on her personal and medical circumstances in consultation with her doctor,” she said.
“Aetna’s discriminatory policy is an illegal tax on LGBTQ individuals that denies the equal rights of LGBTQ individuals to have children,” Goidel alleged. “At best, these individuals incur great costs due to Aetna’s policy language. At worst, these exorbitant costs are prohibitive and entirely prevent people who are unable to shoulder them — disproportionately LGBTQ people of color — from becoming pregnant and starting a family.”
The lawsuit cited a report from New York’s Department of Financial Services in February explicitly stating that policy’s like Aetna’s violated state law.
Goidel is bringing claims under the Affordable Care Act’s anti-discrimination provisions and New York state and city human rights laws, seeking to represent a class of people covered by Aetna student health plans in New York.
The case is Goidel v. Aetna Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 21-cv-07619.
Almost anyone who has ever purchased a home would agree – it is a very special and meaningful moment in life. For most of us, and often perhaps especially for those in the LGBTQ community, a home can be a place of refuge – a place where you can be part of a community and a neighborhood of others to whom you feel connected. It can be a place of support, celebration, and a starting point from which to thrive and grow with others you care about.
Understandably, then, the idea of losing that home that you love so much can be overwhelming, to say the least. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the predicament that many homeowners found themselves in as a result of the recent pandemic and all that has accompanied it.
Until recently, under the Cares Act, homeowners across the country who found themselves in a difficult financial position as a result of the pandemic and were having difficulty making their mortgage payments were offered two types of protection: first, a foreclosure moratorium that prohibited banks from foreclosing on homes, and secondly, the right to request and receive a forbearance, which would permit homeowners to temporarily stop making mortgage payments. Both gave homeowners the option to breathe a little easier as they tried to navigate all of the unanticipated life changes that accompanied the pandemic.
Recently, however, after being extended several times, the federal moratorium on mortgage foreclosures ended. Understandably, many homeowners, including many in the LGBTQ community who relied upon the moratorium may now find themselves feeling overwhelmed and anxious about what this means from a practical perspective. Does it suddenly mean that homeowners will find themselves faced with thousands of dollars of overdue payments that had been on hold for more than a year?
If you find yourself asking this question, know first, that you aren’t alone. It’s estimated that around 1.75 million homeowners, or approximately 3.5% of all homes, are in some stage of the foreclosure process with their bank. While it’s understandable to wonder and feel worried, try not to panic. While the end of the foreclosure moratorium does mean that lenders can proceed with foreclosures, LGBTQ homeowners who find themselves in a difficult situation can still reach out for help, and there are resources available.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has advised that those who received forbearance under the Cares Act and who are still experiencing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic may have the opportunity to ask for and receive an extension. The federal government has also offered a series of measures that are intended to help prevent foreclosures, including:
• Providing qualifying homeowners with what roughly amounts to a 25% reduction in monthly principal and interest payments;
• Continuing the requirement that mortgage servicers give those borrowers who can resume payments the option of moving missed payments to the end of the mortgage at no additional cost;
• Offering assistance to those who are making less than they did before the pandemic, which will help them to seek work and catch up on missed tax and insurance payments.
It’s also important to keep in mind that ultimately, banks don’t currently have much incentive to foreclose on those homeowners who are behind on their mortgages. Housing prices have been steadily rising, meaning that few homeowners owe more on their mortgage than the overall value of their homes. As a result, banks are often more likely to restructure a loan, or possibly place missed payments on the back end of a mortgage. In some circumstances, a bank may attempt a forced sale instead of a foreclosure – allowing the bank to get some of its money back, and the homeowner to receive the equity they built in the home, and to move forward without a negative mark on their credit report.
In addition to helpful options offered by the government, LGBTQ homeowners facing foreclosure should reach out to their local communities and explore options that may be available there as well. Talk to realtors who know the community well and who may be aware of local assistance, counseling, or other resources. Reach out to family and friends who have been through this situation before. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes, we all need it.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that any legal proceeding takes time – typically, a foreclosure proceeding takes at least 120 days per federal law, as well as additional time for court proceedings. For that reason, instead of panicking, remember that you have time to plan. Reach out to family and friends for leads on places that you may be able to rent or stay at while you work to get back on your feet financially. Take advantage of any offers that your bank or lender may make to work through your current financial issues and come out in a better place on the other side, if possible. Most of all, remember that this time, like all difficult times in life, is temporary. You will find a way forward, and there is a better and brighter chapter ahead. At GayRealEstate.com, we’re here to help you get there.
At GayRealEstate.com, helping the LGBTQ community through every aspect of the real estate experience is our passion. In many cases, this means offering assistance with the home buying and selling process and connecting LGBTQ home buyers and sellers across the country with realtors who know and love their communities, and who can ensure that the buying and selling process is the best it can possibly be. In other cases, it means being there for our LGBTQ communities across the country and helping existing homeowners continue to love and live in the homes that they own. Whatever your real estate needs, we would welcome the opportunity to speak with you and learn how we might be able to help. Contact us at any time.
he Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has called for Venezuela to do more to protect LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination.
The report the commission released on Sept. 8 specifically notes six men on May 31, 2020, attacked Jorge Granado in Ciudad Guayana, a city in Bolívar state, because of his sexual orientation. The report also notes Marcy Ávila, an LGBTQ rights activist, has suffered “harassment.”
Violence against transgender Venezuelans remains commonplace in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, and throughout the country.
Yonatan Matheus and Wendell Oviedo, co-founders of Venezuela Diversa, a Venezuelan LGBTQ rights group, received death threats after they publicly urged authorities to investigate the murders of two trans women. Matheus and Oviedo in 2016 fled to New York,and have asked for asylum in the U.S.
Members of Venezuela’s General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence on Jan. 12, 2021, raided the offices of Azul Positivo, an HIV/AIDS service organization in Maracaibo, a city in Zulia state, and arrested President Johan León Reyes and five other staff members. Venezuelan police on Feb. 15, 2019, raided the offices of Fundación Mavid, another HIV/AIDS service organization in Valencia, a city in Carabobo state, and arrested three staffers after they confiscated donated infant formula and medications for people with HIV/AIDS.
“The IACHR reminds the state of Venezuela of its obligation to guarantee the protection of LGBTI persons; address the underlying causes of violence and discrimination against them; as well as act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, adjudicate, sanction and remedy the human rights violations against LGBTI people,” reads the report.
The report also notes the lack of legal protections — including in the country’s hate crimes law — for LGBTQ Venezuelans and adds the country uses Article 565 of the Organic Code of Military Justice and other statutes “to criminalize people based on their real or perceived sexual orientation.”
“For the above, the commission reminds the state of Venezuela of its duty to repeal legal provisions that criminalize, directly or indirectly, the conduct of people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” reads the report.
The report notes trans Venezuelans cannot legally change their gender without medical interventions. Venezuela’s constitution also defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
“The IACHR reiterates to the state its recommendation to legally recognize the unions or the marriage of people of the same gender, affording the same rights conferred to partners of different genders, including economic rights, and all of the rest that derive from that relationship, without distinction by motives of sexual orientation, gender identity,” reads the report.
LGBTQ migrants also targeted
The Organization of American States, which is based in D.C., created the commission in 1959 as a way to promote human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere. It works closely with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to enforce the American Convention on Human Rights.
Venezuela in 2012 officially withdrew from the convention, but the Venezuelan National Assembly in 2019 once again ratified it.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is based in Costa Rica, in 2018 issued a landmark ruling that recognizes same-sex marriage and trans rights in the Western Hemisphere. The previous White House that same year called for the OAS to suspend Venezuela.
The U.S. is among the countries that continues to recognize Juan Guaidó, a former member of Assemblywoman Tamara Adrián’s party, as Venezuela’s president. The report notes Adrián, who in 2015 became the first openly trans person elected to the National Assembly, but it also highlights the country’s political and economic crisis the pandemic has made even worse.
The report cites statistics from the Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees from Venezuela that note upwards of 5.4 million Venezuelans had left their country as of November 2020. The report notes the majority of them have sought refuge in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
“In relation to the situation of LGTB people who are Venezuelan migrants; this community would face various acts of discrimination; such as barriers to access to the labor market, insults and physical attacks,” it reads.
Matheus welcomed the report.
“The communique the IACHR released in relation to the situation of the rights of LGBTQ people in Venezuela is totally pertinent,” he told the Washington Blade on Friday. “It gives visibility to the more than a dozen murders of LGBTIQ people that have occurred in the country during 2021 that we as organizations have been denouncing.”
Matheus said the report will also “allow us to be able to continue taking actions to get international support over the impact of the complex humanitarian crisis that makes it difficult to access health care, food and other social rights that continue to generate forced migration of LGBTIQ people and activists.” Matheus also cited “the enormous levels of impunity and actions from (Venezuelan) police agencies towards hate crimes and the silence of the Supreme Judicial Court and the National Assembly on issues related to gender identity of trans people, marriage equality and the right to form a family that LGBTIQ people have.”
Matheus told the Blade he also thinks the report will “also motivate” Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues, to “speak out about the situation of LGBTIQ people in Venezuela.”
“I had a lot of people come before me in the LGBTQ community that helped me get to where I am, and I’m super thankful for that,” Nassib said, USA Todayreported.
He added that the atmosphere in the stadium that night was absolutely “bananas” and said the team “loved the enthusiasm from fans”, according to CNN.
“This was my first experience of Raiders fans – by far the best NFL fans I’ve ever seen,” the defensive lineman added.
Nassib caused a game-changing fumble which clinched the win in overtime, helping the Raiders earn their third straight season-opening win.
Raiders’ head coach Jon Gruden hinted there was every chance that Nassib could play in future games. According to USA Today, he said Nassib had a “great training camp”, and the team will “need him here obviously as we move forward” in the season.
Nassib caused a game-changing fumble which clinched the win in overtime, helping the Raiders earn their third straight season-opening win.
Raiders’ head coach Jon Gruden hinted there was every chance that Nassib could play in future games. According to USA Today, he said Nassib had a “great training camp”, and the team will “need him here obviously as we move forward” in the season.
Last month, Carl Nassib opened up about how his teammates reacted to him coming out. He described how he got a “great” reception from his fellow players, adding he knew their reaction was “going to be good”.
“I had zero stress about that,” Nassib told reporters. “Absolutely no worries about that.”
He received “nothing but love and support” from his “great teammates”.
“Football players get a bad rep, but we’re humble, hardworking, accepting people, and this is a great example of that,” Nassib added.
A group of six advocacy groups on Thursday urged the Biden administration to develop a 10-point plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans after the Taliban regained control of their country.
The Council for Global Equality; the Human Rights Campaign; Immigration Equality; the International Refugee Assistance Project; the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and Rainbow Railroad in a letter they sent to President Biden called for his administration to “prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people, and ensure that any transitory stay in a third country is indeed temporary by expediting refugee processing.”
The nine other suggestions are below:
– Provide and effectively implement explicit “Priority 2” (P-2) access to the U.S. refugee program for the highly vulnerable population of LGBTQI individuals fleeing Afghanistan. Waive the application fee for any LGBTQI Afghan applying to relocate to the United States on an expedited basis via humanitarian parole and look favorably upon those emergency requests. Initiate a new program of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Afghans in the United States, including those paroled into the United States on an emergency basis.”
– Ensure that existing lists that have been collected by various governments of at-risk Afghans, including those who wish to flee because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are carefully safeguarded so that they do not fall into Taliban or third-country hands and are not used to target individuals or family members. Use the lists as a basis for expedited P1 or P2 refugee processing or humanitarian parole for those who seek protection abroad.”
– Lift or expand the FY (fiscal year) 2022 refugee cap of 125,000 refugees accepted into the United States.
– Provide funding to support the temporary housing, livelihoods and security of LGBTQI refugees in third countries while they are being processed for refugee resettlement in the United States or elsewhere.
– Recognize NGOs that have been reliable partners in identifying and recommending LGBTQI Afghans to the State Department for protection and instruct U.S. embassies to process LGBTQI refugee applications on site when referred by these designated partners.
– Recognize for the purposes of refugee relocation, humanitarian parole or any other entry into the United States any same-sex Afghan partner as a spouse. Take an equally expansive view of the definition of family for LGBTQI relocation given the lack of legal recognition for LGBTQI partnerships in the region.
– Expand LGBTQI-sensitive resettlement programs in the United States and engage with NGOs and local communities to expand the U.S. capacity to absorb larger numbers of LGBTQI Afghan refugees in supportive and inclusive environments, including through new refugee sponsorship programs.
– Speak out forcefully against human rights abuses by the new Taliban regime and any increased targeting of vulnerable communities, including LGBTQI people, and use existing mechanisms to sanction and hold accountable perpetrators of human rights abuse. Negotiate explicit human rights monitoring access, with a particular focus on vulnerable communities including LGBTQI Afghans, when the mandate of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is renewed by the Security Council later this month.
The Taliban entered Kabul on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
“I’m scared,” they said. “I can’t go outside … everything has totally changed.”
The groups in their letter to Biden said the Taliban “takeover of Afghanistan has focused international attention on the safety and livelihood of many vulnerable populations, including women and girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) Afghans.”
“As the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan will be part of your legacy, so too will be the actions your Administration takes to ensure the well-being of these populations,” reads the letter.
The letter also notes the groups “are deeply disappointed that your administration did not press to extend the Aug. 31 deadline to evacuate more at-risk refugees from Kabul, but we are heartened by your pledge to continue to support refugee evacuation and resettlement in the coming weeks.”
“The United States bears a special responsibility not to abandon those we have encouraged along the path to democracy and human rights, and to act expeditiously to ensure their safety,” it says.
Canada is thus far the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans. Immigration Equality earlier this week said it spoke “directly” with 50 LGBTQ Afghans before the U.S. completed its withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. “
The international community must act in concert to protect vulnerable populations now placed at risk,” reads the letter to Biden. “We urge the United States to increase and prioritize its immediate, medium-term and long-term efforts on behalf of the LGBTQI community in Afghanistan using these 10 protection priorities.”
Protesters picketed Weill-Cornell, a private institution part of the New York Presbyterian Hospital system, earlier this month, demanding the hospital cease medically unnecessary surgeries on children born with intersex traits, and investigate a surgeon who conducts these operations.
Intersex people, or people born with variations in their sex characteristics, make up approximately 1.7 percent of the population. Surgeons popularized cosmetically “normalizing” surgeries on infants to remove gonads, reduce the size of the clitoris, or increase the size of the vagina. Intersex advocacy groups, as well as a range of medical and human rights organizations, have spoken out against the operations and called for regulation.
One type of procedure surgeons conduct reduces the size of the clitoris for cosmetic reasons. It carries the risk of pain, nerve damage, and scarring. Intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis, who underwent one of these at age four without their consent, called the operation a “clit job,” emphasizing that it should be an individual’s choice to modify their body.
As survivors of this procedure began speaking up, it became controversial. Weill-Cornell’s pediatric urology chief, Dr. Dix Poppas, in 2007 published a medical article that attempted to disprove claims of nerve damage from his clitoral surgeries by touching the genitals of girls he had operated on with a “vibratory device” and querying what they felt.
New York Presbyterian, in response to questions from Human Rights Watch, said, “In all circumstances we will continue to put our individual patients’ life and safety first” but did not commit to ending the surgeries at their hospitals; Dr. Poppas did not reply to a request for comment.
All hospitals should end these harmful surgeries immediately.
As the OnlyFans debacle highlights, the fight to supposedly make the internet a safer place is having a series of secondary impacts. In particular, it is having a silencing effect on key aspects of LGBTQ culture. But that’s just fine for the anti-LGBTQ groups that have lobbied Congress to crack down on OnlyFans and on sexuality in general.
On Aug. 10, over 100 conservative-leaning members of Congress wrote a letter to the Justice Department asking it to investigate OnlyFans. Alleging child sexual exploitation, the lawmakers cited research by an anti-LGBTQ group called the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Formerly known as Morality in Media, the group has boycotted Disney for extending benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees and called for a boycott of Time Warnerafter the release of Madonna’s 1992 book “Sex,” which the group called “sick, violent pornography.” Its president, Patrick A. Trueman, formerly led the American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center designated a hate group for its longtime anti-LGBTQ views and campaigns.
NCOSE isn’t the only group lobbying corporate interests and the government to eradicate sexual content, but it’s arguably the leader in the field, having railed against public displays of sexuality since 1962 and spending $5.1 million to do so in 2020.
I’m not going to argue whether or not there’s sex trafficking happening on the internet. But many of the groups leading the charge against it have other agendas, and their one-size-fits-all attempts to guard the internet against traffickers end up not only duping well-intentioned supporters, but also threatening the incomes of already marginalized workers and swallowing entire communities into a consuming maw of fundamentalist Christian, anti-sex censorship.
Their one-size-fits-all attempts to guard the internet against traffickers end up not only duping well-intentioned supporters, but also threatening the incomes of already marginalized workers.
In August, The New Yorker spoke with queer historians about how the ban eradicated a market for materials, from conceptual art to the vital gay leather magazine Drummer, that even museums depend on for acquisitions. Drummer featured plenty of shirtless men on its covers, but it also included important information for the leather community. And highlighting the seemingly arbitrary nature of this ban, the iconic women-run erotic magazine On Our Backs was somehow spared.
Meanwhile, FOSTA-SESTA made a queer comic artist cancel the publishing of her own book (in which a sex worker was interviewed) because she worried she could be accused of sex trafficking. “We already face steep barriers in advertising due to mainstream society’s tendency to frame LGBT as inherently sexual, regardless of heat level,” romance writer Katie de Long told Rolling Stone in 2018. “This is only gonna get worse under policies that say simply mentioning terms related to our sexuality or identities can get us banned.”
FOSTA-SESTA’s impact has also had a silencing effect on sex educators, a vital resource for the many LGBTQ youth across the country who are given no information in school about their sexuality and gender identity. Of the 50 U.S. states, only a handful require school-based sex education be inclusive of LGBTQ people. In most of America, queer and trans youth must take their questions about identity and sex to internet search bars and social media accounts. Those questions often have life-altering implications, whether the answers are aimed at preventing sexually transmitted infections or simply feeling less isolated and weird about your desires.
While not necessarily related to FOSTA-SESTA, queer and trans social media users have complained of identity terms being censored on platforms because of their proximity to porn, of all things. In 2017, Twitter came under fire for blocking the word “bisexual,” saying at the time that it had been added to a list of terms “typically associated with adult content.”
Earlier this year, TikTok users complained that terms like “intersex” and “lesbian” were shadowbanned; searches for the words didn’t bring up results, and lesbian users had launched the tongue-in-cheek “le$bean” hashtag after finding that content with the hashtag #lesbian was frequently removed. Both platforms either apologized or said the issues were mistakes, but continuously evolving content moderation policies seem to target the LGBTQ community on a regular basis: In 2019, the feminist magazine “Salty” was banned from advertising its latest cover featuring several fully-clothed trans women of color — because the Instagram algorithm had mistakenly flagged it as an ad for an escort service.
Swift action from platforms to remedy such missteps is important, but don’t answer the question of why this keep happening — because it doesn’t appear to have stopped. This week, popular queer TikTok star @therealclaybaby posted an Instagram video complaining that he repeatedly gets locked out of his account for violating community guidelines about sexual activity.
The Texas-based creator is known for messy drag, irreverent rants and improvised raps, but the “adult nudity and sexual activity” he’s been flagged for don’t appear on the account. It’s unclear whether he’s being reported by homophobic viewers, or just flagged by an imperfect algorithm, but either way the creator’s income from sponsored posts was threatened. To say that it’s frustrating for queer and trans people to be automatically associated with pornography just by existing would be an understatement.
This kind of algorithmic bias has a similar effect to platforms that ban LGBTQ content under restrictive “adult” bans to comply with FOSTA-SESTA: both silence speech and prevent entire communities from being able to connect online. Few among us can say we’ve never had a post deleted, or had an entire account temporarily or permanently deactivated because we used a self-descriptive LGBTQ term (such as “dyke”) in a post or caption, or because something we posted was deemed inappropriate for some mysterious reason.
The great irony is that many of the content rules that silence LGBTQ expression online may have been put there to protect us from harassment, just as the rules that are de-sexualizing the internet claim to protect us from abuse. And as the anti-sex panic continues to sweep online spaces, it’s only natural for queer folks to expect that our very existence will continue to be conflated with porn by algorithms and whoever oversees the godlike task of creating keyword blocklists.
In GLAAD’s new Social Media Safety Index, the first report to measure online safety for LGBTQ people, algorithmic bias is just one small part of a report that largely monitors hate speech. But just as lawmakers need to do a better job at seeing the difference between sex trafficking and healthy, consensual human sexuality, platforms need to do better at distinguishing between hate speech and pride speech.
There’s no comparison between an underage girl being pimped out by a trafficker and a barista trying to make rent posting sexy videos on websites like OnlyFans. And there’s a vast gap between a young lesbian using the hashtag #dyke to connect with friends and vitriolic hate slurs used to terrorize and harass someone. Yes, training algorithms to find that difference is a challenge. But if it manages to police queer and trans users at current levels, surely it can also learn our language.
Whilst the “Sexual Offenses Bill” criminalizes “LGBTQIA propaganda,” it cannot stop LGBT+ movements safeguarding communities on the ground. For the last five years Shawn has been training as a community caregiver and pioneered a unique nature-based self-help project in Uganda called ‘FAMACE’ to support queer individuals to heal from trauma. Using Farming, Art, Mindset change, Advocacy, Collaboration and Ethical human-centered design to improve well-being and promote sustainable livelihoods.
Contrary to the 2012 BBC documentary “Uganda — the worst place in the world to be gay,” for Shawn, Uganda is“the best place in the world to be queer, I tell you, the story here in Uganda is beautiful.”
“What would solidarity from the UK activists look like, Shawn?” I ask. “An honest call on your government to end and ban the use of colonial laws in former colonial states is the only way.”
Create a roadmap to freedom
Five years ago Shawn was part of the Pride Kampala organizing team. In the months running up to Pride, brutal police raids on LGBTQI+ spaces resulted in the arrests of 16 human rights defenders, followed by mass assaults on 200 people attending the Pride show. One member of the LGBT community nearly lost his life when he jumped from a four-story building to escape from police.
After that night it would be easy to assume everyone would go underground, but it only made them fight harder. Shawn continues,“When movements started receiving international aid funding, entrenched cycles of dependency spiralled. Ultimately, we have forgotten that the land beneath us connects us all, the signposts that catalyse community transformation. We need to begin here, right now, in beginning our own queer village.”
Choose visibility: Mobilize the Kuchus!
Morgan was there too that night. In 2010 he started Youth on Rock Foundation “so we can be rocks with unshakable perseverance, because as a society we have to ‘Mobilise the Kuchus!’”The organization grew like wildfire and gained international attention. Their house doors are regularly knocked on by people seeking sanctuary.
After the “Anti Homosexuality Act” and the savagery provoked through mass media outings, Edgar and his friends started Kuchu Times, an online platform providing a voice for Africa’s LGBTQIA+ community.
Kasia, another founding member, thought“let’s give it back!’ We made the magazine glossy and incorporated local languages and included referral pathways of local support groups. We opened gates for people to emerge themselves. It’s everywhere now, they cannot burn it just like they cannot burn us. You have to do it all with a lot of PASSION POLITICS.”
Hajjara Ssanyu Batte is Director of “Lady Mermaids Empowerment Center,” the largest sex workers and feminist network in Uganda. Hajjara recently infamously walked the streets naked carrying the coffin of one of her murdered friends. Now she sits in front of me beaming in the most incredible rainbow diamante sparkling heels.
What’s your most memorable protest I ask?
“I have many. Recently, alongside our male allies in high heels, we protested outside the Uganda Human Rights Commission everyday for two weeks. I proudly wore my miniskirt because it’s our bodies, we can do what we want with our bodies, it not only affects us but our mothers, grandmothers, sons and daughters.”
Since then, Lady Mermaid’s protests have helped overturned the “Pornography Act.” The tide is turning.
Become a love generator
By digesting the bitter tinctures of life, they have metabolized poisons into medicines to establish sacred connections between each and every one of us.
As I was leaving, Shawn reached for my hand. “Please come back and see us at ‘Lavender Acres,’ the name of our trans-led permaculture community. By then I will have finished training a new generation of bee-keepers and will have plenty of queer sweet honey for you.”
Now back home, the real work begins. Lady Phyll, executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust, a U.K.-based charity working to uphold the human rights of LGBT+ people across the world, and co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride, Europe’s largest Pride celebration for LGBTQI+ people of color, reminds us “the activists in Uganda and around the world, who are fighting tooth and nail against homophobia and violence, deserve our unreserved and unequivocal support — and right now.”