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New Facebook community standards spark controversy

Restrictions anger LGBT artists and activists

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Facebook logo (Public domain)

A House Judiciary Committee hearing Dec. 11 prompted smug laughter from Democrats when anti-LGBT Iowa Rep. Steve King tried to play “gotcha” with Google CEO Sundar Pichai whose search engine Republicans think is guilty of anti-conservative bias. Holding up his phone, King asked Pichai why his 7-year-old granddaughter found an unflattering photo of him while playing a game. “Congressman, iPhone is made by a different company,” Pichai said.

Not so funny is the apparent move by Facebook to erase all mention of human sexuality, especially regarding LGBT people, from its platform. The issue was raised by LGBT artists and activists who noted an uptick in what they consider censoring of certain posts. This follows an announcement from another social media network, Tumblr, that it is deleting all blogs carrying “adult content” in violation of its newly revised community standards rules that take effect Dec. 17.

LGBT users are now concerned about Facebook’s new guidelines/rules, revised Oct. 15, which they believe extremely limit what they can safely post without reprisal, being booted off the platform temporarily or permanently.

Consider “how interwoven our intimate encounters, desires, and relationships (including, but not limited to, sexual matters) are with digital platforms. Consider how much of your personal and professional life experiences may be integrated with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tinder,” Steven W. Thrasher writes in The Atlantic. “But its adult content wasn’t strictly limited to porn. The site is—was—a haven for people who might not be able to connect sexually in other ways.”

“Tumblr was my safe space and my digital gallery for my work. But it is difficult to use my Facebook artist page because of recent efforts to censor and stifle both images and language. When Tumblr made its announcement that was devastating as nearly half of my support and patrons came via its platform,” Phoenix-based gay artist Brandon McGilltells the Los Angeles Blade. “I have about 3500+ posts of original content. It’s going to be hard to keep track of what they’ve removed and what they did not, it is just so frustrating. As an artist, this impacts me, but as a community we are on a slippery slope friends. We must be visible, we must be present, and we must fight back. Or we lose our voice completely.”

Facebook has come under fire for its failure to take down content such as terrorist and extremist videos, as well as content generated by bots posting fake news—while seemingly targeting legitimate posts from real users for deletion.

In a recent action coinciding with Tumblr’s announcement, the social media giant quietly introduced a new policy that updated its content-moderation rules. It bans users from expressing “sexual slang” and or any hint of “sexual positions” and erotic art when mentioned with a sex act.

Suggestive comments such as “looking for a good time tonight” when soliciting for sex is also forbidden.

It also bans talking about “sexual roles or fetish scenarios,” or mentioning preferences in sexual partners in profile descriptions.

Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhraja told the LA Blade Dec. 11 that the revised content-moderation rules implementation also reflect input from third-party organizations that work on women’s and child online safety issues.

Budhraja added that Facebook is in the process of hiring more content reviewers and using computer algorithms to help it take down problematic content. However, she noted that an independent set of panels will be used to determine disputed posts regarding what should and shouldn’t be taken down according to the new rules.

Asked specifically about the LGBTQI community Budhrja said, “Stating one’s sexual preference or partner preference does not violate our policies around sexual solicitation. Sexual solicitation as we have defined it in our Community Standards also requires ‘offering or asking to engage in’ a sexual act.”

She acknowledged that the changes might be controversial. “I don’t think everyone will be happy with where we draw the line,” she said. “Just saying ‘I’m gay and I’m a bottom looking for a top,’ won’t come down under the policy.”

However, a post or profile saying: “I’m a bottom looking for a top, call me,” she said, “would come down under this policy.”

Sara Elizabeth Grossman—who runs Matthews Place, an online safe zone for LGBT youth, sponsored by the Matthew Shepard Foundation—finds the new policy painfully laughable.

“It’s absurd. Especially when you consider that for LGBTQI youth that live in rural areas, online is the only place where they may be able to discuss things- figure things out for themselves,” Grossman told the Los Angeles Blade. “If Facebook now is going to censor their language, how are they supposed to be able to learn, explore, or understand themselves or their experiences?”

Budhraja said that Facebook is always working to improve its policies and provide clarity and additional context where necessary.

“In writing our Community Standards our goal is always to ensure the safety of people who use Facebook. Those people vary in age, and come from very different cultures, with different sensitivities,” she said. “In the coming months, we plan to add more detail to our Sexual Solicitation policy based on feedback we’ve heard to date.”

Grossman isn’t so sure. “In places where there are no safe places and not enough affirming members of a community, being able to ask questions especially about sexuality becomes hairy and frightening if Facebook polices language,” she said. “Facebook already bans certain non-erotic pictures of the human form. A female nipple picture can get you suspended and put in Facebook jail.”

Facebook owns Instagram. Will that platform be next?

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Florida

Black & LGBTQ+ inclusive wall mural cited for multiple code violations

The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee that would affect the rights of minorities & the LGBTQ+ people

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Photograph courtesy of United Teachers of Dade

MIAMI SPRINGS, Fl. – A colourful wall mural in Dade County has attracted the ire of municipal authorities who say the mural, which includes a child of color reading a book, a verse from a Maya Angelo poem, and an LGBTQ Pride rainbow symbol, violates building codes.

The United Teachers of Dade union has been cited by Miami Springs for code violations after it unveiled the mural on its office building the Miami Herald reported this past week.

“If you do not see the word mural on an ordinance this does not mean it’s allowed, means you should make an inquiry with the Building & Zoning department first and present your mural,” Miami Springs Councilwoman Jacky Bravo said in an email to the Herald. “We are not talking about a small stamp on the wall. Seems like they took a blind eye on this one, and unfortunately has caused an issue to be dealt with.”

The Herald reported that was it unveiled last March, and was titled ‘Rise’ to send a message to lawmakers in Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee as a series of laws were being introduced that negatively impacted the minority and LGBTQ+ communities in the state.

Luis Valle, a Miami-based artist who was commissioned by the United Teachers of Dade union to paint the mural told the paper, “The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee, at the time, that would affect public schools, as well as the rights of minorities and those in the LGBTQ+ community. It is about inclusivity for all people and all cultures.”

Although the UTD Union had submitted and paid for a permit, the Miami Springs City Code Compliance Department, which requires permits be obtained before work commences, had already issued a “notice of violation” on March 25 to the union site’s property owner, UTD Building Corp., for violations that included:

–improper size of wall sign

–improper placement and/or width of wall sign

–improper construction of sign

–failure to comply with applicable color palette

“Failure to correct the violations by the time due shall cause this case to be set for hearing before the code compliance board and may result in fines, costs and/or a lien levied against you and the property,” the notice said. “Fines imposed shall not exceed $250 per day for a first-time violation.”

The city gave UTD until April 24 to correct the violations, according to the notice. Potential fines, as of Oct. 13, could run as high as $43,000 the Herald noted.

Currently discussions are ongoing. “UTD reviewed all the codes before contracting our mural artist in order to perform our due diligence,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in an emailed statement to the Herald on Oct. 11. “Additionally, we spoke to a former council member to double check our findings and that individual also concluded that the Miami Springs City Codes did not address this topic.”

“The art piece is not a sign for the building or our organization; it has no logo or company name on it because it is an artistic expression in the form of a mural with no other intent,” Hernandez-Mats’ added.

Attempts by the Miami Herald to reach Miami Springs Mayor Maria Mitchell, and City Council members had been unsuccessful by this past Thursday afternoon, however the next Miami Springs City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25.

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Vermont

Vermont high school homecoming halftime show turns into a ‘drag show’

“The crowd was decked out in LGBTQ+ affirming clothing- the stands were completely packed. It was just so heartwarming to see”

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Burlington High School, Burlington Vermont homecoming game October 2021 (Screenshot via YouTube)

BURLINGTON, Vt. – A quintessential annual Fall time-honored tradition held across America’s on high school football fields are homecoming games. This year a mix of students and faculty members Burlington High School, along with some participants from South Burlington High School, added a touch of ‘drag’ to the halftime show.

“Things went amazing,” Ezra Totten, student leader of the Gender Sexuality Alliance at Burlington High School, told the Associated Press, speaking about Friday night’s event. “The stands were completely packed. It was just so heartwarming to see.”

The school’s principal, its Athletic Director, and other staff were fully supportive with Andrew LeValley, an English teacher and GSA adviser, the faculty member who created the idea along with a boost from Burlington High Athletic Director Quaron Pinckney suggested that the show be held at the homecoming game’s halftime.

Pinckney, who is Black, told the AP that the school gave him the space to “uplift my voice” and that he was able to reciprocate and “uplift the voices of another marginalized group and share a space in the athletics realm that doesn’t normally get shared.”

The crowd was decked out in LGBTQ+ affirming clothing, costumes and waving Pride flags raucously cheering as the ‘drag ball’s’ performers paraded and danced to show support for LGBTQ+ students and the larger LGBTQ+ community. They commenced the halftime show with a runway-style event while they lip-synced to singer Todrick Hall’s “Rainbow Reign.”

Burlington High School’s halftime drag show

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Utah

LGBTQ+ Non-profit will build 8 homes for LGBTQ youth in Western states

Encircle is a non-profit organization with the mission to bring the family and community together to enable LGBTQ+ youth to thrive

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LGBTQ Youth, Utah Governor Spencer Cox, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Dwayne Wade & other donors (Photo: Tim Cook Twitter)

SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah-based non-profit announced Wednesday that the organization has raised more than $8 million dollars to build eight new homes in four Western states to provide services for LGBTQ youth.

Encircle, which provides mental health services for LGBTQ youth, will build the new homes with locations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. The new homes are dedicated for providing safe spaces, resources and preventing teen suicide. The organization currently has locations in Salt Lake City, Provo and St. George, Utah, and recently construction has begun on locations in Heber, Logan and Ogden, as well as in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The fundraising efforts had kicked off this past February with donations from NBA Basketball’s Utah Jazz team owners Ryan and Ashley Smith and Apple CEO Tim Cook, the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 firm. The lead singer of Imagine Dragons Dan Reynolds and his wife, recording artist Aja Volkman, and retired NBA superstar and Jazz part-owner Dwayne Wade, whose 14-year-old daughter Zaya is Trans, all partnered together to give a total of $4 million.

In a press conference Wednesday, “Encircle’s mission is very personal to me because I see myself in so many of these young people,” Apple CEO Cook told reporters. “It’s not easy when you’re made to feel different or less than because of who you are or who you love. It’s a feeling that so many LGBTQ people know far too well.”

Encircle executives and the group of celebrities were joined by Utah Republican Governor Spencer Cox who praised Encircle’s efforts.

“What Encircle has done is provided that piece of acceptance, even if — especially if — there is no acceptance anywhere else,” the governor said. “There is a place where they can go where they can feel loved.”

Wade, reflecting on being the parent of a Trans child, “I stand here as a proud parent of a beautiful daughter that’s a part of the LGBT-plus community,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything, but I’m willing to listen.”

Encircle is a non-profit organization with the mission to bring the family and community together to enable LGBTQ+ youth to thrive.

On its website the non-profit lists its current support services including its new café which is open “Monday through Friday between 3-8 PM folks ages 12-25 are welcome to just drop-in, hang out and enjoy our safe space. Friendship Circles, its weekly groups [which] allow you to tell your story and connect with peers in a safer space facilitated by our community, and LGBTQ affirming therapy.”

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