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The conflict is internal. It’s a secret struggle, really, that Kamala Harris has been forced to face in public. The Democratic presidential candidate doesn’t like to brag. It’s unbecoming, it’s immodest, it places the individual ahead of the community. Instead, Harris, who was inculcated in the spirit of the 1960s civil rights and social and economic justice movements, profoundly believes in community and coalition building.

“That’s exactly how I was raised,” Harris tells the Los Angeles Blade in a June 18 phone interview. “It’s not about you. It’s about getting the job done.”

The job done of winning the presidency means not taking any group or voter for granted, including the LGBT community. Harris’ struggle to tout her own achievements, which she discusses in her memoir The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, stands in sharp contrast to the man she intends to defeat, Donald Trump, the biggest chest-pounding, klieg lights-seeking braggadocio con artist the world has seen in decades. Harris, a former district attorney and California attorney general who believes Trump is a racist, thinks the House should launch impeachment proceedings into the president’s illegal behavior. She also thinks Trump should be prosecuted after he leaves office.

Some wonder if Harris is “tough enough” to go up against Trump. They need only look at her precision prosecution of Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Despite being interrupted by her Republican colleagues, Harris forced the flabbergasted Sessions to throw his hands in the air. “I’m not able to be rushed this fast!” Sessions said, as if needing a fan and mint julep. “It makes me nervous.”

Or juxtapose a visibly frightened Trump crouching behind a lectern during a disturbance at a rally before four burly men rushed to his rescue—to Harris who was initially surprised but sat calmly when a white man rushed the stage, grabbed her microphone and had only black lesbian MoveOn.org communications director Karine Jean-Pierre for protection.

Harris calmly walked off the stage, smiling, while the man was hustled away. She then calmly returned to deliver her talk about pay equity. No one talks about the courage it takes for Harris to stand alone onstage, despite what one presumes is an ongoing avalanche of death threats from Trump supporters.

The field of 23 Democratic presidential contenders is expected to narrow after the June 26-27 debates. But while Harris is top-tier, she is not a shoo-in for the nomination, which is still a long ways away.

“I hate to say this—but we need a man. Nothing against her. I’m sure she’s smart and great. But I’m going with Joe Biden. He’s got thick skin and he’s the only one who can beat Trump,” one white gay man tells the Los Angeles Blade on background.

Biden’s “thick skin” is now under scrutiny. Though he had been advised against it, on Juneteenth, the former vice president cited working with notorious racist segregationist senators James Eastland (a Mississippi plantation owner who believed integration would lead to “”mongrelization”) and Herman Talmadge (who as Georgia governor closed schools rather than desegregate) as an example of civility and bipartisanship.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, an African American presidential candidate, was offended and said Biden should apologize. Biden took umbrage and pushed back. “Cory should apologize,” Biden told reporters. “He knows better. There’s not a racist bone in my body; I’ve been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period. Period. Period.”

Harris said Biden’s remarks concerned her “deeply. If those men had their way, I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate and on this elevator right now,” she told Capitol Hill reporters.

It is unclear if Biden, the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, will lose support as some younger progressive politicos claim he is “out of touch” with current sensibilities around race, while older politicos try to explain his gaffe.

Several younger LGBT voters support South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who smartly talks about the future. They think Buttigieg, a vet who served in Afghanistan, can take down the bully Trump and shame him for ducking the Vietnam War. Buttigieg has stepped off the campaign trail to deal with the shooting of a black man by a while police officer in South Bend, which has resurrected past racial complaints over a housing policy. But Buttigieg will be standing next to Biden during the second Democratic debate on June 27, a visual that screams generational divide.

Harris will be standing next to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

California Attorney General candidate Kamala Harris with Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors at an EQCA event (Photo by Karen Ocamb) 

Harris will have a strong LGBT cheering section glued to TVs across California, including longtime friend Mark Leno, the first openly gay man elected to the State Senate who brought Harris to her first Human Rights Campaign gala in 1999 and Palm Springs City Councilmember Geoff Kors who, as executive director of Equality California, first introduced Harris to the broader LGBT community when she was the San Francisco DA running for attorney general.

Sen. Kamala Harris and Kate Kendell, Campaign Manager for
Take Back the Court, at a Pride event (Photo courtesy Kendell) 

Kors and Kate Kendell, former executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, also worked closely with Harris when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in 2004 and Harris was recruited to officiate at City Hall. They teamed up again to fight the anti-gay marriage Prop 8, which her 2010 opponent, Republican LA DA Steve Cooley supported.

Kris Perry, former plaintiff in the federal lawsuit against Prop 8, whose wedding to Sandy Stier Harris officiated when Prop 8 was defeated, tells the Los Angeles Blade she supports Harris “100%.” Perry’s son Spencer works on Harris’ presidential campaign.

Attorney General Harris officiating at the wedding of Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, with Elliot Perry looking on. (Photo courtesy Perry)

The documentary “The Case Against 8”  shows the wedding and the moments before when fellow Prop 8 plaintiffs Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo in LA are being told to “step aside” to let straight couples get their licenses since the Los Angeles County Registrar/Clerk’s had not yet received official word from the state to go ahead after the Supreme Court decision. The couple is stunned but their legal team gets Harris on the phone—she’s celebrating with Perry & Stier, Chad Griffin, Cleve Jones and others in San Francisco—and Harris directs Clerk Dean Logan to start the marriages now. She tells him to “enjoy it.” Logan says he will—he’s a strong LGBT ally.

Interestingly, Harris confirms that she intentionally uses the couple in her book as an example of finding the commonality in people. In the chapter “Wedding Bells,” she talks about Prop 8 and officiating at their wedding—and then, in the same chapter, she talks about meeting, falling in love with and marrying white California attorney Doug Emhoff, who brings to the interracial marriage two adult step-children. Thought there is no blaring neon light signaling her intention, Harris uses her own personal story and a public exercise of her office to illustrate that a straight inter-racial couple and a lesbian couple, both with children folded into a blended family, have the experience of love in common.

Attorney General Harris at Equality California event (Photo by Karen Ocamb) 

Indeed, while Harris works at finding commonality and building coalitions, she is herself the walking positive personification of intersectionality and an example of why identity politics still serve to combat invisibility and under-representation.

Her brilliant parents immigrated from Jamaica and India. She fought hard to become the first female, the first black and the first Asian-American district attorney in San Francisco. Then she fought to become California’s first female, black, and Asian-American attorney general. She then the second black woman in U.S. history to win a Senate seat.

“I grew up exposed to many cultures, and it certainly did teach me from birth about the fact that people have so much more in common than what separates them,” Harris tells the Los Angeles Blade. “I didn’t have to learn it from reading about it. I didn’t know the word ‘intersectionality’ but I’ve always known the commonality between people. A mother’s love for her child, a parent’s desire for their family to be healthy and safe. These are universal truths, regardless of the last name and how you spell it, or what your grandmother’s language is, or the God you pray to. That’s how I’ve always lived my life, which is knowing the commonality between people.”

It was a point she made in her Oct. 31, 2017 keynote HRC address in Washington DC.:

“I believe this is a moment when our country is witnessing an assault on our deepest values and ideals. Where people don’t trust our government, its institutions, or leaders.

 

So to restore that trust, HRC I believe we must speak truth.

 

Even when it makes people uncomfortable.

 

Even when others are silent.

 

And as the poet Audre Lorde reminds us, “there are so many silences to be broken.”

 

So let’s speak truth. From Charlotte to Charlottesville, we have been reminded racism in this country is real.

 

Sexism, anti-Semitism are real in this country.

 

Homophobia and transphobia are real in this country.

 

And we must speak that truth, so we can deal with it…..

 

And we need to speak another truth. That despite the forces of hate and division that are trying to tear us apart, Americans have so much more in common than what separates us. That is a truth.

 

I remember, for example, many years ago I was sent to go speak in the Castro to a group of young gay men. I was there – apparently you were too – I was there campaigning against a ballot measure that would have required young women to notify their parents before getting an abortion.

 

And so I was going to speak in this home in the Castro with a group of twenty, thirty year old men, and I remember scratching my head, thinking “Ok now what am I going to say to this group that for the most part has not had to deal with an unintended pregnancy?”

 

So I said to them, “I guess you guys are wondering what you could possibly have in common with a 16-year-old pregnant girl.” And as you can imagine, everyone laughed.

 

And then I asked them, “Well, when you were 16, did you want to speak with your parents about your sexuality?” And the room went silent.

 

Because they knew we have so much more in common than what separates us. And I think it’s what Bayard Rustin meant when he said, “You have to join every movement for the freedom of people.”

Sen. Kamala Harris at 2019 HRC/LA gala (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Two years later, at the HRC/LA gala last April, Harris again underscored how the country is at an inflection point and each citizen has a responsibility to respond.

“These last two years and some months have certainly caused a lot of us to start talking to an inanimate object called a television and to shout at that thing,” Harris said, prompting agreeing chuckles from the crowd. “It has caused a lot of us to sign up for individual or group therapy, it has caused a lot of us to feel a lot of despair and depression and anxiety and fear. And I say, ‘Don’t let the bad guys win!’”

Harris also referenced poet Emma Lazarus’ famous quote “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

“Let’s pass the Equality Act in the U.S,” she said. “Until all of us are equal, none of us are equal.”

That these are not just “freedom” talking points pulled out for an LGBT gala is illustrated by a funny vignette in her memoir. Harris and her younger sister Maya were raised by her civil rights activist mother Shyamala. At one rally, when Harris was still in a stroller, she starting acting out, being fussy. When her mother asked her what she wanted, toddler Harris said, “Fweedom!”

In 2014, out legal eagle Chris Geidner reported on Harris the “progressive prosecutor” at a Center for American Progress’ Making Progress Policy Conference:

“If there’s a distrust of law enforcement — and, by extension, government — all of the systems break down, at least for certain populations,” she said. “When I charge a case … it’s in the name of the people and the premise there is that a crime against any of us is a crime against all of us. If there are specific communities that are not receiving the full benefit of the protections we created, it’s a problem for all of us.”

 

Asked about the history of distrust between the black community and law enforcement, Harris said, “It’s all of our responsibilities to acknowledge it and deal with it where it occurs. And it’s not just because it’s the morally right thing to do, I believe it’s in the best interest of public safety for everyone.”

A funny vignette in a lengthy profile of Harris in the May issue of The Atlantic suggests gay people are part of her everyday consciousness, not just called forth when required. It’s a vignette she later talked about on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.

Screengrab from CNN reporter Maeve Reston’s tweet

Harris and her sister, followed by a slew of journalists, visited Styled by Naida, “a vintage-clothing store run by Naida Rutherford, who grew up in the foster-care system and was homeless before she steadied herself economically by hosting stylish garage sales,” Elizabeth Weil reported.

After picking out a hat and a black belt:

“Harris noticed a brightly colored sequined coat, a chessboard of turquoise, purple, yellow, green, and sky blue. The jacket was just about the furthest fashion choice imaginable from Harris’s standard dark blazer. Still, Rutherford, a good saleswoman, encouraged Harris, a good candidate, to try it on, and Harris did. She looked in the mirror, the horde of journalists to her back. “This really would be perfect for the Pride parade,” she said.

 

A nice, unguarded human moment. The jacket was way too big, and she’ll almost certainly never wear it anywhere but the parade. But you’d have to be a monster—and a tone-deaf politician—not to want to support Rutherford. Harris bought the coat.”

Kamala (comma-la) Harris was born on Oct. 20, 1964, five years before the Stonewall Rebellion, and never needed an epiphany to discover that LGBT people were OK.

“I grew up in a community and a culture where everyone was accepted for who they were, so there wasn’t a moment where it was like, ‘Okay, now let’s let this person in.’ Everyone was a part of everything. It was about community,” Harris says. “It was about coalition building. It was about equality, inclusion. I mean, I had an uncle who was gay. [But] there was no epiphany” about gay people.

In fact, with the exception of Buttigieg’s very presence, Harris is the only top-tier presidential candidate to constantly reference homophobia and transphobia in her speeches.

But some trans people are still angry over how Harris backed the Department of Corrections in its 2015 denial of gender reassignment surgery for then 51-year-old inmate Michelle-Lael Norsworthy.

The Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson asked Harris about the issue in January at Harris’ first news conference after announcing her 2020 presidential bid.

“I was, as you are rightly pointing out, the attorney general of California for two terms and I had a host of clients that I was obligated to defend and represent and I couldn’t fire my clients, and there are unfortunately situations that occurred where my clients took positions that were contrary to my beliefs,” Harris said.

“And it was an office with a lot of people who would do the work on a daily basis, and do I wish that sometimes they would have personally consulted me before they wrote the things that they wrote?” Harris said. “Yes, I do.”

“But the bottom line is the buck stops with me, and I take full responsibility for what my office did,” Harris said.

Harris confirmed to the Los Angeles Blade that she worked behind the scenes with the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation to establish a process enabling transgender inmates to receive transition-related care, including gender reassignment surgery, and she worked on getting Norsworthy paroled.

“I did it quietly, because I actually disagreed with my client initially, when they had the policy, and so I did it behind the scenes,” Harris tells the Los Angeles Blade. “I helped to resolve and change the policy. The issue for me was to make sure the right thing would happen.”

But Harris adds: “Let me just be very clear. I don’t want to take full credit for that, because I don’t deserve full credit for that. I don’t want what I said to be interpreted as that. There were a lot of people involved in that.”

But Harris’ responses have been so cerebral, some feel she doesn’t see the humanity in trans individuals.

“I understand not only their humanity, but I also understand the unfair challenges that they face in a society that still hasn’t come to appreciate their full humanity,” Harris tells the Los Angeles Blade. “And I know the hate that also has been targeted at our transgender friends, and I know that it resulted in lethal proportions. That’s why, when I was the vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, I led the national DAs in a training on the ways that we can get rid of the ‘gay panic defense,’ because I knew it was being used as justification for the killing of many people, including transgender people.”

Transphobia “is something I care deeply about. I have known many people who are transgender, and talked with them and really shared their pain around what their life experience has been like because of the ignorance that still exists about who they are and the challenges they face,” Harris says.

That includes all healthcare concerns.

On Thursday, June 20, Harris introduced the PrEP Access and Coverage Act, legislation to guarantee insurance coverage for PrEP and create a grant program to fund access for uninsured patients.

“PrEP is a critical advancement in the fight against HIV that can finally provide peace of mind to Americans who live in the shadow of the HIV epidemic. But for too many in our country, lack of insurance coverage and exorbitant costs have put PrEP out of reach—and that needs to change. We must truly commit ourselves to HIV prevention by finally requiring every health insurance plan—public and private—to cover PrEP and all of the required tests and follow-up doctors’ visits. We must also provide the resources necessary to help people without insurance access PrEP. Nearly four decades since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis that took so many lives and caused countless others to live in fear, we can and will stop the spread of this disease,” said Harris in a statement.

Harris says that if elected president, she would sign an executive order to protect DREAMers and put them on a path to citizenship. The Los Angeles Blade asked if she would sign an executive order for the Equality Act, the LGBT civil rights bill that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations.

At the recent Poor People’s Campaign forum on poverty, Harris noted her efforts to help LGBT homeless youth in San Francisco. But, other that the Campaign’s leader, Bishop William Barber, LGBT people are being left out of the discussions and debates over the economy, pay equity, and jobs. The last report with research from the Williams Institute, the Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project was in 2015 under President Obama.

The report found that: “Due to discriminatory laws, America’s 5.1 million LGBT women face lower pay, frequent harassment, compromised access to health care, and heightened violence. Anti-LGBT laws, together with inequitable and outdated policies, mean that LGBT women’s economic security is compromised by reduced incomes and added costs ranging from health care to housing.”

“LGBT women face added challenges not solely because of their gender, but also because of who they are and whom they love. Discrimination and stigma, combined with the struggles faced by all women, make LGBT women and their families especially vulnerable,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project.

“Making matters worse, the burden falls most acutely on those who can least afford it: LGBT women raising children, older LGBT women, LGBT women of color, LGBT immigrants, and those LGBT women and families who are already living near or below the poverty line.”

The Equality Act, which has passed in the House, would help counter some of these issues. While Harris did not commit to issuing the legislation as an executive order, she did commit to making it a top priority as president.

“One of my first orders of business would be to get the Equality Act passed,” Harris says. “Listen, I believe in the words and the spirit behind the Constitution of the United States and all of its amendments and those words we spoke in 1776 at the founding of our nation—that we are all equal and should be treated that way. That’s why I fought against Prop 8. I don’t believe that it is reflective of our democracy or the spirit of our founding, that any person would be treated differently under the law.

“So it is for all of those reasons that the Equality Act would be a first order of business for me,” Harris continues, “and to do everything that I can within my power to make sure that we make that point about who we are as a nation. I often look at the words inscribed on that marble at the United States Supreme Court, and it says, ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ I truly believe that. That is our goal. That is our ideal. That is part of who we are as a nation and we have to fight for that every day.”

Cover photo of Sen. Harris at 2018 Pride parade courtesy Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Research/Study

Tech companies failing to stop dangerous conversion therapy disinfo

According to the report, “rainbow-washing” particularly aims at the trans community for conversion to cisgender identities

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Max Huskins/Los Angeles Blade graphic

MONTGOMERY, Al. – Anti-LGBTQ groups “easily” spread dangerous disinformation online about the so-called conversion therapy as tech companies fail to de-platform such content, especially in non-English languages, according to two reports from the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE).

The reports detail that even though conversion therapy is a widely condemned practice, content related it is “distressingly easy” to find through simple searches on various platforms. 

Though searches in English yielded problematic results, GPAHE found that non-English languages, especially Swahili in Kenya, led to much more anti-LGBTQ disinformation. 

“Tech companies say they have taken steps to ban harmful content related to conversion therapy, but they have to do more, especially in non-English languages,” said Wendy Via, president and co-founder of GPAHE and co-author of the report.

The group’s research took place in English and Spanish in the U.S., English in Ireland and Australia, German in Germany, Spanish in Colombia, and English and Swahili in Kenya.

Conversion therapy has been condemned by dozens of medical and psychological organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA), which also supports a nationwide ban on conversion therapy. 

According to the Williams Institute, LGB people who have undergone conversion therapy are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide. 

Conversion therapy is banned for minors and sometimes adults in seven countries: Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Germany, Malta, France and Taiwan. Both France and Canada outlawed the debunked practice just last month. 

The U.S. has no nationwide ban, but conversion therapy is outlawed in 20 states and more than 100 municipalities in the nation. Partial bans also exist in Mexico, Australia, and Spain.

“Until online searches lead people to only authoritative information about the dangers of conversion therapy, tech companies are complicit in spreading anti-LGBTQ+ hate and disinformation that causes mental and physical harm for individuals, and furthers societal harm,” said Via. 

Generally, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, to some extent, YouTube have taken steps to curtail conversion therapy information, according to GPAHE’s first report “Conversion Therapy Online: The Ecosystem.” When the group searched the term “conversion therapy” on these platforms, they mostly found trustworthy information, except in Swahili. 

However, in comparing social media platforms, the group found that YouTube’s search mechanism returns disinformation and propaganda more frequently than Facebook or Twitter. GPAHE also said the platform is “rife” with pro-conversion therapy material. 

Alphabet Inc., the company that owns YouTube, did not immediately return a request for comment. 

The company has come under fire in the past for policies surrounding conversion therapy. In 2019, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) revoked its enforcement of Google over an app tied to conversion therapy. At the time, other major companies – like Apple and Amazon – removed the app. 

Google eventually removed the app. “After consulting with outside advocacy groups, reviewing our policies, and making sure we had a thorough understanding of the app and its relation to conversion therapy, we’ve decided to remove it from the Play Store, consistent with other app stores,” the company said in a statement to Axios

Though initial search mechanisms generally didn’t lead researchers to conversion therapy providers, Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms did lead users down a dangerous conversion therapy “rabbit hole” once they found a provider, the report found.

The Blade could not reach Meta (Facebook) and Twitter for comment. 

Last year, a Reuters report detailed how even though Facebook banned conversion therapy, the debunked practice continued to thrive in Arabic. 

“Facebook led me to conversion therapy, and I’m not alone,” said Omar, an Egyptian man who turned to Facebook when he began feeling sexually attracted to other men. He requested Reuters use only his first name because he has not yet come out to his family. 

Though GPAHE’s report did not study Arabic languages, it did find that languages other than English yielded more harmful search results. 

In all languages and countries, GPAHE found that search results from Microsoft’s Bing and Amazon’s Silk and Alexa were “significantly less authoritative.”

“These companies are rarely, if ever, challenged on their search algorithms despite serving hundreds of millions of people worldwide,” the release said. 

GPAHE suggested that Bing and Silk create search algorithms that surface authoritative information. In addition, Amazon should remove conversion therapy providers from the Smile program, the group said.

Both Microsoft and Amazon did not immediately return requests for comment. 

Amazon has had a checkered past with anti-LGBTQ content, especially on its web store. However, the company did stop selling books prompting conversion therapy in 2019.

“It’s time for the major internet and social media companies to wake up to their role in promoting harmful practices and disinformation,” the report read. “Conversion therapy is dangerous. If someone is searching for this material on any internet platform, they should only find authoritative results that document the therapy’s harms.” 

The group also found a “highly problematic” difference between results in English and Swahili in Kenya. Search results in English led to a mix of trustworthy and false information, while results in Swahil lead to material that disparages and mocks LGBTQ+ people and calls conversion therapy repuatable. 

“Even the Wikipedia page in Swahili in Kenya is filled with hateful disinformation,” a GPAHE press release read. 

German search results yielded mostly accurate information about conversion therapy. The group said this was likely due to Germany’s conversion therapy ban and strict hate speech laws. 

“Unlike what GPAHE found in most other countries and languages, Google searches in German for various conversion therapy terms came up almost entirely with authoritative results,” the report read.

However, the group did find one exception in searching “reintegrative therapie.” The search term populated reintegrativethereapy.com, a conversion therapy provider, in all of the first four results. But mostly trustworthy information follows. 

Using terms such as “reintegrative therapy” or “unwanted same-sex attraction” is a common way for conversion therapy providers and proponests to evade safeguards and prompt their content. According to the GPAHE report, such search terms led almost exclusively to unauthoritative and harmful disinformation.

GPAHE suggested that tech companies incorporate the terms “same-sex attraction” and “reintegrative therapy” into the algorithms to increase reliable and safe results.

Another method conversion therapy supporters use is hiding behind a so-called religious imperative or claiming that they are protecting kids, the report said. 

“As conversion therapy providers constantly rebrand their malicious efforts and introduce new terms, tech companies need to keep up to protect their users,” said Via.

GPAHE has sent its report to tech companies and will follow up with each over the coming months. 

GPAHE added that it “hopes that the report will help tech platforms flag or ban harmful material and serve as an additional authoritative resource for those who search for these organizations or conversion therapy information in general.”

Many of the world’s most surfaced conversion therapy providers were detailed in the group’s second report, “Conversion Therapy Online: The Players.” GPAHE specifically laid out 25 organizations and their “sophisticated and extensive” online presence.

The report found that these providers are interconnected and are essentially composed of three major networks: the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, Core Issues Trust and Exodus Global Alliance. 

These groups have moved into the space, rebranding in a process known as “rainbow-washing,” where they claim to be “friends of the LGBTQ+ community” and feature “younger, hipper, more diverse faces,” according to GPAHE. The groups say they are “victimized by modern society,” co-opting ​​the “language of the LGBTQ+ rights movement to assert liberation for what they call the X-LGBT community.”

According to the report, “rainbow-washing” particularly aims at the trans community for conversion to cisgender identities.

“In recent years, proposed bans on conversion therapy have motivated providers to organize and up their legislative and litigation games,” the report read. “Their activities are bolstered and promoted by powerful social conservative organizations and relatively new X-LGBT groups, such as the Changed Movement, in various countries.”

Of the 25 groups named by GPAHE, 13 were based in the U.S., the most of any country. The states they were located in included Utah, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Kentucky, California, Missouri, Connecticut, Tennessee and Michigan. 

Other top conversion therapy organizations were located in Northern Ireland, Brasil, Mexico, Germany, England, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway. Others did not have a specific location listed. 

In addition to websites, many of the groups were also on Facebook. Some of the anti-LGBTQ organizations were also on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

“Getting rid of this harmful material online is an important step toward creating a society where LGBTQ+ people are accepted and loved and nobody feels like they want or need to change who they are,” said Heidi Beirich, report co-author and co-founder of GPAHE. “No more hate. That’s the overall goal.”

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Eastern Europe

Polish House passes bill echoing Russian “gay propaganda” law

“There’s no doubt, that LGBT+ ideology grew out of… the same root as Germany’s Hitlerian National Socialism […]”

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The Polish parliament's lower House, the Sejm (Screenshot via Polish government Sejm RP YouTube)

WARSZAWA – A measure that would give school administrators and superintendents the power to remove books, lessons, and ban student participation in events or clubs that are LGBTQ+ affirming passed the lower house of Poland’s parliament, known as the Sejm, this past Thursday, January 13, in a 227-214 vote.

The measure, dubbed “Lex Czarnek,” or “Czarnek’s Law,” after minister of education Przemysław Czarnek,  who has been vehemently opposed to the LGBTQ+ rights and the country’s equality movement, now moves on to the upper house, the Senate where it faces opposition and likely will be rejected Polish broadcast media outlet RMF 24 reported.

According to RMF24, “The Sejm adopted the amendment to the Educational Law, prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science. The project is commonly known as “lex Czarnek”. The role of school superintendents will be strengthened, and the rules governing the functioning of non-governmental organizations in schools and educational institutions will be changed.”

Opposition to LGBTQ+ rights has an ally in the Education Minister whose role would determine the outcome of implementation of the measure:

Pursuant to the amendment, the headmaster of the school or facility will be required – no later than two months before the commencement of classes conducted by associations or organizations – to obtain detailed information about the action plan in the school, the outline of classes and materials used in the offered classes, as well as obtain a positive the opinion of the education superintendent for the activities of such an organization at school or in an institution. The curator has 30 days to issue an opinion.”

The law also contains a stipulation that “if the head of the school or educational institution fails to comply with the recommendations issued by the school superintendent, he will be able to summon him to explain why he did not do so . If the principal still does not follow the recommendations, the probation officer may apply to the governing body of the school or facility with a request to dismiss the principal during the school year, without notice.

A member of the Sejm, Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk, a progressive leftist politician who in addition to protesting against abortion laws, has also been active in protests for LGBTQ+ rights, tweeted her outrage; “The voice of the curator Nowak, as if it were not stupid and dangerous to health and life, is more important for PiS deputies than the voice of students, parents and teachers.”

The MP and Education Minister Czarnek, target of Dziemianowicz-Bąk’s anger, has staked out several public vitriolic anti-LGBTQ+ positions that has included an attack on the LGBTQ+ community in West Hollywood.

Speaking with a reporter on Serwis Info Poranek with the national state-run TVP Info (TVP3 Polska) last June, the newly appointed Education Minister said- (translated from Polish):

“Let’s end the discussion about these LGBT abominations, homosexuality, bisexuality, parades of equality. Let us defend the family, because failure to defend the family leads to what you see.

As he spoke these words, he was holding a phone in his hand, on the display of which he showed a picture of several people. – These are the Los Angeles guys in downtown last June. I was on a delegation there, I was passing through, there was a so-called gay pride parade there – he added. – We are at an earlier stage, there are no such things with us yet, but such chaps shamelessly (shamelessly – ed.) Walk the streets of the western city of Los Angeles – he added.

Przemysław Czarnek (Screenshot via Serwis Info Poranek)

Serwis Info Poranek also noted that according to MP Czarnek, “Europe is also heading for this, Poland is heading for this- […] These people are not equal to normal people, let’s end this discussion.”

During the ongoing battles over the so-called LGBTQ+ ‘Free Zones’ with the European Commission Czarnek weighed in comparing the LGBTQ+ community to the Nazi’s.

There’s no doubt, that LGBT+ ideology grew out of… the same root as Germany’s Hitlerian National Socialism, which was responsible for all the evil of World War II,” Czarnek said PinkNewsUK reported.

Renew Europe, the liberal, pro-European political group of the European Parliament tweeted its outrage over the actions by the Sejm:

Observers think that the law will be rejected by the senate although under the Polish constitution there is still a possibility it could be signed off on by the anti-LGBTQ+ Polish President Andzej Duda.

PinkNewsUK reports:

Although it seems that Lex Czarnek is on track to becoming law, Rémy Bonny, executive director of pan-EU LGBT+ rights organisation Forbidden Colours, insists that all is not lost.

With pressure from politicians both in the EU and around the world, Poland could be forced to backtrack.

He told PinkNewsUK: “In September, after threats by the European Commission to take away funding, four out five provinces that declared themselves ‘LGBT+ free zones’ withdrew their anti-LGBT+ resolutions… International pressure on Poland works.”

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News Analysis

Catholic Diocese suggests raped altar boy enjoyed sex with priest

Catholic church seeks to avoid legal responsibility by suggesting victim of horrific sexual abuse by priest is gay

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Photo licensed from Adobe Stock

By James Finn | BIELSKO-ZYWIEC, Poland – My headline is neither satire nor hyperbole, its literal truthfulness sheds much light on the harm of traditionalist-Christian sexual teachings. When Roman Catholic Bishop Roman Pindel first met with Janusz Szymik, the bishop expressed compassion for the man repeatedly raped as an altar boy by a priest in the Polish diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec, which Pindel heads.

What the bishop did next shocked and angered Janusz, in the process illustrating how the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s condemnation of LGBTQ people can blind them to the difference between healthy consensual sex and rape.

First, the story of a boy raped by a priest

Janusz, who is now 48 year old, was an altar boy of 12 in 1980s Poland when his priest and confessor (who has been named only as Jan W. due to Polish privacy law) began sexually abusing him. The “relationship” continued for years, with the priest often meeting the boy off Church property, taking him on outings, buying him gifts, and molesting him.

Janusz first reported the abuse in 2015, later giving testimony against the priest in a Church tribunal that ended with his rapist being barred from public ministry for five years, though not removed from the priesthood. He is living “in isolation” for the same five-year period, which is set to end sometime this year.

The priest did not face criminal punishment, reportedly due to Polish statute of limitation restrictions.

Janusz recently filed a civil suit against the Bielsko-Żywiec diocese. He says he was motivated by the Church trial’s lenient sentence, the probability that restrictions on his rapist’s public ministry would soon be lifted, his strong suspicion that he was not the only victim, and his fears Jan W might victimize more children in the future.

Bishop Pindel’s response was to suggest Janusz was gay and had enjoyed being molested

NotesFromPoland and the Polish Onet news portal have published details of a response the Bishop Pindel’s diocese sent to the civil court overseeing the case:

  1. The diocese wants the court to hear “evidence from an expert sexologist on the determination of the claimant’s sexual preferences, in particular determination of the claimant’s sexual orientation.”
  2. The diocese wants the victim questioned about his “relationship” with the priest, including him “showing pleasure in maintaining an intimate relationship with Jan W.” and even “deriving benefits,” including “material benefits.”
  3. The diocese told the court it “denies that the relationship was based on enslavement or incapacitation; on the contrary: it was voluntary and based on mutual benefits.”
  4. Any sexual contact (if any) that took place off Church property is not the legal responsibility of the diocese.
  5. The diocese proposes to the court that the priest’s testimony during clerical proceedings should be taken as credible over the victim’s, that the court should presume sexual contact began when Janusz was 16 rather than 12 as he claims.

Compassion morphs into accusations of lying and prostitution

The compassion Bishop Pindel initially offered Janusz morphed into something far darker. The bishop filed documents in open court dismissing Janusz as a liar and (implicitly) a prostitute who in his late teens took material advantage of a priest. In a nation where being gay is highly stigmatized and socially damaging, the bishop asked the court to order a psychological evaluation to determine if Janusz is gay.

After Onet and other media raised the alarm, the diocese apologized in a public statement, according to ABC News: “We apologize to Janusz and to all who have been scandalized,” reads the statement, specifying that the diocese response to the lawsuit should not have included questions about the victim’s sexuality or have suggested that he drew pleasure from contact with the priest.

The statement did not include an apology for implications that Janusz lied about being 12 years old when the priest began sexually abusing him. The statement did not retract the diocese position that the priest’s actions off Church property were not the Church’s legal responsibility.

Janusz Szymik – pictured above as a child

None of this is unusual. Traditionalist Catholics are often blinded by dogma.

To their credit, some Polish bishops have spoken out strongly against Bishop Pindel, pressuring him to apologize, but this case begs close examination. First, the wording of the Pindel’s apology, for those not familiar with Roman Catholic language, is highly suspect. He apologized for “scandalizing” people, not for his actions alone. This may seem like a trivial distinction, but it’s critical.

Scandal, in Catholic teaching, is a “sin” defined as an act that “leads people to move away from Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers us.” Scandal in its most straightforward Catholic sense might consist of a respected Catholic leader claiming Church teachings are wrong. As an illustration, many Catholic bishops in the U.S. accuse President Biden of the sin of scandal because he politically supports the right of women to choose abortion.

In a more nuanced sense, however, scandal is often defined as truthful statements that lead people away from the Church. So when Bishop Pindel apologizes because people have been “scandalized,” he sidesteps. Does he believe his statements and actions were wrong on their own? That’s impossible to know.

When any sex outside heterosexual marriage is a grave sin, moral recognition of abusive sexuality can evaporate

Let’s talk about moral distinctions in a minute. First, some background. Catholic dogma holds that gay people commit acts of “grave depravity” when we have sex with our partners, no matter how loving, committed, or healthy our relationships may be. Dogma holds that we are “intrinsically disordered,” or in alternate language, “ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”

Catholic bishops in Poland aggressively promote those teachings, cooperating hand-in-glove with the right-wing Law and Justice Party as it passes laws to deny common civil liberties to LGBTQ people and encourages cities and political regions to declare themselves “LGBT Free Zones.”

Catholic bishops in Poland frequently indulge in incendiary language against transgender and gay people, even equating calls for equality with the oppression Poles experienced under Cold War Soviet domination. In 2019, riots broke out againt LGBTQ Pride parades, with observers in Poland and around the world blaming much of the violence on Church incitement. In the aftermath of the violence, the Church’s most prominent bishops doubled down on fiery language. Bishops even spoke up in support of an Ikea employee fired for posting on a company intranet that the Bible calls for LGBTQ people to be put to death.

Consent and rape lose meaning when gay people are evil by definition

Here’s the key to this whole mess: When you see gay people as being intrinsically evil, consent and love can fail to hold meaning. I’m reminded of a huge Italian scandal a few years ago that started out when teenage seminarians (candidates for the Catholic priesthood) complained that some of the adults who ran their residential school were sexually abusing them.

The boys who complained of the abuse ranged in age from 12 to 17, and their complaints were credible enough to prompt a major investigation, the results of which I read a few years ago. Without bogging down in detail, the investigation quickly expanded from an effort to identify and punish adults who abused children into a wide dragnet for gay priests. Most of the report’s pages focused on priests who had consual sex with other priests and even on boys who consensually experimented with other boys, some of whom were severely punished. Consent was rarely mentioned in the report. The inability of children to consent to adults was largely overlooked.

The underage victims of abuse were not exactly forgotten, but they got very short shrift as the Church ran in circles screaming and shouting about gay priests breaking their celibacy vows.

The Catholic priests who ran the investigation seemed almost incapable of morally distinguishing between consensual sex and coercive molestation.

Bishop Roman Pindel in Poland seems to be stuck in a similar moral paradigm

It’s fine that he apologized, but his initial positions are illuminating and disturbing. In his mind, apparently, if Janusz really was gay, and if he enjoyed some of his sexual experiences or other experiences with the priest Jan W, then the two them are on an equal moral footing, both intrinsically disordered people committing acts of grave depravity for which they are equally culpable.

The bishop doesn’t talk about consent or the inability of a child or adolescent to consent to a powerful adult. He doesn’t accept responsibility for a priest in his diocese abusing a child, because in his mind, the sin that counts most here is the sin of homosexuality.

He’s blinded at least partially to the real crime, because of Church dogma that teaches that sexual love between two people of the same sex can never be positive and healthy. Why worry about consent when it’s all grave depravity anyway?

Meanwhile, Janusz’s biggest concerns are unaddressed.

His rapist got a slap on the wrist. Other victims are still out there. Children may continue to be at risk when Jan W’s suspension ends in coming months. The Bishop of Bielsko-Żywiec has demonstrated little to no concern about any of that, apparently owing to Church culture and teachings.

The Church is wrong. We LGBTQ people are not evil, are not disordered , and do not commit acts of grave depravity.

The Church’s error leads them not only to wrong LGBTQ people but often to fail to grapple with real sexual abuse.

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James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a frequent columnist for the LA Blade, a contributor to other LGBTQ news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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