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LGBT advocates raise alarm over ‘facial recognition’ technology

Experts say unchecked use could lead to discrimination, harassment

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Experts say unchecked use of facial recognition technology could lead to discrimination and harassment.

LGBT people, especially transgender people, could be subjected to discrimination, harassment, and identity theft if careful government controls are not placed on rapidly developing and widely used facial recognition technology, according to the group LGBT Tech.

The Staunton, Va.-based group has joined six other LGBT organizations in signing on to a June 3, 2019 letter written by the ACLU calling on Congress to place a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement and immigration enforcement purposes until privacy related restrictions can be developed for the technology.

“The well documented potential for abuse and misuse of these tools built by giant and influential companies as well as government and law enforcement agencies should give serious pause to anyone who values their privacy – especially members of communities that have been historically marginalized and discriminated against,” said LGBT Tech deputy director and general counsel Carlos Gutierrez in a July 18 op-ed column.

“Without proper privacy protections in place, data breaches that target facial recognition data may become far more likely,” Gutierrez said. “In the wrong hands, a person’s previously undisclosed sexual orientation or gender identity can become a tool for discrimination, harassment, or harm to their life or livelihood,” he said.

“The risks to transgender, nonbinary, or gender non-conforming individuals are even more acute,” he continued.

Gutierrez and other experts familiar with software already in use that uses facial recognition technology say the software has been programmed to divide the people it recognizes as male and female based on their biological or physiological gender.

“The extent of the misgendering problem was highlighted in a recent report that found that over the last three decades of facial recognition, researchers used a binary construct to gender over 90 percent of the time and understood gender to be solely a physiological construct over 80 percent of the time,” Gutierrez said.

He and other experts monitoring the technology say the inability of most of the software now in use, including the software expected to be used for security screening at all airports by 2020, could have a devastating impact on transgender people attempting to board a plane.

“We are deeply concerned about the growth and lack of efficacy of facial recognition technology as a means of increasing security in airports or any other public space,” said Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality.

“The technologies most frequently sold by vendors have proven biases against women and people of color born of inaccuracies and oversights in their development,” she told the Blade in a statement.

“Just as well, they have consistently misidentified transgender people in academic studies, perhaps providing an automated way to out trans people while we’re traveling or just living our lives,” Branstetter said. “In a worst case scenario, such a technology could be used to ensure transgender people are excluded from gendered spaces, including locker rooms and restrooms.”

Added Branstetter: “The use and growth of the technology’s popularity has plainly outpaced the law, and we’ve urged Congress and government agencies to respond to and assess the risks of these technologies before implementing them.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality and LGBT Tech are among seven LGBT groups that joined 29 civil liberties, privacy rights, civil rights, investor, and faith groups in signing a letter drafted by the ACLU calling on Congress to intervene to regulate facial recognition technology.

The other LGBT groups that signed on to the letter include CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers, Equality North Carolina, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, PFLAG National, and TRANScending Barriers of Atlanta.

The letter notes that federal government agencies, including the FBI, have continued to expand the use of facial recognition technology without safeguards.

“The FBI has access to over 400 million photos for face matching, including the driver’s license databases of over fifteen states and passport application photos, has performed hundreds of thousands of face recognition searches, and is now reportedly piloting new uses of the technology,” the letter says.

“This capability threatens to create a world where people are watched and identified as they attend a protest, congregate outside a place of worship, visit a medical provider, or simply go about their daily lives,” the ACLU letter states.

In his op-ed, Gutierrez of LGBT Tech stressed the need for government regulation of facial recognition technology.

“Members of the LGBTQ+ community cannot shoulder the burden of lax digital privacy standards without also assuming unnecessary risks to their safety online and offline,” he said. “Our vibrant communities deserve comprehensive, national privacy protections to fully participate in society and live without the fear that their data – biometric or otherwise – will be used to further entrench existing bias and prejudice.”

Transgender rights advocate Dana Beyer, co-founder of the trans group Gender Rights Maryland, said the urgency for adopting government regulations for the technology can’t be overstated.

“I think the problem goes far beyond the trans community, as is the case with most things happening today, but should we not turn things around in 15 months this will definitely become a tool to make trans lives miserable,” she said.

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U.S. Federal Courts

On 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade- is it the last? Biden & others weigh in

The whole country is waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on one of the most serious challenges to abortion rights since the Roe v. Wade

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Abortion opponents gathered Friday for the annual March for Life March and Rally (Screenshot via WUSA CBS9)

WASHINGTON – As thousands gathered on the National Mall in D.C. Friday for the annual anti-abortion ‘March for Life March and Rally 2022,’ there were signs among the speakers and the participants gathered of a renewed sense of optimism that with a pending Supreme Court case, this year maybe the last annual gathering as the court looks poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“We are hoping and praying that this year, 2022, will bring a historic change for life,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said at the event, The Associated Press reported.

A large portion of the crowd during the March for Life rally on Friday was made up of young people, with some holding signs saying they were the “pro-life generation.”

The whole country is waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on one of the most serious challenges to abortion protections that the institution heard since the Roe v. Wade decision 49 years ago, which gave women the constitutional right to abortion.

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this past December, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case involving a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. 

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, passed in 2018 but has been blocked by two lower federal courts, allows abortion after 15 weeks “only in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality” and has no exception for rape or incest. If doctors perform abortions outside the parameters of the law, they will have their medical licenses suspended or revoked and may be subject to additional penalties and fines.

The lack of access is felt most heavily by marginalized people, says Kari White, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin and researcher with the Mississippi Reproductive Health Access Project. She was the lead author of a study published last month in the journal Contraception that found that Mississippians were more likely to wait longer for an abortion if they were low-income or Black, NPR reported.

In an analysis published by SCOTUS blogAmy Howe noted;

If the justices overturn Roe and Casey, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 26 states (including Mississippi) will implement complete bans on abortion. Although the stakes in the case are thus obviously high, Mississippi takes pains to assure the justices that overruling Roe and Casey would not have ripple effects beyond abortion rights. It distinguishes abortion from other constitutionalized privacy interests, such as interracial marriage and same-sex marriage, saying that those interests – unlike abortion – do not involve the “purposeful termination of a potential life.”

In a statement to the Los Angeles Blade after the oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last December had concluded, Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) warned;

“[Today’s] arguments should be a wakeup call for LGBTQ people. We must face the reality of a Supreme Court packed by one of the most reactionary presidents of our time, and we must get serious about passing a federal law that protects basic rights and liberties for our community. If you care about LGBTQ equality, it is essential as never before to do everything within your power to elect fair-minded local, state, and federal officials and to engage in real dialogue with those who do not yet fully understand or support LGBTQ people. We do not have the luxury of disengagement or passivity. If you are not actively involved in supporting a federal civil rights law for LGBTQ people, you are part of the problem.”

Minter further cautioned;

“While restrictions on abortion primarily harm women, they also compound the challenges that trans men and nonbinary people already face in accessing gynecological and reproductive health care. Being a trans man or a nonbinary individual who needs an abortion is often a nightmare even in jurisdictions that support reproductive freedom. In places like Texas, which are making abortions inaccessible to anyone, it is terrifying,”

“My heart goes out to the trans and nonbinary people who are living in fear, praying they never need this care, and that if they do, they can find a way out of the state. And for those who know they can’t afford to travel or pay for out-of-state care, there is no hope,” he added.

Graphic via NBC News

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris released a joint statement Saturday commemorating the 49th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade;

The constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago today is under assault as never before. It is a right we believe should be codified into law, and we pledge to defend it with every tool we possess. We are deeply committed to protecting access to health care, including reproductive health care—and to ensuring that this country is not pushed backwards on women’s equality.

In recent years, we have seen efforts to restrict access to reproductive health care increase at an alarming rate. In Texas, Mississippi, and many other states around the country, access to reproductive health care is under attack. These state restrictions constrain the freedom of all women. And they are particularly devastating for those who have fewer options and fewer resources, such as those in underserved communities, including communities of color and many in rural areas.

The Biden-Harris Administration strongly supports efforts to codify Roe, and we will continue to work with Congress on the Women’s Health Protection Act. All people deserve access to reproductive health care regardless of their gender, income, race, zip code, health insurance status, immigration status, disability, or sexual orientation. And the continued defense of this constitutional right is essential to our health, safety, and progress as a nation.

We must ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have the same fundamental rights that their mothers and grandmothers fought for and won on this day, 49 years ago—including leaders like the late Sarah Weddington, whose successful arguments before the Supreme Court led to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

At this pivotal moment, we recommit to strengthening access to critical reproductive health care, defending the constitutional right established by Roe, and protecting the freedom of all people to build their own future.

A recent poll conducted by CNN found that a large majority of Americans — almost 70 percent — said that they oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Thirty percent of respondents said that they supported the move. 

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Pennsylvania

New GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

CHAMBERSBURG – The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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Virginia

Virginia Republican lawmaker introduces anti-Trans youth sports bill

Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females’

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Virginia State Capitol building (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND – A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.

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