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Instagram and Facebook to ban conversion therapy content

Ads promoting discredited practice already banned

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Instagram and Facebook on July 10 announced they will ban conversion therapy content on their sites, following a block on ads promoting the practice earlier this year.

This announcement comes on the heels of the U.N. formally calling for a global conversion therapy ban.

Mathew Shurka, co-founder of Born Perfect, a project run by him and the National Center for Lesbian Rights that is dedicated to ending conversion therapy, worked with Instagram and Facebook to create a system to identify content promoting the practice. Shurka also worked with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues, in preparation for the global call to end conversion therapy.  

Shurka said this ban will protect LGBTQ people from viewing misleading or convincing content promoting conversion therapy. Social media sites have become a platform for promoting the practice, and he said this ban can eradicate that spread.

As a survivor of conversion therapy, Shurka said this call by the U.N. and social media content ban is “incredibly important” for LGBTQ rights on a global scale.

“When I was in conversion therapy and lost and confused, I literally had no resources,” he said. “Now you have the U.N. being really clear on a global level that this is something that has to end, and we’re going to push forward in advocating for that … It’s just the world of a difference as a survivor for me, and I really do think it will save lives and save families from ever choosing to go down that path.”

Amie Bishop, a senior research advisor with OutRight Action International, said this action by Instagram and Facebook is a step towards “multi-sector involvement” in banning conversion therapy.

“Bans, at any level, that are successful in blocking access to harmful programs and interventions is really very important,” Bishop said. “This move by Instagram and Facebook represents another dimension of bans — now it’s the private sector also getting involved.”

Bishop also said for this action to make an impact in eradicating conversion therapy, the fundamental discrimination embedded in societies and cultures needs to also be recognized. Shurka and Bishop both said they hope this action inspires other companies in the private sector to get involved in eliminating conversion therapy practices, especially other social networking sites.

Algorithms need to be adapted, experts say

Shurka said creating the algorithm to detect anti-LGBTQ content was a “complicated” process of identifying simple sentences and key phrases that suggest conversion therapy while resisting making the language restrictions too broad. Phrasing on the practice was analyzed from across the globe and evaluated in multiple languages, as well.

Bishop said many sites and organizations that promote conversion therapy employ deceptive phrasing and utilize misleading marketing tools, such as including Pride flags in anti-LGBTQ content. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, for example, changed its name to the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity in 2014 to appear more “choice” focused and scientifically backed.

In order to maintain the ban and protect LGBTQ individuals against conversion therapy content, Bishop also said social media platforms will have to keep up with the ever-changing branding.

“There’s always going to be new content coming out that may be less obvious at the beginning that it’s harmful,” she said. “That’s going to be the challenge, that you’re keeping up with the evolution of terminology and branding to ensure that things aren’t slipping through.”

Shurka also said conversion therapists use language that can be misleading, such as “gender wholeness” or “sexual wholeness” to market the practice.

Critics’ expectations low

Wayne Besen, the founder of Truth Wins Out, said he applauds the companies for announcing this ban, but said he wants to see action before calling the effort a victory.

Truth Wins Out is a non-profit organization that specializes in uncovering “ex-gay” conversion leaders’ claims, advocating for anti-LGBTQ media to be taken down and providing platforms for survivors of conversion therapies to share their stories.

Besen said he is unsure if social media companies would make the effort to sort through conversion therapy content because they rarely police white supremacy and other hateful content.

“If they’re not going to be able to address neo-Nazis and white supremacists, are they going to be serious about ex-gay conversion therapy?” he said.

Besen also said content on conversion therapy is only “five or 10 percent of the problem” online, and anti-LGBTQ activity is still rampant and harmful on digital platforms.

“I want to see action. I don’t want to see this as a PR stunt at a time when they’re under increasing pressure,” he said.

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The White House

The White House celebrates “A night when hope & history rhyme”

“On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people”

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President Biden awards the National Humanities Medal to Elton John for his work on combating HIV/AIDS (Screenshot/C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON – After a performance from a repertoire of the best known hits from his songbook in a special musical concert at the White House Friday evening, Sir Elton John was called to the podium where, accompanied by the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, President Joe Biden surprised the iconic British singer-songwriter with an award.

The president presented John with the National Humanities Medal for his advocacy work in recognition of LGBTQ+ rights and tireless activism against the global HIV/AIDS crisis disease through his contributions in music and the arts.

The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities and broadened its citizens’ engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects.

A stunned John was moved to tears. After the president had the citation read by a military aide and hung the medal around the singer’s neck, Biden told the audience gathered, “I think we surprised him” to which they cheered and applauded.

The medal’s citation read in part that it was honoring John “for moving our souls with his powerful voice and one of the defining song books of all time. An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma and advance the simple truth — that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Visibly moved, the iconic musician and performer said: “I just said to the First Lady, I’m never flabbergasted- but I’m flabbergasted and humbled and honoured by this incredible award from the United States of America. I will treasure this so much- I will make me double my efforts to make sure this disease goes away. Your kindness- America’s kindness to me as a musician is second to none, but in the war against AIDS and HIV it’s even bigger and I can’t thank you enough…. I’m really emotional about this- thank you.”

Texas Trans-teen activist Landon Richie (Middle) standing with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, (L) and his husband Chasten (R).
(Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

The special gathering held under a vaulted glass and aluminum ‘tent’ on the South Lawn of the White House was attended by 2,000 guests including former first lady Laura Bush, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, his husband Chasten, as well as teachers, nurses, LGBTQ advocates and military families, who the White House had dubbed “everyday history-makers.”

During a pause in his performance earlier, the singer addressed former first lady Laura Bush, praising her husband, former President George W. Bush’s ongoing work on the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which President Bush had initiated while in office and is credited with saving millions of lives across the African continent and helping to change the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS crisis globally.

“I want to say to the first lady, President Bush accelerated the whole thing with his PEPFAR bill. It was the most incredible thing,” he said to Mrs. Bush.

Sir Elton John performs at the White House, September 23, 2022
(Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

President Biden Awards Elton John with National Humanities Medal:

Full Text of the President and the First Lady’s remarks:

THE FIRST LADY:  Hello!  Good evening.  Thank you, Athen.  It’s leaders like you, those helping the next generation live authentically and find their voice, who make me so hopeful for our future.

And thank you to Paul Buccieri and A&E for helping us put this event together.

Isn’t this incredible?    

First Lady Laura Bush is with us tonight.  And, Laura, it’s such an honor to welcome you and your family back to the White House. 

And finally, I want to say what a joy it is to be here with the man who has inspired, supported, and loved Sir Elton John for so many years: his husband, David. 

Few things have the power to bring us together like music.  It can compel us to move as one on the dance floor, to sing along with strangers when we hear that familiar tune.  It’s a voice for the feelings we can’t always define. 

When the piano plays, the strings swell, the drums beat in time with our hearts, we find joy or a balm for our sorrows or the harmonies that tell us we aren’t alone. 

And in that spirit, as we celebrate Elton John’s music, we also celebrate you — everyday history-makers. 

Many of you are my colleagues — fellow teachers, like Leah Michael Dillard.  (Applause.)  Love the teachers!  So, Leah has taught 7th grade English for 20 years.  And, Leah, your students are better thinkers and more engaged citizens because of you. 

We also have first responders and healthcare heroes like — like Dr. Amber Pearson.  Amber was the first person in her family to go to college.  And it wasn’t easy.  She worked multiple jobs, took out loan, and when she finally reached her dream, she gave back to others, as an audiologist for veterans and their families, serving the women and men who serve us so well. 

And in this crowd are leaders of the beautiful, bold, and diverse future we are building together, like Javier Gomez, a student from Miami.  When his governor passed a law targeting the LGBTQ community, he didn’t sit back. 

Javier, you remind us of the power of one person who is willing to speak up for what is right, and that’s what this night is all about.  Coming together, using our voices, celebrating that, here in America, our differences are precious and our similarities infinite.

Elton once said, “Music has healing power.  It has the ability to take people out of themselves for just a few hours.”

We’re here tonight to once again lose ourselves and be brought together — perhaps even healed — by the power of music. 

And now, I get to introduce another huge fan, who also happens to be the President of the United States and my husband, Joe Biden. 

THE PRESIDENT:  You had to stand for Jill, but you can sit for me.  Please, all have a seat.  Please, have a seat.

Thank you, Jill.  Thank you all for being here on such a special evening.

And, Athen, leaders like you are helping the next generation live an authentic voice.  And I want to thank you very much for introducing me.

Look, I — as my colleagues — many of whom from the Senate are still here, came tonight — they always used to kid me because I — I was quoting Irish poets on the floor of the Senate.

The think I did it because I’m Irish.  That’s not the reason; I did it because they’re the best poets in the world. 

One who we lost not too long ago, Seamus Heaney, once wrote, and I quote, “Once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.”

Throughout this incre- — his incredible career, Sir Elton John has been that tidal wave — a tidal wave to help people rise up and make hope and history rhyme.  Three hundred million records sold.  Seventy-one billboard hits, nearly half in the top ten.  Six Grammy Awards.  Two Oscars.  One Tony, among the multiple, multiple nominations across the board.  Four thousand performances around the world.  A singer, songwriter of our time, for all time.

On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people.

So, like so many Americans, our family loves his music.  His songs take us — take us back to a time, a place, a memory.  Songs that make every day exceptional, help us connect and come alive.  And songs that reflect the artist’s gift, that sixth sense to imagine what no one else can, and then sing and play and dream until he sets that feeling free.

As Jill just mentioned, we’re joined by so many people that it’s — he’s set free to be themselves, to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

Families and advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS — a fight — a fight that he has led with sheer will, and fight for those lives lost and those lives that we can save.

Leaders standing up for equality of all people, no matter who you are or who you love.

Every day — every day Americans of every generation, of every background who know that life can be cruel and full of struggle, but it can also be full of joy and purpose.

And we’re joined tonight by the UK Ambassador to the United States, Karen Pierce, during a difficult time.  Karen, thank you.  Thank you for being here, Karen.

Jill and I travelled to London to pay our respects to the Royal Family on the Queen’s passing.

Our hopes tonight — our hope is that Sir Elton John’s music heals the sorrow, as it often has in the past.

Throughout his career, Elton found his voice — not only his voice, but his voice to help others and help them find their voice.

With his hope, he made history rhyme for countless people in our nation.  That’s what tonight is all about.

Elton often talked about how American music changed his life and how the different genres and sounds influenced his own music and imagination.  It’s clear Elton John’s music has changed our lives.

To David and the boys, thank you for sharing your husband and dad with us tonight.  (Applause.)  And to Elton, on behalf of the American people, thank you — and I sincerely mean this — thank you for moving the soul of our nation. 

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Michigan

School board candidate uses Pride flag as a hated Nazi symbol

“Like my new Pride flag?” candidate Craig Ladyman captioned the now-deleted post on Trump’s Truth Social platform

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

ROCKFORD, Mi. – A candidate for a seat on the Rockford, Michigan school board in this town of approximately 6,000, located ten miles north of Grand Rapids, went onto far-right social media platform Truth Social founded by former President Trump and shared a graphic collage of the Progress Pride flag converted into a Nazi-style swastika.

“Like my new Pride flag?” candidate Craig Ladyman captioned the now-deleted post.

Ladyman has a long and documented social media history of denigrating the LGBTQ+ community. In one post he depicted himself carrying an assault style rifle with the caption; ” I like exercising my Liberty like a drag queen exercises their sexuality.”

Ladyman, who has a business executive profile on LinkedIn as an account executive for ArjoHuntleigh, a global medical technology company, lists himself as an ‘America First’ adherent and opposed emergency measures taken by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, shown in a social media post open carrying an assault-style rifle standing with anti-Whitmer protestors in May of 2020.

In another recent post Ladyman referred to LGBTQ equality rights and community history as “grooming:”

WXMI-TV FOX 17 in Grand Rapids noted that the Nazi Progress Pride Flag image was sharply criticized by members of the Jewish community, LGBTQ people, as well as local leaders, including Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Steven Matthews, who said that the image made him feel “angry.”

“It’s a symbol that I don’t think represents who we are as a community and anybody who would use it I don’t think represents who we are as a community,” Matthews told Fox 17.

Ladyman, whose political ad states that he “will never go along with unconstitutional mandates, medical tyranny or the woke agenda,” didn’t back down when asked to comment on the backlash.

“While I was hoping the outrage would encourage people to do their research into this flag, I would like to state for the record that this image was not created by me,” he said in a written statement to WXMI-TV, after declining to appear on an on-camera interview.

Ladyman — a self-described “pro-God, pro-country and pro-Constitution school board candidate [who] will continue to fight for excellent education in schools without this sexual indoctrination” — credited the image to the British actor and far-right activist Laurence Fox, who first tweeted the altered flag in June 2022.

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Ohio

Opponents of LGBTQ resolution pack Ohio school board meeting

“I’m not a divisive concept. I’m a teenage girl who wants to graduate from high school, go to college, get a job and live my life”

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Screenshot/YouTube WBNS TV

COLUMBUS, Ohio – People packed an Ohio State Board of Education meeting Tuesday, many protesting a controversial resolution that opponents say will discriminate against LGBTQ students. 

The resolution, introduced by board member Brandon Shea, expresses the board’s opposition to a federal law requiring schools to investigate claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or risk losing school breakfast and lunch funding. Those investigations could include, according to the U.S. Department of Education, denying transgender students to use gendered facilities that correspond with their gender identity, keeping transgender kids from playing sports and allowing incorrect pronouns. 

It states that sex is “an unchangeable fact,” adding that “[d]enying the reality of biological sex destroys foundational truths upon which education rests and irreparably damages children.”

The resolution claimed the Department of Education’s new Title IX regulations “would require that K-12 schools socially transition minor children to a different gender without requiring parental notification or involvement,” calling it harmful. 

Tuesday’s meeting was packed with 61 people, according to the Statehouse News Bureau, most of whom opposed the board’s resolution. 

Ada Wood, a 24-year-old transgender woman, was one of them. She spoke to the board about the disproportionally high rates of poor mental health and suicide amongst transgender youth, “which, quite frankly, you would already know if you knew anything about the topics of which you are attempting change laws.” 

“If you pass this resolution, children will die,” Wood said.

Dawn Riggs, an educator of 30-plus years from Logan, Ohio, also spoke against the resolution. She said she had experiences with LGBTQ kids in her career, adding they “knew they would be safe for at least a little while each day” in her class.

“It is no burden to use a name that we are asked to use,” she said. “It is no burden to use the pronouns that are shared with us.”

Conner McLaren, a transgender student, told the board: “I’m not a divisive concept. I’m a teenage girl who wants to graduate from high school, go to college, get a job and live my life. Please don’t make things harder for the community I am here to represent. Don’t let our school become one more bully we have to deal with.”

Though many speakers spoke against the resolution, some supported it. One supporter, Allison Lindsey, worried her daughter with Down syndrome could be harmed by gender-affirming bathroom policies. According to a Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law study, there is no link between trans-inclusive policies and bathroom safety. 

“Often female students with disabilities need assistance when they get older and have begun their menstrual cycles,” Lindsey said. “Will I be accused of sex-based discrimination if I request that transgender women who are staff not help my daughter with her menstrual cycle at school?”

Shea did not respond to the Los Angeles Blade’s request for comment. But he did respond to the criticism at the meeting. 

“It’s awfully burdensome and heavy handed for the federal government to force every school in the nation to adopt radical gender identity policies to continue to receive federal funds and for the record,” Shea said. “It’s the regulations I’m saying are burdensome, not students who trans identify.” 
According to Cleveland.com, the board will vote on the resolution during its next meeting on Oct. 11-12.

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