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Belarus protests hit home

LGBTQ activists participate in ‘birth of the Belarusian nation’

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(Photo by Homoatrox; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License)

Viachaslau Bortnik wrote this op-ed. He served as a Belarus country specialist at Amnesty International USA from 2012-2019.

For three months now I have not been able to recover from the aftershock from the recent events in Belarus. It takes me several hours daily to read independent Belarusian information sources, otherwise I cannot function normally. On my first trips to the U.S. in the mid-2000s, I had to explain to people where I came from. At best, my interlocutors thought that Belarus was somewhere in Russia. This August, the situation changed dramatically, and the front pages of the world’s leading publications were full of stories about the courage of the Belarusian people who dared to challenge the 26-year-old dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko.

It was the first time I had a chance to observe how hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters came out onto the central streets of Belarusian cities. I felt proud of my people. Then there was anger when thousands were detained and hundreds were subjected to torture and inhuman cruel treatment (the U.N. alone reported 450 cases.) Several people died at the hands of law enforcement. Despite all this lawlessness of the authorities, proud and brave Belarusians have continued to go out to daily protests for two months now.

Many commentators have called this protest season “the birth of the Belarusian nation.” And I would compare it to coming out. For the first time in 26 years, Belarusians not only realized that they were free people, but also announced this through peaceful protests attended by thousands.

Belarusian LGBT+ did not stand aside. Victoria Biran, perhaps the brightest activist of her generation, dropped all business in Berlin and flew to Minsk to be with the people in this most important period for the whole country. Rainbow flags flashed regularly at the protests. Like other participants in the rallies, LGBT+ activists did not escape detentions and arrests. My friend Natallia Mankouskaya was detained several times in recent months. On Sept. 29, a transgender activist Zhenya Velko was released from detention.

Victoria Biran was detained by masked riot police on her way to the Women’s March in Minsk on Sept. 26 and was likely targeted because she was carrying a rainbow flag. The police officer who later testified as a “witness” against her in court via a video link did not disclose his name and hid his face with a black mask. Although Victoria has committed no offense and was only intending to exercise her rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, she was sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention. She is serving her sentence in the detention center on Akrestina Street, which has lately become synonymous with torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence, against detainees. Considering that Victoria was likely targeted by police as an LGBT+ activist, I am concerned that she may be targeted with violence in detention. 

Amnesty International recognized Victoria Biran a prisoner of conscience, deprived of her liberty solely for peacefully exercising their human rights, and her case is emblematic of thousands of persons in Belarus detained in recent weeks.

The U.S. government is slowly responding. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has rejected the results of the Aug. 9, 2020, presidential election. On Oct. 1, the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act of 2020 was introduced in Congress. The Act would provide for the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus as well as support the aspirations of the Belarusian people to preserve the independence and sovereignty of their country in the face of the threat posed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

I would also like to bring to your attention the upcoming hearings to confirm former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Julie Fisher as the next U.S. ambassador to Belarus. Appointing an ambassador would strengthen American diplomatic presence and help advance U.S. national interests in Belarus and in the region. However, the timing of her arrival in Minsk and official interactions with the illegitimate and illegal regime could not be more unfortunate and could bring serious political implications for the U.S. I believe a special envoy should be appointed instead. The ambassador’s appointment, and the presentation of credentials to Alexander Lukashenko will serve as the de-facto recognition of his legitimacy as a 6-term president. The U.S. cannot normalize diplomatic relations with Belarus while Lukashenko remains in power illegally. The return of the U.S. ambassador should be pre-conditioned on the new presidential election in Belarus recognized by the OSCE as democratic, free and fair.

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The movement to protect LGBTQ civil rights encourages us to be bold

Equal rights for LGBTQ Americans feels more attainable than ever; we cannot afford to drop the baton right before the finish line

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Lindsey Horvath is the Mayor of West Hollywood (Photo courtesy of Lindsey Horvath)

By Lindsey Horvath | As the Mayor of West Hollywood, my roots as a leader have been shaped by the courage and activism of the LGBTQ community. The simple idea that we should be able to love who we love and live authentically without discrimination or fear has energized a beautiful, thriving movement that is transforming our county and our country for the better. 

I think a lot about Harvey Milk, who rebelled against the “conspiracy of silence” and inspired generations of LGBTQ public servants to speak out and be themselves. The idea of creating change by reclaiming who we authentically are instead of trying to fit into an oppressive mold to inspire change is incredibly powerful.

From trailblazers like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Bayard Rustin, and Morris Kight to the ever-inspiring leaders of today, the movement to promote and protect LGBTQ civil rights encourages us all to be bold and realize the power of our example.

As our generation of activists and allies steps up to lead, what kind of example do we want to set? At this turning point, are we going to think small? Are we going to let fear and “the way we’ve always done it” get in the way of real progress for the people who need it most? Are we going to let prejudice and division get in the way of our true potential?

Or will we be like the champions for change who got us here, fearless and relentless in our pursuit of full equality? If we look to our past, our mandate is to be nothing short of revolutionary.

Equal rights for LGBTQ Americans feels more attainable than ever; we cannot afford to drop the baton right before the finish line. We must codify penalties for discriminating against someone for their gender identity or sexual orientation. Creating safe spaces — in our homes, our workplaces, and our communities — is essential for us to be fully free. Housing, healthcare, and community services are critical components of building full and healthy lives. We need to ensure that everyone has access to the care, protections, and support they need to live as themselves. 

As your next County Supervisor, I will work with you to use the power of our example to eliminate sexual orientation and gender bias. No one should have to live in fear because of who they love or how they choose to identify.

With more than 10 million people, L.A. County is the most populous county in the United States. Our example is powerful. Together, we can build a future in L.A. County and our country where every person is able to live and thrive, loudly and proudly. 

Lindsey Horvath is the Mayor of West Hollywood. She has served as a Board member of the Victory Fund and a founding Board member of the NOH8 Campaign. In 2009, she represented the City of West Hollywood in the National Equality March in Washington DC. She has also advocated for LGBTQ older adults through her work on the Board of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).

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After returning to YouTube, Crowder goes on hateful tirade against Pride

Crowder engaged in a homophobic tirade, claiming that being gay could make mental health issues, promiscuity, and AIDS “more likely.”

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Screenshot of Louder with Crowder (Photo Credit: Media Matters)

By Jason Campbell | WASHINGTON – On June 3, Louder with Crowder returned to YouTube after the channel’s second suspension. After the show stopped livestreaming on YouTube and continued to stream behind the BlazeTV paywall, Crowder engaged in a homophobic tirade, claiming that being gay could make mental health issues, promiscuity, and AIDS “more likely.” He also ludicrously asserted that “all major historical gay figures” had AIDS.

STEVEN CROWDER (HOST): Here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem — if people want to be gay, sure, fine, whatever. I don’t care. And if you want to say you have a month, OK, fine —

DAVE LANDAU (CO-HOST): I have a lot of former friends that are gay. 

CROWDER: I don’t care. If you want to start having sex on floats, OK, that’s an issue. That’s an issue. That’s what happens in San Francisco or the Folsom Street Fair. But these are the people who are put out there as ambassadors. And now that becomes a problem because now it’s a conversation of sexualizing children. Now, if we just look at it — look, with kids, you’re going to say, “OK, you’re born gay. You’re born straight.” Fine, let’s just go with that. But you overwhelmingly celebrate gay. If it’s just something that’s a part of you, it either shouldn’t be celebrated or certainly you wouldn’t celebrate the one of the two versions that results in HIV, more likely; AIDS, more likely; promiscuity, more likely; mental health issues, more likely, but lower domestic abuse with gay people, higher with lesbians.

My point is if you’re just going to celebrate, hey, the preference of friction, why wouldn’t you celebrate the one that makes for the most productive environment for children and has worked for perpetuating the human species since ever. That’s all I’m saying. I just don’t think you need — you’re like — you’re just like telling kids, “Hey, hey, isn’t it great? They’re gay.” What does that mean? It means they have sex in a way that doesn’t work.

GERALD MORGAN JR. (CO-HOST): That has no productive value.

CROWDER: OK, fine. I don’t care. But I don’t know how this requires a month and people who died get a day. That’s all.

CROWDER: Honestly, let’s look at all major historical gay figures. You look at Milk.

You look at Harvey Milk. You look at people, you look at [UNINTELLIGIBLE] — these are people with AIDS. These are people — look, I think that if we want people to be happy you say, “Well, that shouldn’t be an example. Pick the domesticated Dave Rubin and make him your ambassador.” I just like — in other — like look at the — I’m just saying you’re not pointing to get examples because it’s not about what usually — what we used to want to do with children was encourage them, right? Guide them toward the kind of behavior that would create the most content, fulfilled, and productive members of society. Now it’s about making sure that they have the greatest awareness of the most marginalized victims. That’s why they’re not picking the Buzz Aldrin of the gay community. I’m just saying. I don’t even know who he is. Maybe it’s Buzz Aldrin.”

YouTube has a hate speech policy which states that the platform will remove any content promoting hatred against individuals and groups for attributes including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It specifies that content is in violation of this policy if it claims “that individuals or groups are physically or mentally inferior, deficient, or diseased based on any of the attributes noted above.” In November 2020, YouTube removed two anti-trans videos from the right-wing propaganda network PragerU for violating this policy as they compared being trans to having a mental illness.

YouTube formally rebuked Crowder in March for violating its policy on misinformation and demeaning content. That same month, YouTube removed a video because it spread misinformation regarding COVID-19. In May, YouTube once again struck Crowder’s channel for violating the platform’s harassment, threats, and cyberbullying policy. During the particular episode that garnered the channel its second strike, Crowder and his co-hosts had mocked Ohio police shooting victim Ma’Khia Bryant’s weight.

Crowder’s show has consistently trafficked in racistsexistbigoted, and bullying content. He has also consistently promoted conspiracy theories and misinformation. By allowing Crowder to return to the platform with his long record of violating its content policies, YouTube is acting against the interests of those groups it claims to protect.

Jason Campbell is a researcher at Media Matters for America based in Washington D.C.

The preceding article was ordinally published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh makes extreme attacks on trans kids

Seemingly violating hate speech policies on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, Walsh says medical care for trans kids is “molestation and rape”

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Screenshot via Media Matters for America

By Brianna January | WASHINGTON – During the May 24 edition of The Daily Wire podcast The Matt Walsh Show, host Matt Walsh compared best practice medical care for trans youth to “molestation and rape” and repeatedly slandered the doctors who provide such necessary care. Walsh shared the episode to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, despite those platforms’ hate speech policies that claim to prohibit such content.

In reality, best practice health care for trans youth is widely supported by medical professionals and yields long-term mental health benefits. Furthermore, young trans and gender-diverse children are not undergoing treatments or surgery until they are older — rather, as social work professor Katherine Kuvalanka told The Washington Post, “the only interventions for young children is affirmation and acceptance for who they are.”

Moreover, research shows that affirming families and communities can be lifesaving for young trans people. According to Reuters, a 2016 study in the journal LGBT Health found: “For transgender or gender non-conforming individuals, as rejection from family members increases, so does their likelihood of suicide attempts or substance abuse.”

During a nearly 20-minute monologue on his podcast, Walsh called such necessary care “mutilation,” said that advocates of best practice care for trans kids are trying to “undermine the legal, scientific, and philosophical case against pedophilia,” and claimed that a “child who is put on hormones and who has their body being mutilated is being sexually violated in a way that is just as depraved or damaging as molestation or rape.” He also repeatedly cited anti-trans author Abigail Shrier’s flawed theories on “social contagion” of transgender identity in adolescents (she has also compared being trans to having anorexia and joining a cult).

Walsh also attacked doctors who serve trans youth, calling them “evil — we’re talking about Nazi scientist-evil” and “pedophiles,” and he said performing affirming procedures has “plastic surgeons basically acting like Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The podcast’s episode is even titled “The Evil Quacks Mutilating Our Children.”

Instead of supporting best practice medical care, Walsh seemingly advocated for the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy for trans kids, saying that “the goal of therapy should be quite literally the exact opposite” of affirming a child’s gender identity. 

Walsh’s podcast was shared on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, seemingly in violation of their hate speech policies

Facebook’s community standards define hate speech “as a direct attack against people on the basis of what we call protected characteristics,” including gender identity and expression. The platform prohibits “dehumanizing speech or imagery in the form of comparisons, generalizations, or unqualified behavioral statements,” including baselessly describing people as a “sexual predator” or as “violent and sexual criminals.” Additionally, Facebook banned posts that “advertise or promote” conversion therapy in 2020.

Similarly, YouTube’s hate speech policy states that the platform will “remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups” based on attributes including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex or gender. It also bans “conspiracy theories saying individuals or groups are evil, corrupt, or malicious based on any of the attributes noted above.” YouTube cites examples of content that violates the policy, including videos that “allege the superiority of a group over those with any of the attributes noted above to justify violence, discrimination, segregation, or exclusion.” Notably, the platform has removed videos in the past for comparing being trans to having mental illness.

Likewise, Twitter’s hateful conduct policy states that users “may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of … sexual orientation, gender, [or] gender identity.” The company also claims to be “committed to combating abuse motivated by hatred, prejudice or intolerance, particularly abuse that seeks to silence the voices of those who have been historically marginalized,” including “women, people of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual individuals, marginalized and historically underrepresented communities.”

Despite these policies against hate speech targeting trans people, Walsh shared the May 24 episode of his podcast on all three platforms. He shared and pinned it to his Facebook page, part of the Daily Wire’s network of several anti-LGBTQ pundits with large Facebook platforms which is often used to misinform about trans people; uploaded it to YouTube, where it has earned almost 52,000 views in under 24 hours; and shared and pinned it on his Twitter account.

If Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are serious about their claims to care about their LGTBQ users, they should not tolerate Matt Walsh and the Daily Wire network’s continued use of their platforms to attack trans people and lie about them.

Brianna January is a researcher for the LGBTQ program at Media Matters. Brianna holds a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and has a background in LGBTQ human rights and advocacy.

The preceding piece was originally published by Media Matters for America and is republished with permission.

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