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Instagram’s anti-LGBTQ trolls use algorithms & zap gay influencers

Your account has been disabled for pretending to be someone else

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Matthew Olshefski & Paul Castle (Photo Credit: Matthew Olshefski & Paul Castle)

SEATTLE – The never-ending war by LGBTQ+ creators to protect their accounts against bullies who manipulate the automated fiefdom that is Instagram, has once again claimed another casualty as two gay Instagrammers had their account disabled with no apparent hope of appeal.

The reason is that the social media company, owned by Facebook, is built on a system that makes it nearly impossible to restore an account, have a fair hearing with human interaction, or even receive email communications to dispute the company’s seemingly arbitrary decisions to disable or delete an account.

This allows the anti-LGBTQ+ trolls who target LGBTQ+ people nearly free reign.

There is a long history of the Instagram “systems” targeting LGBTQ people, based on the ability of online trolls to be able to manipulate those systems. In May of 2017, Joe Putignano, the author of the bestseller “Acrobaddict” and a gay man who is also a Cirque du Soleil performing artist, model, and a Broadway performer wrote in the Huffington Post,

“We have learned that Instagram does not investigate pictures or accounts that get removed; it is based on an algorithm and bot from a number of reports that deem the account to be either inappropriate or unfit. Instagram claims to take their harassment and bullying seriously; however in a world where LBGTQ people are still considered “inappropriate” where anything we do is considered “adult content” or “pornographic,” then this raises the question “Is our community actually truly safe from discrimination and harassment?”

He then added, “My own account, @joeputignano, had 264.2K followers and disappeared last week when Instagram decided to delete it without word or warning. I woke up in the morning, and it was gone. I was someone who had been harassed since the inception of my account and had been very public about that harassment because I was trying to get help to stop it. It wasn’t a minor harassment either; it was an army of people with fake accounts using homophobic slurs and remarks to report every photo I posted.”

Like most people caught up in the never-ending vortex of non-communications and auto-response, Putignano, also received no answers. However after a concerted campaign of Facebook posts and publicity the social media company relented and reactivated his account.

For husbands Matthew Olshefski & Paul Castle, not unlike Putignano, they now also face the never-ending battle with the social media giant trying to regain access and reestablish their account disabled due to the anti-LGBTQ forces that bully the community at large and Instagram which makes no allowances to stop this scenario from repeating.

(Photo Credit: Matthew Olshefski & Paul Castle)

Shortly after Matthew and Paul went on their first date in 2016, they started sharing their stories and talents on the internet.

Paul is an artist with a rare form of blindness, and Matthew is a classical violinist who survived a cult in his childhood years. Bonded by their love of the arts, and a shared understanding of “overcoming the odds”, not only did Matthew and Paul become social media influencers: They fell in love and got married.

Along the way, their combined creative forces garnered 100,000 instagram followers, 150,000 TikTok followers, 200,000 Facebook followers, and over 15 million YouTube views.

Matthew shared his beautiful violin music; Paul shared his paintings and illustrations; and together they shared a love story built on unconditional support and a deep admiration for each other.

When the pandemic forced the world indoors last March, Matthew and Paul started their own podcast called “His and His” which touts itself as a “conversation between husbands.” Each week, Matthew and Paul discuss different topics relating to their experiences as gay men. From coming out, to dealing with homophobia, to getting married.

“We  had no idea our podcast would resonate with so many people around the world. We have received countless messages from listeners thanking us for giving them the courage to be themselves,” says Paul. “We were so humbled.”

At the launch of their podcast, Matthew and Paul also started a joint Instagram page simply called “Matthew and Paul” where they shared daily pictures along with essay-style posts about their lives together.

“I was stunned by the reaction to our Instagram page,” says Matthew. “I had no idea our stories would bring hope to so many people. Every day we received hundreds of messages from people around the world, thanking us for being so open about our lives and experiences.”

Within a handful of months, the Instagram page grew to 33,000 followers.

“We’ve been creating social media content for over 4 years. This was the fastest growth we’ve ever seen. Something was really connecting with people,” says Paul. “We were thrilled to be representing a same-sex relationship in such a positive way.”

Matthew and Paul’s social media presence began to shift from hobby, to part-time work, and finally to a full-time job. By May of 2020, social media influencing was their primary source of income.

Then, on the morning of December 20, 2020, Matthew and Paul logged onto their shared Instagram account only to find…nothing.

It was gone.

A single message appeared onscreen informing them that their account was disabled for violating Instagram’s terms of use. A second window revealed the “violation” in question.

“Your account has been disabled for pretending to be someone else.”

Matthew and Paul were stunned. Pretending to be someone else? For the past 4 years, all Matthew and Paul had aimed to do was be their most authentic selves. It was, in fact, the most frequent comment from their fanbase.

“It’s ironic that we were accused of being someone else,” says Paul, “when our fans and followers thank us for being ‘real’ on a daily basis.”

The next window prompted Matthew and Paul to submit photo identification and await an email from Instagram within 24 hours. An email never came.

“While we waited for the email, we did some research online and discovered people in similar situations waited over 2 months to hear back from Instagram” says Matthew, “and others never heard back at all.”

Meanwhile, their many fans were concerned and confused. What happened to the daily pictures and stories of love that had provided them with so much hope?

“We love bringing this kind of content to the world,” says Paul. “But it’s more than just a bunch of pictures and posts; it’s a message of equality and representation in a world where homophobia still thrives.”

They have been left wondering: Was the takedown an act of discrimination?

“We want answers,” adds Matthew, “but more importantly, we want to get back to what we were doing, being our most authentic selves.” 

This is not an issue that occurs in isolated circumstances either it is widespread on the Instagram platform. Adding to the frustrations of LGBTQ users who have lost access to their accounts is the fact that like most of the IT/Internet companies in the San Francisco Bay area which have gone remote as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its continuing grip on California and elsewhere, Instagram is not staffed except remotely.

A source knowledgeable of the company’s operations but not authorized to speak to the media told the Blade that almost complete reliance on the automated systems and next to no human oversight as a result of the remote virtual work environment has developed into a backlog of disputed decisions on accounts that have been disabled- as a direct result of the algorithms being tripped by repeated so-called ‘complaints’ over content in particular.

The Los Angeles Blade has reached out to Instagram for comment but has not received a response.

Related Story:

https://www.losangelesblade.com/2020/12/15/tiktok-deleted-my-account-because-im-a-latina-trans-woman/

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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life

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Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.

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Listen to the full interview:

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are

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Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:https://transchorusla.org/

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.

Wisdom.

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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