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5 things social media platforms can do to combat anti-LGBTQ disinformation

Social media platforms have a major anti-LGBTQ disinformation problem

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WASHINGTON – Social media platforms have a major anti-LGBTQ disinformation problem that enables myths, lies, and misleading content to spread to large audiences and earn high engagement. These platforms have occasionally shown that they are capable of quelling disinformation and removing or flagging misleading content, but they are not consistent in enforcing their own policies and protecting LGBTQ people. There are several actions that they can take to do so in 2021.

In July, a Media Matters study found that during a year-long time period, right-wing sources earned nearly two-thirds of total Facebook interactions on trans-related content that had more than 100,000 interactions (reactions, comments, shares). In particular, over one-third of content that met the criteria for the study was content about trans athletes and medical care for trans youth published by right-leaning outlets. 

When YouTube and Facebook allow anti-LGBTQ groups and media to attack and spread disinformation about trans people, there are real world consequences. Harmful narratives divert attention from important issues facing the community such as employment discrimination and high rates of violence. And when trans youth and their families use these platforms, they are fed a stream of disinformation that could result in parents denying their children critical care or rejecting their identities, which can harm trans kids’ physical and mental well-being

The failure of social media platforms to prevent the spread of anti-LGBTQ disinformation also comes as conservatives allege bias against right-wing content, especially on Facebook, which Media Matters has extensively and repeatedly debunked. Despite this, Facebook has consistently caved to conservative demands

Under existing or new community guidelines, social media platforms have removed anti-LGBTQ content, including content that compares being trans to having a mental illness and that promotes conversion therapy, a harmful practice that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people. However, platforms’ enforcement of these rules is inconsistent and inadequate, and disinformation still runs rampant.

Here are five actions the platforms can take to help stop the spread of anti-LGBTQ disinformation:

1. YouTube should enforce its hate speech policy prohibiting content that says being trans is a mental illness

YouTube has a hate speech policy that forbids claims “that individuals or groups are physically or mentally inferior, deficient, or diseased” based on sexual orientation or gender identity, among other categories. Under this policy, it has removed several videos for comparing being trans to having a mental illness, yet many others remain on the platform. YouTube must consistently enforce this existing policy and remove videos that break it.

In November, the platform removed two anti-trans videos from right-wing propaganda network PragerU’s The Candace Owens Show for violating this policy. In both videos, host Candace Owens compared being trans to having schizophrenia. She compared being trans to having a “mental disorder” in one and trans people to “anorexics” in the other.

However, Media Matters found several other videos still on YouTube that do the same thing. For example, another episode of The Candace Owens Show features “ex-trans” activist Walt Heyer, who called being trans a “psychological disorder” and said that adult trans people are not actually transgender but rather have “a sexual fetish disorder.” During a clip of an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience on YouTube, host Joe Rogan and his guest anti-trans author Abigail Shrier compared being trans to convincing yourself you have a problem with “cutting, demonic possession, witchcraft, anorexia, bulimia.”  Additionally, another video of an anti-trans conference at right-wing group the Heritage Foundation includes panelists saying that many trans kids have “neuropsychiatric conditions” and that affirming them is “causing them to be depressed and anxious about who they are.” In fact, trans youth are less likely to suffer from depression and suicidal ideation if they are accepted.

2. Facebook should continue removing pro-conversion therapy posts and pages

In July, Facebook and Instagram announced a policy banning posts that “advertise or promote” conversion therapy, and after Media Matters’ reporting, Facebook subsequently removed several posts and a page for doing so. Despite the policy and action, some of the removed posts have been reinstated and other similar posts and pro-conversion therapy pages remain active on the site. Facebook must consistently enforce its policy and take action against posts and pages that repeatedly break the rules.

In October, Facebook removed the page for pro-conversion therapy group Restored Hope Network, which consistently promoted the practice. That page has remained off the platform since then. However, in July, Facebook removed several posts from the Facebook page for International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice (IFTCC), a worldwide network of conversion therapy practitioners, but later reinstated several of those posts. Those posts cite prominent conversion “therapists” and include a video with advice for conversion therapy practitioners and others that falsely suggest  “Schema therapy” and “professionals and pastoral mentors” can successfully change LGBTQ people. It is unclear why those posts were reinstated, as Facebook is notoriously opaque on its policies and their enforcement.

Several of IFTCC’s posts were never removed, including several posts that suggest people are not innately LGBTQ and another that says, “Not only is it inaccurate to tell clients that change is not possible, it is also unethical for therapists to impose their agendas on clients.” 

Additionally, the Facebook page for pro-conversion therapy group Voice of the Voiceless (VoV) has posted testimony from people claiming conversion therapy is effective or who have otherwise claimed to have changed their sexual orientation. It has also highlighted conversion therapy practitionersconferences and webinars. Thus far, Facebook has not taken any action on these posts or the VoV page. 

3. Platforms should adopt policies explicitly prohibiting deadnaming and misgendering

In 2018, Twitter updated its hateful conduct policy — which prohibits “repeated and/or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone” — to include “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.” Facebook and YouTube, however, do not have these same protections; they must follow Twitter’s example in order to protect LGBTQ users from harassment and discrimination.

Misgendering is when someone is referred to as a different gender than the one that person identifies with, and deadnaming is when someone calls a trans person by “the name they used before they transitioned” rather than the name they currently go by. Facebook and YouTube currently have hate speech policies that prohibit targeted harassment based on gender identity and sexual orientation, but they do not specifically mention misgendering or deadnaming in their policies. 

Facebook’s hate speech policy under its community standards specifically prohibits “statements denying existence” and referring to transgender or nonbinary people as “it.”  Its bullying and harassment policies prohibit targeting private individuals with “claims about romantic involvement, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Similarly, YouTube’s harassment and cyberbullying policy states, “We also do not allow content that targets an individual with prolonged or malicious insults based on intrinsic attributes” including sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, the platform’s hate speech policy says it 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.

4. Platforms should stop monetizing anti-trans disinformation and hate

Social media platforms YouTube and Facebook have earned money from anti-LGBTQ advertisements and helped right-wing groups raise money off of anti-trans content, despite having policies that allegedly prohibit this. They should enforce and strengthen those policies and prevent the monetization of transphobia. 

During the 2020 election, Facebook earned thousands of dollars from American Principles Project, an anti-LGBTQ group that ran misleading ads about trans kids and the Equality Act in order to campaign against Democratic candidates including Joe Biden. Facebook removed some of the ads after Politifact found that the ads’ claims include predictions “we can’t fact-check” and that one ad was “missing context and could mislead people.” Despite this, the group eventually ran ads repeating those claims that were not removed. Furthermore, Facebook has allowed anti-LGBTQ outlet The Daily Wire to run paid political ads — including at least one that targets and misgenders actor Elliot Page for coming out as trans — despite its temporary ban on them.

Similarly, YouTube allowed PragerU to raise over $25,000 off of a video featuring a client of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom, who repeatedly misgendered trans athletes and fearmongered about their participation in sports. The YouTube Giving program says that nonprofits must follow YouTube’s Community Guidelines that supposedly protect trans people. The program says that participating organizations must “follow YouTube’s monetization policies both on and off of YouTube,” which PragerU has repeatedly run afoul of.

5. Facebook should stop allowing The Daily Wire to use a coordinated network of pages to spread disinformation

The Daily Wire is a wildly successful right-wing outlet that regularly spreads anti-LGBTQ disinformation and bigotry through online content, podcasts, and social media. It operates a network of Facebook pages that share the same content at the same time, helping it reach large audiences. Facebook should stop allowing these pages to spread the outlet’s content in a coordinated manner.

Facebook started marking these pages as operated by Daily Wire after a series of reporting from Judd Legum’s Popular Information, and several pages now display language that they are “Proudly managed by the Daily Wire.” These pages previously did not disclose that relationship. Although the relationship between the pages and the outlet is more transparent, Facebook still allows the coordinated network to game the system and earn high engagement.

In October 2019, Legum reported on how Daily Wire’s network seemed to violate Facebook’s Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior policy, which removes networks of pages that mislead “about the identity, purpose, or origin of the entity that they represent” and use “multiple Facebook or Instagram assets” to do so. Facebook originally denied that Daily Wire had broken content-sharing rules, but Popular Information reported in July that Facebook finally acknowledged that the outlet was violating “policies against undisclosed paid relationships between publishers.”

The Daily Wire’s use of this network helps it spread anti-trans and other right-wing content and disinformation to large audiences. In fact, a Media Matters study found that The Daily Wire was one of the most successful outlets posting about trans issues during a year time period. 

The Daily Wire has several anti-LGBTQ pundits with large media platforms, including Matt WalshMichael Knowles, and Ben Shapiro, the site’s founder. Their Facebook pages also share content at the exact same time as other pages in the outlet’s network.

This article was originally published by Media Matters and is republished by permission.

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Texas Christians terrorize church supporting Trans Christians

Neidert often appears to call for violence against LGBTQ people. Twitter banned her from the platform this summer for that reason

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Graphic from First Christian Church of Katy, and Swastika-wearing anti-LGBTQ “Christian” protestor.

By James Finn | DETROIT – Protect Texas Kids, a group led by anti-LGBTQ activist Kelly Neidert (who describes herself as both an Evangelical Christian and a Christian fascist) are protesting today outside the First Christian Church of Katy, Texas.

Neidert made a big name for herself in conservative circles as a student at the University of North Texas when she led protests demanding anti-LGBTQ policies. She often appears on Fox NewsOne America NewsNewsmaxInfowars, and the QAnon-linked Real America’s Voice.

Today’s protest is a serious threat for First Christian Church, because Neidert’s group has a track record of violence and extremism that can fairly be called terrorism.

Neidert often appears to call for violence against LGBTQ people. Twitter banned her from the platform this summer for that reason.

Neidert describes LGBTQ people and symbols like the rainbow flag as “disgusting,” falsely claiming that same-sex marriage has led to a wave of “pedophilia” and “child abuse” across the country. She reserves the bulk of her anger for transgender people and drag queens, although she seems to have difficulty distinguishing between the sometimes-overlapping groups of people.

(Most drag queens are cisgender gay men, although being a gay man is not part of the definition of drag queen. Some trans men and women do drag. Some cisgender straight people do drag too.)

Neidert has not commented on reports of actual, pervasive child-sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches or on findings that the Southern Baptist Convention covered up such abuse for almost two decades, keeping lists of credibly accused Southern Baptist child abusers secret from parents of children at risk.

Image from Transparent Closet, sponsored by First Christian Church of Katy, Texas.

Neidert’s group is protesting because First Christian Church is raising money to support local transgender people

The church runs a modest charity called Transparent Closet, a free boutique aimed at supporting young LGBTQ people, including trans teenagers, in the conservative west Houston suburb of Katy.

The church’s work feels to me like genuine Christian love in action.

LGBTQ youth in conservative areas report feeling isolated and alone, under attack by lawmakers and activists. Groups like Trevor Project and Rainbow Youth Project USA report that crisis calls from suicidal transgender teens in Texas are flooding in at alarming and increasing rates.

Trevor Project has announced hiring and fundraising drives to address what it calls an unprecedented spike in demand.

Rainbow Youth case managers have told the Los Angeles Blade that over 66% percent of their crisis calls nationwide come from Texas.

First Christian Church is reaching out locally to offer love and support to a uniquely vulnerable group of people. They recently announced a fundraising evening of “adult bingo” featuring “family-friendly” drag entertainment.

For those who may not know, drag is a tongue-in-cheek art form that features exaggerated costumes and (usually) lip syncing to vocals by pop music stars. While drag for adults occasionally parodies burlesque, “family-family drag” means performances that are free of sexualized content.

Neidert’s “Christian” organization has a disturbing Texas track record

At Texas events protesting LGBTQ events last summer, members of Protect Texas Kids showed up waving guns, wearing white nationalist and even Nazi symbols. The supposedly Christian protestors shouted slurs like “faggot” and “pedophile” at families that included teenagers and young children. Men wearing swastikas (like in the tweet above) and other white-supremacist symbols often surrounded Neidert as bodyguards.

For more photos of Nazis and white supremacists at Neidert’s “Christian” protests last summer, see this story in The Houston Chronicle.

When did conservative Christianity decide to focus on hatred?

I was raised Baptist and spent part of my childhood in Baptist churches in the South, but I don’t recognize the faith of my childhood. I recognize perfectly well that Baptist churches have always taken strong theological stands against homosexuality, but what’s happening today in that Texas protest is something very different.

Screaming profanity, threatening violence, and marginalizing vulnerable people is something Baptists of my youth, even the most conservative Baptists, would have distanced themselves from at all cost. In my day, Evangelicals seemed to take Jesus’s teachings too seriously to engage in open terrorism.

I should add a strong caveat that some of the Baptists of my childhood were outspoken racists, so I’m not trying to paint them in an entirely positive light. I’m just saying that waving swastikas, brandishing guns, and screaming at parents and children is an escalation I would never have expected from 21st century Christians, no matter how conservative.

But that’s exactly what’s happening right not, maybe even as you read this story.

Protect Texas Kids protestors are expected to show up today outside First Christian Church at about 5pm Houston time. A group of Christians who say they hate the “LGBTQ agenda” will begin screaming profanities at Christians working to welcome and support beleaguered transgender people. Only one of those groups of Christians seems to remember Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Speaking of “doing for the least of these,” First Christian Church did not cancel their fundraiser when they learned about the planned protest, despite having suffered vandalism three times in recent weeks in attacks they say are related to their message that LGBTQ Christians are welcome and affirmed in their congregation.

They’re going ahead as planned, apparently because they take seriously Jesus’s command to love.

What about you? Do you want to help push back against astonishing waves of hatred coming from self-described Christians? Whether you’re Christian or not, you can help First Christian Church in Katy by reaching out on Facebook with encouragement and love.

Do you know LGBTQ families in need? Do you feel helpless or hopeless? Rainbow Youth volunteers are ready to help. Right now.

Also, please consider contacting Rainbow Youth Project USA to learn how you can make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ teenagers in crisis.

Click to visit Rainbow Youth

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, 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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Meet Kody & his Mom: Homeless LGBTQ refugees from Florida

It was either leave Florida or watch her 16-year-old transgender son wither and possibly die- She had good reason to fear

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A group of LGBTQ young people at a homeless shelter (Blade file photo)

By James Finn | DETROIT – What would you do as a parent if your comfortable home and middle-class lifestyle were killing your kid?

Pack up whatever possessions you could fit in your car? Drive 1,300 miles over four anxiety-filled days, spending almost your last penny to get your son to safety? I can hear parents everywhere shouting, “Of course! That’s what parents do!”

When I lived in Germany, I met parents who fled conflict zones and impoverished themselves to give their kids a shot at safety and happiness. I never dreamed I would meet fellow Americans who chose to become refugees right here in the U.S.

Then two nights ago, I spend two hours on the phone with “Kate” and “Kody,” who just fled Florida for a New York homeless shelter.

53-year-old Kate tells me she had no choice. It was either leave Florida or watch her 16-year-old transgender son wither and possibly die.

She had good reason to fear.

Years ago, she spent a month sleeping on a sofa in the living room with Kody. He was only 13, he’d tried to overdose, and even though he said he was fine, she wouldn’t let him out of her sight.

Everything got better for a while. Kody made friends with other trans kids, he started puberty blockers, he felt good about himself, and life seemed okay. Kate let her guard down, and then … all hell broke loose.

This is Kody’s story. And Kate’s.

Kody tells me on the phone that he first realized he was trans when he was 7. I’ve only emailed the family up to now, and I’m interested to note that Kody sounds like a typical 14 or 15-year-old boy. His voice is reedy and rough — not yet a man’s but no longer a boy’s. He’s sharp. Talkative. Well informed. If I didn’t already know he was 16, I might have guessed 17 or 18.

He and Kate are on speakerphone with me, and he tells me he didn’t have a label for transgender at 7, but he knew. When he was 8, he told Kate.

Kate says her first instinct was denial.

“I went through all the stages-of-grief process, including fear and terror, in about 15 minutes. He was just looking at me, and I didn’t say anything. Then I said to myself, ‘Shit, this isn’t about me.’ I thought about how scared he must be about all the things he would have to face.”

Kody tells me, “My mom’s support and her open mindedness was pretty quick. The next day she was like, ‘What do you need me to do, and what do we do next?’”

He didn’t come out to anybody else for years, but he was a stubborn little boy. He couldn’t bring himself to wear a uniform skirt to school. “The staff was adamant, but I refused. They finally stopped trying to make me. Otherwise, I flew under the radar.”

Then as puberty started, Kody started to spiral. Kate says she’d been worried, knowing the changes would be traumatizing. One day when Kody was about 11, he walked into the bathroom to take a shower and noticed his shoulder-length hair in the mirror.

“I had started puberty early, and did not want to be viewed as a girl. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was like, ‘That has to go!’ I took my grade-school baby scissors and chopped it all off.”

Kate laughs a little, remembering how crazy Kody’s hair looked. Then she says, “When you came out of that bathroom, it completely broke my heart.”

She took him to a barber, got him a buzz cut he loved, and that began his difficult public coming-out process.

“Mom knew how serious things were getting. I was beginning to lose friends, so she researched community support. She eventually found a program called Compass.”

Compass is an LGBTQ community center in Palm Beach County that offers a peer-support group for youth. Kody started attending and making friends when he was 12.

“That’s when my social transition got more pronounced. I had my name picked out, and I was sort of telling teachers as I went along. Then I came out to my dad. He was often busy at work and was not as present as average, but we had a decent relationship.

“One morning when he got up about 6:30, I asked him if he could talk to me for a second. He was in my room beside my bed. I took my blanket and threw it over my head so I couldn’t look at him. I blurted really quickly, ‘I think I might be trans.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, that’s it?’ I took the blanket off, and he said, ‘That’s OK.’”

Kody’s dad did not reject or mistreat him, but he remained in Kody’s words, “not present.”

Despite family and peer support, Kody spiraled further.

“I had just gotten into 7th grade at a new [public] school and it was the worst school year of my life. I was getting bullied a lot. I was extremely depressed and started seeing a psychiatrist and taking anti-depression medication. It wasn’t working. I was still bullied and severely depressed. Staff were not queer friendly. There was only one other trans student at school.”

Students and staff constantly bullied Kody and the other trans kid. “The guidance counselor told both of us separately that Jesus would save us [from being trans]. She said we still have time and we don’t understand what we’re feeling, but Jesus does.”

Kody tells me with a mixture of amusement and anger that the other kid is Jewish. Kate was incensed, but there wasn’t much she could do. Besides, she had her hands full.

Kody began to have “meltdowns.” He says, “When mom got me up for school, I would scream, cry, kick, whatever.”

One day on the way to school, “Mom handed me the bottle of antidepressants and I stared for about 30 seconds. Then I opened it to take my medicine, and in one swell swoop I took all of them.”

I’m not expecting Kody to say this, so I’m shocked into silence. When I catch my breath, I say, “You were only 13. Did you take those pills to send a message or did you really intend to die?”

Kody voice goes whisper quiet. “I really wanted to die.”

He moves on fast. “Mom immediately pulled over to a gas station, called dad and asked him what to do. I tried to throw up and did a little. It was mostly regret but also because I didn’t like the way my mom felt.”

Kody was hospitalized for quite a while, although the medications he took aren’t lethal even at high doses. Doctors worried he’d try again, and when he finally came home, Kate went into hyper-protective mom mode, not letting him out of her sight even to sleep.

Kate realized something had to change fast.

She reached out to Compass Center staff, and they got her a list of six local doctors who do gender therapy. She found one who took their insurance and who eventually prescribed puberty blockers to ease Kody’s traumatizing dysphoria. She panicked over the impossible $4,000.00 annual price tag. Then she qualified for a financial aid program, and Kody received his first of four quarterly injections to put his sexual maturation on hold.

“Did that help?” I ask.

His tone says, ‘Not really.’

“By the time I started them, I was well into being 14. They stopped my cycle, which was the worst part. They slowed breast growth but didn’t reverse existing growth.”

He took the shots for about a year, then on his doctor’s advice, he started testosterone. For almost another year, things started looking up.

That’s when the “hell” I mentioned broke loose.

The State of Florida passed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which filled local news with angry voices of conservative parents hating on trans students and calling their parents groomers and pedophiles. Kody watched carefully as the Texas governor announced child-abuse investigations of parents with transgender children.

When the governor of Florida suggested he’d do the same thing, Kody felt guilt that he might hurt his parents and intense fear that he’d be taken from them. His grades suffered and so did his mental health.

Kate says, “I became terrified of child abuse investigations and Kody being put in foster care. He could not survive in the system. This was a matter of life or death.”

Then as if things weren’t bad enough, Kody’s doctor moved away.

Kate went back to Compass for a referral, but their list of 6 doctors willing to treat trans kids had shrunk to one, and when Kate called up, that practice didn’t take her insurance.

Kody was forced to stop testosterone cold turkey, and his mental health took a nosedive.

Together, mom and son decided they absolutely had to get out of Florida. They planned it for months.

New York was Kody’s idea.

Trans teens he talked to there told him they felt safe and supported at school instead of bullied. He needed that! Kate saved every dime she could, and in a leap of desperate faith, packed the car up at the beginning of September and started driving her son toward hope. She tells me she didn’t have concrete plans, that she struggled with extreme anxiety for the four days the trip took.

I ask her what the final straw was. “What got you in that car?”

Her voice shakes. “My son lost another one of his peers.”

I don’t know what that means, so Kody spells it out. “I had a trans friend I’d known for years and got the news he committed suicide.”

Kate says, “That for me was it!” She became convinced that getting Kody to New York was a matter of saving his life. Nothing would stop her, not even anxiety.

Things are finally looking up.

I first learned about this when Kate emailed me from New York several days ago. She wrote to thank me for my recent article about the Rainbow Youth Project, which provides crisis support for LGBTQ kids. She wrote that she was reaching out to them and felt really hopeful and — finally — not alone.

I immediately contacted Rainbow Youth and after a couple days learned they were working to arrange medical care. Kody is assigned to a case manager now, and from what I know of the organization, they’ll do whatever it takes to get him the care he needs.

By the end of the call, Kody’s voice sounds more than reedy and rough. It sounds happy. Full of hope.

He describes the tiny, kitchen-less room they’re sleeping in as clean and private — as if living in a homeless shelter is the least of his worries. He’s excited about school, which he says he loves. He’s making friends. His teachers are calling him by his chosen name using he/him pronouns. All he had to do was ask!

In Florida, he says, “It’s like pulling teeth.”

About New York, he adds, “I am incredibly optimistic. Obviously, we face a lot of hardships getting into stable living, but I no longer have this looming dread waking up in the morning.”

Kody and Kate are going to be okay, but the desperate situation they found themselves in is shared by far too many LGBTQ families in the U.S.

Many parents of transgender kids in conservative states are scared to death about abuse investigations and lack of health care. Rainbow Youth case managers tell me Kody’s lack of access to a doctor is becoming normal in some red states, particularly Florida and Texas.

In Texas, child abuse investigations have been stopped by the courts, allowed again, and stopped again in some cases. Parents have no idea what to expect.

This summer, the outspoken transgender girl Kai Shappley, who has testified multiple times before the Texas Legislature to advocate for transgender youth, announced a fundraiser so she and her family could flee Texas.

Kai and Kody are tips of the iceberg. I hear from LGBTQ families constantly about the danger they feel they’re in — about how becoming refugees in their own country feels like their only option to stay healthy and stay together.

Do you want to help?

Get out and vote this November. Send a message to Republican leaders that picking on LGBTQ families for political gain is a losing tactic. Do you want to help families more directly? Give generously to local and national LGBTQ organizations that provide direct services.

Read about the Rainbow Youth Project USA here, or click the graphic below to learn how you can help by volunteering time or funds.

Do you know LGBTQ families in need? Do you feel helpless or hopeless? Rainbow Youth volunteers are ready to help. Right now.

Click to visit Rainbow Youth

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, 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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Bisexual activists cautiously optimistic after White House meeting

Sept. 20 gathering took place during Bisexual Visibility Week

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From left to right: Ellyn Ruthstrom, Tania Israel, Nicole Holmes, Mimi Hoang, Ezra Young, Lauren Beach, Belle Hagget Silverman, Diana Adams, Heron Greenesmith, and Khafre Abif. Kneeling: Robyn Ochs, Fiona Dawson and Blair Imani outside the White House on Sept. 20, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Heron Greenesmith)

WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Sept. 20, just in time for Bisexual Visibility Week, a diverse group of 15 bisexual and pansexual activists met with officials from the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including Melanie Fontes Rainer, the director of the Office of Civil Rights at HHS. 

The 15 advocates comprised a wide cross-section of the bisexual community, including nonbinary, Transgender, female, young, older, Black, Asian and Muslim advocates, people with disabilities and parents. We came from many walks of life: Academia, education, research, health care, advocacy, law, media and community activism. This isn’t unusual: Bisexual people comprise more than half of all LGBT people, totally approximately 12.5 million bisexual adults in the U.S. Strikingly, 15 percent of all GenZ adults — nearly 1 in 6 — identify as bisexual. People of color are more likely to identify as bisexual, as are cisegender women and Transgender people in general. 

It has been a painful six years since the Executive Branch last met with bisexual activists (you do the math.) Those meetings, like this one, were the product of tireless advocacy from a population with zero paid organizational staff and less than one percent of all philanthropic dollars earmarked for the LGBT community. It was these stats and others that we shared at HHS on Sept. 20. 

Bisexual and pansexual people face specific disparities in mental and physical health, intimate partner violence and monkeypox prevention, treatment and care. Did you know, for example, that nearly half of bisexual women report having been raped? And did you know that federal reporting on monkeypox doesn’t disaggregate between gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men, despite evidence that bisexual men are uniquely vulnerable to MPX and other infectious diseases. 

Khafre Abif is a Black bisexual educator, father and person living with HIV. At the meeting with agency officials, Abif shared the story of how staff at his HIV-care clinic initially denied him the monkeypox vaccine, despite Abif being bisexual and thus in a population of special focus for the vaccine. 

“This meeting has been a long time coming for the bi+ community,” said Abif. “I’m looking forward to a dialogue with federal officials about solving some of the health issues we face.”

In order to begin remedying these disparities and more, we presented the administration with a set of benchmarks, including the creation of a Federal Interagency Bisexual Liaison and a Federal Interagency Bisexual Working Group. Other benchmarks included training for HHS staff on bisexual disparities and remedies thereof, funding streams for bisexual-specific funding and interventions, and the disaggregation of data on specific health disparities. 

Robyn Ochs is a pillar of bisexual and pansexual community organizing. At HHS, Ochs shared more about her specific expertise. “Research has made clear our health disparities and invisibility. It’s time for federal interventions to catch up with what we already know through research and lived experience.”

Frustrated by years of inaction by the federal government to release bisexual-specific data, target the bisexual and pansexual community with tailored interventions, or recognize the importance of bi+ health in general, we are cautiously excited by this opportunity to share critical data and remedies. 

Heron Greenesmith is the Senior Research Analyst for LGBTQI+ Justice at Political Research Associates, and the co-founder of BiLaw and the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition. Find Greenesmith on Twitter @herong.

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