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Homophobia wins in the Puerto Rico Senate

Bill to ban conversion therapy died in committee

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[Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

By Alberto J. Valentín | It is a sad day for Puerto Rico, and it is a sad day for human rights on the Caribbean island.

Last Thursday, 11 senators decided to turn their backs on children and human rights in Puerto Rico. A new Senate majority proved to be weak and on the wrong side of history, again. Eight senators from the legislative committee reviewing Senate Bill 184 to ban conversation therapy on the island voted against the bill’s report.

Today, thanks to these senators, any mental health professional can freely charge a father for “curing” his son of homosexuality or of a gender identity/expression that does not conform to social standards of “normality.” Although there has been an executive order in Puerto Rico banning conversation therapy since 2018, this order is only applicable to health institutions that have a specific connection with the government. Executive orders state mandatory requirements for the Executive Branch and have the effect of law; however, any governor can revoke them.

Senators received scientific evidence and several testimonies from LGBTQIA people who testified during public hearings. These senators also received evidence of permanent depression and suicide attempts caused by conversion therapy. However, 11 senators decided to condone hate and the intolerance towards the LGBTQIA youth on the island. One of these senators, Wanda Soto, said during one of the public hearings that “… with love anything is possible … ” in reference to her belief that kids’ sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed or cured. This senator even compared a bad personal experience with a dentist she had when she was a kid with LGBTQIA opponents’ testimonies of their experiences of going through conversion therapy.

Suicide and depression rates among LGBTQIA youth are staggering and are the highest in the entire United States compared to other reasons. These indices are a direct consequence of the intolerance, discrimination and lack of validation that our society perpetuates. LGBTQIA youth go through difficult times in their lives, including personal and family acceptance that trigger years of depression and anxiety among LGBTQIA people.

Today again, hatred wins. Today, Puerto Rico demonstrates why it is the number one jurisdiction for hate crimes in the entire United States. Today again, these 11 senators make evident why gender-based crimes continue to dominate local headlines. Today these senators are an example of the ignorance and lack of cultural competence that persist in our island. Today, these senators will be responsible for the depression and the stigma that the LGBTQIA community will continue to suffer. Today these senators are responsible for perpetuating intolerance. We take a step back as a society, demonstrating again that we cannot tolerate those who are different and who do not meet our standards of normality.

Neither the tears of Gustavo nor Elvin or Caleb, who presented their testimonies before the Puerto Rico Senate, were enough to move the hearts of these senators. The hypocritical hugs and words of support that some senators gave to these LGBTQIA people after their testimony and personally meeting them make it much harder to understand how they turned their backs on our children. Today these 11 senators are responsible for perpetuating hate crimes on the island and make our path to be a more inclusive society even harder.

Homophobia won in the Puerto Rico Senate last Thursday. There was no difference when the pro-statehood Senate majority defeated SB 1000 (banning conversion therapy) back in 2018 and now with a new majority lead by the Popular Democratic Party. Different senators, different bills, same result, but the same homophobia. Many Puerto Rican voters believed that furthering human rights would be easier to achieve on the island with a new majority in the legislature. Unfortunately, the reality is that our legislature is just a mirror of our society, and the lack of cultural competence persists among us. But we will keep fighting; this is a single lost battle, a battle among many others yet to come.

These are the 11 senators who voted against SB 184 or didn’t vote:

  1. Sen. Rubén Soto – Against
  2. Sen. Ramón Ruiz – Against
  3. Sen. Albert Torres – Against
  4. Sen. Ada García – Against
  5. Sen. Wanda Soto – Against
  6. Sen. Marissa Jimenez – Against
  7. Sen. Joanne Rodríguez – Against
  8. Sen. Thomas Rivera – Against
  9. Sen. José L. Dalmau – Absent
  10. Sen. Marially González – Absent
  11. Sen. Javier Aponte – Absent
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Ryan Walters, Libs of TikTok, gay blogger redefine Nex Benedict

Raichik spreads false info including anti-trans pseudoscience about trans identity & experiences that stoke fear, distrust & hatred

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Ryan Walters, Libs of TikTok's Chaya Raichik, gay blogger Chad Felix Greene and Nex Benedict (Los Angeles Blade file photos)

By TJ Payne | LOS ANGELES – A newly amplified twist in Nex Benedict’s narrative only continues to do him and other trans youth harm.  This latest iteration is being driven by Chaya Raichik, the notorious anti-LGBTQ+ creator of Libs of TikTok, her ally Oklahoma’s state Superintendent of its education system Ryan Walters, and Chad Felix Greene a gay blogger who contributes to the far right extremist website Red State.

Raichik’s social media posts and public appearances often focus on demonizing LGBTQ+ people. Raichik spreads false information including anti-trans pseudoscience about transgender identity and experiences that stoke fear, distrust and hatred of trans people.

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), without any consideration to Nex or his family, Raichik shared intimate details regarding the sexual abuse he endured at the hands of his father. Details of which that were known to multiple media outlets, but not considered germane to the suicide of the 16-year-old outside of being one of several contributing factors to his death with the primary areas of focus on the environment in the high school which included ongoing instances of severe transphobic bullying.

Editor’s note: Caution, the following contains transphobic rhetoric and misgendering:

“It’s the suicide lie again. Nex didn’t commit suicide because she was bullied for being LGBTQ. she committed suicide because she suffered from mental health issues and was a victim of sexual abuse by her father. She wrote suicide notes in the weeks before her death and her father was arrested again 2 weeks before she overdosed. Her issues weren’t addressed, she wasn’t helped, and she was suffering” Raichik posted two days ago.

On March 28 Raichik then posted this:

Followed by this post which embedded an article published by the anti-trans gay blogger Chad Felix Greene at the far-right website Red State:

Raichik’s attempt to redefine the circumstances regarding Benedict’s death and the causes was drawn from Greene’s published article wherein he misgendered and dead named Benedict and blamed his death on a “failed legal system, trauma struggles with mental health, and a young girl far too overwhelmed to handle it all on her own.”

This statement fails to leave out one crucial component of Benedict’s life – the harassment and bullying they experienced literally up until the day they died. Let us not forget that this all began with a fight at school, where Benedict was not allowed to use the bathroom that aligned with his gender identity. This is due to the passing of yet another anti-trans bathroom bill. The school (district) chose funding access over the safety of their students. They failed to do their one basic job and that is to protect all of the students, not just some. 

As we continue to learn more about who Nex Benedict was, and what he experienced as a young trans person, it does not surprise me that people like Greene would hop at the opportunity to blame the victim.

Benedict experienced abuse at the hands of his father at a very young age. This is a mitigating factor in his tragic death, but it is in no way the whole story. Anyone attempting to push that narrative is sorely incorrect and is failing to see the intricacies of a trans person’s life and the impact that a volatile and hateful school superintendent (Ryan Walters) can have on young people’s well-being.

Beyond Ryan Walters and his archaic ideology, an entire state that is hostile towards transgender people, with over 60 anti-trans laws introduced in 2024 alone, you cannot deny the overarching themes here. Benedict was not safe. He should have been safe at school, at the very least, and yet the Owasso High School administration failed at this. Benedict was failed more than once in his life and while his past traumas may have played a part in his decision-making, the travesty here is a system that would rather see children die, than change their ways. 

As there are escalating tensions and controversies surrounding not only the death of Benedict, but the treatment of LGBTQ+ students, especially trans and non-binary in Oklahoma schools, Superintendent Ryan Walters’s comments at a State Board of Education meeting on Thursday has further sparked anger among LGBTQ+ advocates.

Referring to the death of Benedict, Walters accused of LGBTQ advocacy groups of exploiting the tragedy for political gain.

“A woke mob formed around the death of a child. They lied. They attacked. Truth has come to light and we will not back down,” Walters said.

“At the time, we had radical left-wing activists who were aided by the fake news media who made outrageous and unfounded claims on the situation from the beginning. These radical groups lied, intentionally so, to push a political narrative,” he added.

“They wanted to use the death of a child to support a political agenda, and I think it’s absolutely disgusting, and you are going to hear these groups, this woke mob, continue to push an agenda and lie to further the most radical agenda this country has ever seen,” Walters alleged.

He then said “I will never back down to a woke mob. I will never lie to our kids or allow a radical agenda to be forced on our kids.” Walters publicly has declared that there are “not multiple genders” and that state’s schools “would not perpetuate what he considers a lie that transgender and nonbinary people exist.”

Since Benedict’s passing, the Indiana-based nonprofit the Rainbow Youth Project which provides LGBTQ+ mental health crisis counseling, has had a 500% increase in calls. Between February 16th and 20th they received 349 calls from Oklahoma, during a time they normally would average 87 calls per week. 69% of those callers mentioned Benedict’s death. 85% said they were experiencing bullying at school, 79% were in fear of their physical safety, and more than 10% were students at Owasso High School, where Benedict attended. 

According to the 2022 U.S Transgender Survey, 60% of 16 and 17-year-old respondents experienced one or more forms of “mistreatment or negative experience, including verbal harassment, physical attacks, online bullying, being denied the ability to dress according to their gender identity/expression, teachers or staff refusing to use chosen name or pronouns, or being denied the use of restrooms or locker rooms matching their gender identity”.

In Oklahoma (U.S Trans Survey, 2015) 46% of those students were verbally harassed, 19% attacked, and 10% sexually assaulted. 17% faced such severe mistreatment that they left school all together. 56% of trans people in Oklahoma avoided using a public restroom because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience. 

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TJ Payne is an investigative journalist and forensic analyst based in Los Angeles. He is a doctoral candidate at the California School of Forensic Studies, where he is researching the Trans Panic Defense. TJ enjoys exploring abandoned places, napping with his dog Brody, and road trips. 

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What happens now? Autopsy confirms what we already knew

But if we keep pushing, keep organizing, and keep shining our lights on the real villains in America, maybe we can save some of our kids

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Nex Benedict's gravesite in Collinsville, Oklahoma. (Photo By TJ Payne)

By TJ Payne | LOS ANGELES – As my day is coming to an end, in my sweet protective bubble State of California, I am still sitting with Nex Benedict’s autopsy report. Since first reading it while I sipped my black coffee this morning, from the comfort of my couch, I’ve printed it out and shuffled through it several times throughout the day.

Each time I’m left feeling as if I am sinking further into the ground where I’ll eventually shrivel away and be forgotten. As if this were a place where all trans people go to be forgotten, the void if you will. I never want Nex to be forgotten. I never want to forget Nex. Maybe that is why I subject myself to the discomfort of reading his full autopsy report that was released to the public this morning.

It doesn’t come close to what I imagine Nex was feeling for quite some time. It is hard to articulate what it feels like as a transgender person to read through this report though, of a young trans teen. The language used to describe our insides, as we lay on a freezing cold metal table; intact, not unusual, and normal. Why is it that we can’t be described like this in other spaces, instead of being called filth? Instead of being villains, pedophiles, or perverts, why are we not granted this dignity in life, as we are in death? 

Earlier this month, I decided to take it upon myself and visit Owasso, Oklahoma in hopes of meeting those closest to Nex. To get a better sense of the culture, the vibe, even, that pulsed through this small town in the south.

I met with local and national organization leaders who expressed their disgust with the current trend in anti-trans legislation that continues to flood the entirety of the state. Several of them informed me that since Nex’s death, crisis call centers have had a 300%+ increase, with data analysts learning that callers directly referenced Nex’s death. anti-trans legislation, Christian rhetoric, and Ryan Walters as reasons for their calls and suicidal ideation.

A close friend and ex of Nex who met with me shared that “The biggest issue, for trans youth, for LGBTQ youth, for the youth in the state, the biggest issue is Ryan Walters. And the state government. We should not have a state senator calling children, filth. Point blank.”

He was fired up, passionate, and perhaps terrified as he expressed this to me. I understood all of these feelings too well as someone who was adamantly afraid of Trump coming into more power in the 2016 election. 

I also met with three mothers. Mothers of children who have experienced bullying and harassment because of their trans-identities, or their parents being out and queer. These protective mama bears shed tears for their kids having to deal with added stress at school. As if junior high and high school weren’t stressful enough, a transgender student with queer parents is going to be compounded even more than the rest.

I was in awe of such dedicated parents, and such protectiveness. That wasn’t my own experience with my mother- who misgenders me even now, as a nearly 36-year-old man with a beard and exposed chest hair. I wished I could tell these mothers’ kids just how lucky they are, and that they are in good hands, no matter what. I listened to their stories, many full of fear for their kids, but also fear of retaliation from the school, or other community members.

Their emails have gone unanswered for months by the Owasso School District administration, leaving these mothers to make the hard decisions of pulling their kids from school, some transferring to a nearby school, and some trying out homeschooling. Both outcomes blame the child, instead of the adults in positions of power taking even an ounce of accountability. Turning a blind eye to these incidents risks another child slipping through a very small crack in an already badly damaged system. 

I continued talking to residents of Owasso since I returned to Los Angeles. I’ve learned more and more about Nex, and about the injustices he experienced throughout his life before even arriving at Owasso High School.

In all my conversations with friends and family, the fact that Nex experienced trauma was not ignored, but it was not his defining characteristic, as it isn’t for so many of us. It would be ignorant to say that abuse does not impact a person, but it cannot be said how exactly that looked for Nex.

I wanted to learn who this person was, the whole person, and this is part of his story, but I can assure you there is much more to him than all of the darkness that may have clouded him. He loved to cook. Nex’s aunt but legally sister (after he was adopted by Sue Benedict) shared a story with me about Nex coming to Texas to visit her when he was 14.

The family took him to a grocery store and told him to pick out his ingredients of choice and to cook whatever he wanted. He made a magical octopus dish that stunned them all while bonding with his aunt’s partner. While out shopping, Sue picked out an animal skull of some sort, knowing instinctively that he would love it.

He was a defender of his friends and enjoyed play-fighting. Nex was thoughtful and romantic. His favorite band was Ghost, a theatrical metal band that I have come to love now too. He had layers, and intricacies to his being – that includes his gender identity, and the fluidity that comes with that as a young trans person. As a trans person, I can vouch for this process. It is all such a process, a sometimes painful one, and he was barely getting started. He barely had a chance to be Nex. 

We must do better, now. There is no time to dilly-dally or to assume the next generation will take care of our shortcomings. We have to hold people and systems accountable. We have to hold each other accountable. We have to protect one another, hold one another. Because if we don’t, we will continue to lose our youth.

We will have more and more Nex’s, more frequently, more tragically. Nex’s story has placed a microscope on a school district with a rich history of failures, bullying, and now, a child’s death. This is not an isolated incident, however, and there are more trans youth suicides than any other demographic in the United States. Who will be next? Because the reality is, there will be another one.

But if we keep pushing, keep organizing, and keep shining our lights on the real villains in America, maybe we can save some of our kids.

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TJ Payne is an investigative journalist and forensic analyst based in Los Angeles. He is a doctoral candidate at the California School of Forensic Studies, where he is researching the Trans Panic Defense. TJ enjoys exploring abandoned places, napping with his dog Brody, and road trips. 

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The predictable predictability of the Oscars

Despite efforts to ensure greater diversity among its nominees, it’s the individual choices of its voters that determines the final results

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The stage at the 96th annual Oscar ceremony at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood Sunday night. (Screenshot/YouTube The Academy)

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – It’s hard to write a reaction piece about the Oscars when you recognize that the Oscars, by their very nature, are essentially a poll – or perhaps, more aptly, a popularity contest – which reflects an aggregate of personal opinions, and therefore have as much to do with internal Hollywood politics as with rewarding artistic excellence.

I’m not saying that the movies and people being celebrated on the stage at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood Sunday night – all of them, winners and nominees alike – didn’t deserve to be there; on the contrary, 2023 was an outstanding year for cinema, and every one of the contenders could be considered worthy of taking the prize.

If that’s the case, however, how can any of these outcomes be determined without the influence of personal taste? Making movies is not like playing sports, where a win results from the highest number of points scored and goals blocked; there is no such handily objective criteria to rely on in picking an actor, a screenwriter, or an entire film to proclaim as the “best” in its respective category, and it’s inevitable that Academy voters will be influenced by personal bias when they make their choices on that final ballot.

While Sunday’s 96th annual Oscar ceremony, which offered the usual snubs and oversights and no real surprises, might have disappointed me or even occasionally sparked a glimmer of outrage, I cannot fairly say that any of the final results were “mistakes.” And though it may be oversimplifying things to say that being offended by the Academy’s final choices is akin to being angry that someone else’s favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate when yours is salted caramel praline, it’s still enough to convince me that my “reaction” piece to the Academy Awards can really only ever be an “opinion” piece,

With that in mind, here we go.

The presentation itself was the usual blend of witty repartee (mostly provided with success by veteran Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel, though attempts at it from the various presenters ran the gamut from delightful to disastrous).

Musical performances (Billie Eilish and brother Finneas O’Connell’s rendition of “What Was I Made For?”, which went on to win the evening’s only award for “Barbie”, was a particular highlight, alongside the more lavish and deliciously amusing dance production number headed by Supporting Actor nominee Ryan Gosling for “I’m Just Ken” from the same film), uplifting moments (a regal Rita Moreno’s benedictory introduction of “Barbie” Supporting Actress nominee America Ferrera brought tears to my eyes, and I suspect I wasn’t alone).

Show-stopping surprises (John Cena’s teasingly faux nudity presenting the Best Costume Design award was a memorable stunt, to put it mildly, as was the combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito to do the honors in the Visual Effects and Film Editing categories) – yet it also had more than its fair share of embarrassing gaffes, such as upstaging the “In Memoriam” segment with an overblown production number accompanied by father-and-son operatic crooners Andrea and Matteo Bocelli’s duet of “Con tu partirò”, a move that has fueled perhaps more post-Oscars outrage than anything else from this year’s ceremony.

As for the politics, there were the expected barbs making fun of easy conservative targets, but most of the speeches avoided invoking too much progressive fury. The one overtly political moment came with the win of UK director Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest” for Best International Feature, when he read, in prayerlike monotone, a pre-prepared statement warning against the dehumanizing hate depicted in his slice-of-Nazi-life historical drama and calling for empathy for the targets of such hate on both sides of the current crisis in Gaza.

It was met with backlash, of course, especially after a partial quote in Variety omitted key elements of the speech and led many to believe the Jewish filmmaker was refuting his own religion.

As for the winners of the awards themselves (you can find the full list on the Oscar website) the evening’s choices fell more or less in line with my predictions – though not necessarily my preferences. 

The domination of “Oppenheimer” in most of the major categories in which it competed was, for anyone following the pre-ceremony buzz, a foregone conclusion. Few doubted that Cillian Murphy would handily claim the Best Actor prize – thwarting nominee Colman Domingo (“Rustin”) from becoming the first queer actor to win for playing a queer character in the process – or that Christopher Nolan would take the Best Director category, and from there the win for Best Picture felt as inevitable as anything can be at the Oscars.

Equally inevitable was the evening’s most easily predicted “Oppenheimer” win, as veteran Hollywood player Robert Downey, Jr. ebulliently swaggered onstage amid the enthusiastic familial cheers of his peers to claim the Best Supporting Actor prize; his acceptance speech, in which he self-deprecatingly recalled the legal and professional obstacles arising from the substance abuse that nearly derailed his early career, became a testament to overcoming personal setbacks to achieve an even higher success, something that resonated in the words of several other of the evening’s winners.

In the categories where “Oppenheimer” didn’t win, the odds were already in favor of the eventual victors, such as first-time filmmaker Cord Jefferson, whose “American Fiction” earned him the Best Adapted Screenplay Award over fellow front runners like “Barbie” and “Poor Things,” and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, whose winning Supporting Actress turn in “The Holdovers” had been a juggernaut throughout the award season.

Many Oscar fans, though most accepted the predestination of “Oppenheimer” as the year’s big winner, might rather have seen a different candidate come out on top (my own choice, for what it’s worth, would have been “Barbie,” with “Poor Things” and “Zone of Interest” coming up close behind); but even if Nolan’s weighty and technically dazzling biopic was unquestionably a fine film, exploring a deeply disturbing slice of not-too-distant history that still casts a long existential shadow over our world today, it’s impossible for me not to see in its multiple wins an all-too-familiar pattern of “safe” choices.

While “Oppenheimer” might pique ethical discussions over its title character’s choice to build the atomic bomb, few would find controversy in the idea that the destruction unleashed on the world by that choice is a reason for concern.

Its most viable competitors, “Barbie” and “Poor Things” – both of which touched on many of the same existential themes, albeit from a markedly different direction and in a more absurdist style – each stirred divisive opinions around (among other things) a perceived feminist agenda; other highly-acclaimed titles in the running, like the non-English language entries “Zone”, “Past Lives”, and “Anatomy of a Fall”, fell outside the comfortable domestic audience mainstream where Oscar’s favorite picks are usually a little too deeply-rooted to allow much opportunity for a dark horse upset.

While not many expected Bradley Cooper’s ambitious Bernstein biopic “Maestro” to take home any awards, it was considerably more noteworthy that Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” nominated for 10 Awards and widely lauded as one of the year’s most essential films, failed to score a single one of them – though I can’t help also noting that it deals with one of most shameful threads in our American past, inevitably making it a controversial movie for an era marked by deeply divided ideologies around that subject.

It’s perhaps for that reason that “Flower Moon” was not considered a front runner in most of its categories, but there was one in which it was seen as a heavy favorite. With Lily Gladstone poised to become the first Indigenous performer to win the Best Actress trophy, the odds leading up to Sunday’s presentation seemed to position them as the front runner; in the end, however, it was Emma Stone’s tour-de-force in “Poor Things” – in which she appeared in virtually every scene, in contrast to Gladstone’s relatively limited screen – that took it instead.

Though it wasn’t quite a surprise, given the number of wins Stone has garnered already for the film, which also took home the prizes for Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Production Design, it nevertheless felt – to me, at least – like another example of Oscar’s predictable reluctance to court controversy with its choices.

Ironically, but not surprisingly, this conservative approach often just ends up causing a controversy of its own, and this case is no exception. Though I had championed Stone’s brilliant performance as the obvious winner, when her name was announced I found myself feeling disappointment over Goldstone’s loss, even as I was thrilled for Stone’s well-earned victory.

After all, in a contest where the outcome is entirely subjective, Academy voters could have chosen to amplify the excellence of someone from within a marginalized community. Stone, who seemed as surprised at her win as anyone else, did remarkable work, but so did Gladstone; though it truly is “an honor just to be nominated,” it was an opportunity for Oscar to take a step toward correcting a long-ignored injustice at a time when doing so could make a demonstrably constructive impact on our culture and our society at a time when doing so would have a tremendous cultural impact, and it didn’t happen.

It was a moment that struck me with an odd sense of disappointment even as I cheered for Stone; a bit of the sour within the sweet.

That, aside from a sense of missed opportunity over the evening’s consistent pattern of favoring the middle-of-the-road prestige represented by “Oppenheimer” over the edgier, more confrontational material presented by some of the other titles on the slate, was my biggest takeaway from the Academy Awards.

Though I can’t say that any of the winners were unworthy, I can’t help thinking that their victories were somewhat tainted by the virtual shutout of “Barbie”, (which still feels to me like a message for female filmmakers to “stay in their lane”) and relatively low showing for “Poor Things” (which took only 3 of the 11 awards for which it was nominated), and that their underappreciation for such films was for me proof that many of the professionals working within the industry are afraid of material that pushes the medium too far outside its traditional boundaries, that dares to imagine stories and ideas which give voice to “outsider” concerns beyond the level of lip service, or that stretches the accepted limits of narrative entertainment.

More concerning, perhaps, is the minimal change that has come in the wake of the Academy’s much-publicized retooling to promote greater diversity and inclusion among the nominees.

While it’s heartening to see people of color and queer people being brought into the mix more consistently than ever before, it’s also all the more painful when we see them passed over or relegated to the status of “also ran” most of the time.

As a queer writer working for a queer publication, it’s impossible for me not to be impatient when films with strong LGBTQ content are lauded alongside mainstream titles only to consistently be passed over when it comes to the final victory.

While queer subject matter, in varying degrees, was part of movies like “Rustin”, “Nyad”, and even “Barbie,” only two wins in the “major” categories went to films that included significant queer themes – “American Fiction” and “Anatomy of a Fall”, both of which won for their screenplays.

And while it’s now old news, the Academy’s complete omission of Andrew Haigh’s melancholy gay ghost story “All of Us Strangers,” a queer UK film overwhelmingly embraced by other major awards bodies across the world and in America itself and considered a major contender before failing to earn a single Oscar nomination, and female filmmaker Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn,” which hinged – at least ostensibly – on a queer attraction between stars Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi, speaks volumes about the comfort level surrounding queer content within mainstream Hollywood.

Even “May December,” a high-profile film directed by queer indie pioneer Todd Haynes but featuring only presumably heterosexual characters, received only a single nod (for Best Original Screenplay) for “May December,” despite being widely considered a front-runner for several acting awards.

While inclusivity doesn’t mean considering every queer-relevant movie a shoo-in for the competition, it’s telling when the Academy all but ignores queer titles that have been contenders and even winners at all the other major film award ceremonies, and frankly, it’s extremely annoying.

While I can’t speak for women, those in the Black community, or other groups with a history of being dismissed by Oscar, I can only assume that their sentiments must resemble my own.

Yet as I reach the end of my observations about the latest installment of the Academy Awards, I find myself falling short of blaming the Academy itself, at least as an organization. While it has had a problematic history of dragging its feet when it comes to evolving toward a more all-embracing approach to bestowing honors, undeniable progress has been made.

That this progress is infuriatingly slow is less a reflection on the awards than it is on Hollywood as a whole; after all, despite Academy efforts to ensure greater diversity among its nominees, it’s the individual choices of its voters that determines the final results – and if those results fail to accomplish more than the occasional token victory for the non-white-heterosexual contenders, it’s a symptom of the fact that those voices are underrepresented within the industry at large.

If we want to see an Academy Awards ceremony that truly accomplishes the kind of all-inclusive spirit for which it has so palpable a potential, we must continue to pressure the Hollywood industry at large to build a more diverse and inclusive creative environment. Otherwise, no matter how much they promise to do better, they will always fall short.

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Trans 101: Nex Benedict vigil speech & bullying

We must work together to end bullying by unpacking each of our own learned and internalized transphobia, homophobia & racism

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Los Angeles Blade featured columnist, Rose Montoya being interviewed by KABC 7 Los Angeles. (Screenshot/YouTube KABC 7)

Los Angeles Blade featured columnist, Rose Montoya, is a hugely popular YouTube, Instagram & TikTok creator with her ‘Trans 101′ 1 minute video shorts which offer tips, advice, and support for Trans people and solid information for Trans allies and others seeking answers.

By Rose Montoya | LOS ANGELES – A special vigil was held a service at West Hollywood United Church of Christ. During an interview with KABC 7 News, I noted: “Trans people have the highest rates of violence against us, more specifically Black trans women, and as a Latino trans woman myself, I know this all too well.”

Here’s my full speech at the vigil for #NexBenedict and here are the questions I posed: How much safer could our society be if we stopped placing value on the enforcement of gender roles? How is our government protecting trans and nonbinary children? What could it look like to form a concerted effort to create a world where this doesn’t ever happened again? How will you honor the sacredness of Nex and every 2SLGBTQPIA+ person, including yourself? Thank you @ryancassata @shaneivannash @justxodiak @queerxact for organizing:

Watch:

We must work together to end bullying. It starts individually by unpacking each of our own learned and internalized transphobia, homophobia, racism, anti-Blackness, classism, ableism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, etc. All of us are responsible for ending bullying.

Watch:

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Rose, is a Hispanic, bisexual, nonbinary transgender woman. Rose’s pronouns are she/her/hers and they/them/their/theirs. She works as a model, actor, public speaker, makeup artist, advocate, and content creator.

Rose is also a board member of Aadya Rising, a nonprofit working to fill in the gaps to help the transgender community. She has been in campaigns and featured by TomboyXSavage X FentyYandyFX NetworksNew York City PridePlanned Parenthood, and more. Their goal is to spread love and education about their community as they share their story.

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To follow Rose:

rosemontoya.com 

TheTrans101.com

Instagram.com/TheRoseMontoya

TikTok.com/@rosemontoya

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Death of Nex Benedict hits close to home for New Jersey therapist

Their death is a manifestation of a larger issue that involves hostile rhetoric, misinformation re: gender-diverse youth & anti-LGBTQ culture

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The life of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student was brutally cut short after an altercation in a bathroom at Owasso High School in Owasso Oklahoma. (Family photo)

By Laura Hoge | UPPER MONTCLAIR, NJ. – The life of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, was brutally cut short after an altercation in a bathroom at Owasso High School.

Their untimely death should prompt a critical dialogue about the circumstances leading to such a horrifying incident. And we should not fool ourselves by thinking New Jersey is immune to the dangers that transgender and nonbinary youth face in schools and public spaces nationwide.

As many grapple with the aftermath of this terrifying hate crime, we all — Oklahoma to New Jersey to Florida — must address the systemic issues that contribute to the vulnerability of marginalized students, in particular transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming youth.

The New Jersey Safe Schools Coalition with Columbia High School Spectrum Club will hold a candlelight vigil in Nex’s memory on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. at Maplewood Town Hall, 574 Valley St.

In my role as a gender specialist and trauma therapist, addressing the aftermath of violent incidents such as these demands a process of “zooming out” from the hate crime itself and examining the unsettling realities of what other journalists have already referred to as stochastic terrorism, a term used to describe the use of mass communication, such as social media or online platforms, to incite or inspire individuals to carry out acts of terrorism without directly organizing, directing, or participating in the violent acts themselves.

The term “stochastic terrorism” carries significant weight, and grasping its meaning requires clarifying its key component: implicit communication. Implicit communication operates beneath the surface of explicit words and actions. It plays a significant role in shaping perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors while at the same time maintaining “plausible deniability.” We all have people in our lives whose attitudes toward groups of people are widely known, even if they aren’t explicitly spoken and would likely be denied. We all have felt implicit messages from our bosses, spiritual leaders, teachers, or politicians, reminding us of what is and is not acceptable in our work, faith practice, classrooms, and communities.

As we process the death of Nex Benedict, we must look at the culture in which they were living, one with a history of hostile discourse toward transgender people and influenced by social media outlets that are known purveyors of anti-trans sentiments. In the aftermath of Nex’s death, it is unsurprising that they are being misgendered and deadnamed in the community where they lived. Even amid tributes to their life, implicit messages are being sent that offer absolution to those who might be harboring guilt about their participation in a culture that could have caused something so horrific and a clear message that transgender and gender-diverse youth have no place in Owasso High, alive or dead.

While many of us would like to believe that our communities are immune to this type of violence, it is naive to think that similar acts of hate would never happen in our own schools. Anti-trans rhetoric is ubiquitous in New Jersey. It can easily be found in our Statehouse, family gatherings, and most recently in our school board meetings, where attitudes similar to the ones in Owasso were amplified in heated debates over school policy 5756 — a policy that supports transgender and nonbinary students seeking to be referred to by a different name or pronoun, and which has sparked discussions about whether schools should be obligated to inform parents of these changes.

While journalists share information about the role of Libs of TikTok and its influence on the community of Owasso, New Jersey residents need to understand that we have similar influences acting in our own backyard, like the Center for Garden State Families, Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education, and others, with many of them misleading the public with deceptive and legitimate sounding names while spouting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, calling for book bans, and/or forced outing of gender diverse students. These groups explicitly advocate for parental rights and child safety, while concurrently employing implicit messaging that creates an atmosphere where transgender youth, as well as their supporters, are made to feel unsafe.

Implicit intolerance is pervasive and, if it continues to proliferate without challenge, will erode the protections that this state currently offers. To counteract this, allies must remain vigilant and take explicit actions that endorse and celebrate gender-diverse experiences within our communities. This could include speaking out in favor of trans-affirmative policies at school board meetings, spreading trans-affirming messages and stories online, teaching cisgender children about gender diversity and how to be an upstander in their friend circles, and/or advocating for trans-affirming rights and recognition in government. Neglecting to engage in these actions sends its own implicit message, and tacitly sanctions the proliferation of harmful attitudes and biases.

I believe that residents in New Jersey are uniquely positioned to disrupt the transphobia that exists here. We are backed by our brand: a progressive state with laws that support inclusion. Sharing accurate information about gender diversity, as well as the experiences and challenges that transgender and nonbinary students face, can demystify misconceptions and foster life-saving empathy and understanding.

We must acknowledge that Nex’s death did not exist in a vacuum and is not an isolated incident. Their death is a manifestation of a larger issue that involves hostile rhetoric, a targeted misinformation campaign against transgender and gender-diverse youth, and a culture that permits anti-LGBTQ toxicity to proliferate.

Nex’s death is a poignant reminder of the landscape in which gender-diverse children are asked to live and grow, and which, in the case of Nex, can be deadly.

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Laura Hoge is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New Jersey. Laura is also an educator and an activist. She has worked as an adjunct at Rutgers and Montclair State, training individuals who are studying to become drug and alcohol counselors, and social workers. In addition to organizing, Laura participates in efforts throughout the state of NJ that champion equity in education and medicine for transgender children.

The preceding article was previously published by the New Jersey Monitor and is republished with permission.

New Jersey Monitor provides fair and tough reporting on the issues affecting New Jersey, from political corruption to education to criminal and social justice. We strive to hold powerful people accountable and explain how their actions affect New Jerseyans from Montague to Cape May.

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Commentary

Libs of TikTok appointed to “make schools safer,” but trans kid dies

Nex, a trans teen, dies after a year of transphobic bullying in a school targeted by the biggest anti-trans influencer. When will it end?

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Nex, (Photo from the family’s gofundme)

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – The stories of transgender children being killed are among the hardest I am tasked with writing. I refer to them as stories because, regrettably, there have been multiple incidents over the past two years. Eden KnightBrianna GheyAriyanna Mitchell—names that will forever resonate with me—all young, tragically stripped of their lives in a world where individuals like them face relentless dehumanization and maltreatment by those holding power.

This week, we have yet another name to add to a list already unbearably long from the first addition… Nex, a gender-fluid transgender high school student, was brutally attacked in an Oklahoma bathroom and lost their life, only a month after Chaya Raichik of Libs Of TikTok was appointed as part of a plan to “make schools safer” in Oklahoma.

The news emerged over the weekend through a post highlighting a student allegedly assaulted by three peers in a high school bathroom at Owasso High School West Campus. This post revealed that a student named Nex had been killed, criticized the media for deadnaming them (using their old name), and noted that their transgender status was being ignored.

Now, following widespread attention drawn to Nex and their transgender status, their mother has provided more information to The Independent.

Though details about the specific incident remain sparse, we learned that Nex had been repeatedly bullied at school for being transgender and that the bullying erupted into violence toward them. In what has been described as a “physical altercation,” Nex suffered a severe head injury in a high school bathroom at the hands of three girls.

Allegedly, No ambulance was called, though Nex was taken to the hospital by their mother and was discharged. They succumbed to their head injury the next morning.

Twenty-five years ago, another LGBTQ+ student had their life taken from them too soon. Matthew Shepherd, who was horrifically beaten and left to die, also succumbed to his own severe head injuries.

His death sparked a wave of awareness about how the demonization of gay people in the 1990s led to the killing of gay youth and the fear that so many LGBTQ+ people felt during the gay panics of the 1990s and early 2000s. His death changed things forever and eventually was cited in the passing of hate crime legislation.

Many look at Nex’s death and wonder if their legacy may also shine a light on the horrific consequences of the anti-trans panic sweeping the world today, fueled by a handful of hate accounts and influencers.

According to an investigation by The Independent, Raichik targeted a teacher Nex had greatly admired through her anti-trans account, Libs of TikTok – the school was among the earliest targeted by the account. The account has since become infamous for making posts that are often followed by bomb threats and violence.

Concurrently, the state schools superintendent Ryan Walters put out a horrific video the following year calling transgender youth in bathrooms “an assault on truth” and dangerous to other kids.

He has been a fierce opponent towards LGBTQ+ people in schools, even going as far as to demand a principal be fired for being a drag queen in his time off. He has also prevented students from changing their gender markers in school records, saying that he “did not want [transgender people] thrust on our kids.”

Just last month, Walters decided to appoint Raichik of Libs of TikTok to the Department of Education’s library media panel. In the letter appointing her, Walters stated that Libs of TikTok was part of his plan to “make schools safer for kids.”

Transgender children in Oklahoma and their family members, however, watched in horror as they have now learned what “safety” really means: the violent and brutal suppression of transgender people in the state, and the death of transgender children.

How could it ever gone differently? We know that bomb threats follow Libs of TikTok posts. We know that Kiel, Wisconsin schools were shut down for a month with bomb threats after she targeted that school district over a trans kid. We know violent threats have followed posts targeting the University of South Dakota, a library in North Carolina, and even a librarian in Oklahoma’s Union Public Schools district. She posed proudly with a paper that pointed out the way violent threats follow her targets.

We are in a mass rainbow panic, and conservatives continue to turn up the temperature. Michael Knowles calls for transgender “eradication” while Matt Walsh advocates for an end to legal recognition.

Conservative legislators dehumanize transgender people and their families. Oklahoma Senator Shane Jett, just one year ago, compared the parents of transgender youth to parents who kill their children.

There is a child who was killed – Nex was their name. Embraced and cherished by an affirming family, Nex will rest beneath a tombstone etched with the name that those legislators and hate influencers sought to erase.

A name that, in a just world, would bring about change.

You can find the family’s gofundme > (here)

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

The preceding post was previously published at Erin in the Morning and is republished with permission.

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Letters to the Editor

Real Agency for Community Development helps LGBTQ+ Ugandans who have fled country

Yoweri Museveni signed Anti-Homosexuality Act in May 2023

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Ugandan flag (Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Real Agency for Community Development was established by a proactive group of people who have fled persecution due to their sexual orientation in their respective districts of origin (Isingiro, Mbarara and Ntungamo) and now live in the Nakivale refugee camp where they hoped to find greater safety and freedom.

Homosexuality, however, is illegal in Uganda and they face new challenges: Arbitrary arrests, discrimination, corrective rape, kidnapping, robbery, stigma, homophobia, harassment and bullying. RACD has identified more than 123 LGBTQ Ugandans and other refugees living in the Nakivale and Oruchinga refugee camps. The organization provides them with services depending on their unique situations.

The legal and social marginalization experienced by these people results in many violations of LGBTQ persons’ liberty and threats to their safety. 

Since the beginning of this year, we have already seen three people arbitrarily arrested for being LGBTQ. Another two LGBTQ community members were brutally attacked by a gang of 10 homophobic neighbors in Kampala. One of them had his jaw shattered and had to get a surgery to insert a metal to his jaw. HIV prevention drugs and equipment are always a necessary part of the work with LGBTQ people and female sex workers. The general economic situation in Uganda is decreasing rapidly, and LGBTQ persons suffer the most. Many members reported that they pass many days without being able to obtain any food.

Please email [email protected] for more information about RACD. Donations can also be made to RACD through this GoFundMe link.

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Commentary

Readers deserve better than misinformation about trans care

In a recent response to articles criticizing misinformation in Pamela Paul’s article on detransitioners, Paul dismisses author’s reporting

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Pamela Paul appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher in December, 2023 along with transphobic Texas GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, & transphobic Jordan Peterson, Canadian psychologist, author, and media commentator. (Screenshot/YouTube HBO Real Time with Bill Maher)

Author’s note (Erin Reed): A copy of this article was submitted to the New York Times for publication in response to Pamela Paul. It was rejected, citing an internal policy on opinion pieces responding to New York Times columnists. Journalist Evan Urquhart and I have thus decided to make it freely available on our own platforms.

By Erin Reed & Evan Urquhart | WASHINGTON – On Saturday, opinion columnist Pamela Paul published a deeply misleading 4,500-word article on gender-affirming care and detransitioners in the New York Times.

While readers may be excused for taking her article as a fair representation of the science surrounding that care, transgender journalists like us immediately recognized the hallmarks of misinformation we routinely hear from right-wing groups whose mission is to oppose care for transgender people.

Within hours of the publication of Paul’s story on detransitioners, we published responses that quickly went viral, appearing on academic listservs, professional networks, and Twitter threads discussing the issue. Now, Paul has responded to our journalistic criticism directly by dismissing us as “activists,” a label that does not accurately describe the work she is responding to.

While activism in a just cause is a noble pursuit, and one of us, Erin Reed, has proudly worn that hat at times, another of us, Evan Urquhart, is a professional journalist with a decade-long career in the industry who has never participated in organizing or activism of any kind. Regardless, the word “activist” was used by Paul to create doubt about the professionalism and reliability of our journalistic work, and as such is equally misapplied for both of us.

Paul claims that “we don’t know” how many transgender people detransition. Although she is correct that studies on detransition have limitations, as virtually all studies do, Cornell University reports that transgender regret ranges from 0.3% to 3.8% in a review of over 72 studies.

Criticizing Paul for portraying regret as high is not “activism,” especially when she misleadingly states in her original article that “Studies show that around eight in 10 cases of childhood gender dysphoria resolve themselves by puberty” – numbers derived from decades-old data using outdated diagnostic guidelines that conflated effeminate gay minors with transgender youth, among other issues.

Notably, these numbers originally stem from Ken Zucker, whose clinic was shut down after an independent review determined his practices were akin to “reparative” (conversion) therapy.

It also is not “activism” to point out that it is misleading to use citations that do not back up key arguments. For instance, in both the original article and her response to us, she claims there is data to support that “detransition rates are higher than transgender advocacy groups suggest,” suggesting first that the scientific data on this topic was produced by advocacy groups when it was not, then citing a study of military prescriptions which did not examine detransition at all.

Instead, this study looked at the use of Tricare, the military insurance plan, for hormone therapy prescriptions. Because there are dozens of reasons why one would not fill hormones through Tricare, such as Trump’s trans military ban (which occurred during the study) or the desire for privacy and the use of Planned Parenthood clinics, it does not support “higher rates” of detransition at all, nor does it purport to do so. She likewise neglects to mention that the authors themselves state that “our findings are likely an underestimate of continuation rates.”

If we are accused of activism in our published responses to Pamela Paul, it is only fair to apply that label to her and some of the sources she uses as well.

For instance, Pamela Paul claims that “The Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine” is “one of the most reliable nonpartisan organizations dedicated to the field.” She relies on non-reviewed journal letters to the editor from this group in her original essay and response to us on multiple occasions as evidence of her claims.

However, what she does not reveal is that according to the Southern Policy Law Center, SEGM has received significant funding from the same sources that support the partisan Alliance Defending Freedom and the Heritage Foundation, organizations known for drafting anti-trans legislation. SEGM is closely linked with anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ extremist groups, a connection mapped out by the SPLC’s analysis. Its founder, William Malone, was part of an anti-trans working group in 2019 where members asserted that “god’s will” is being enacted through passing trans bans. In this group, he stated, “It might take years, but we’re going to get them.” If that is not activism, what is?

Related

Paul seeks to dismiss our criticisms of her misinformation about trans care as activism, but readers deserve better. They should be aware that every major medical organization in the United States supports gender-affirming care due to the evidence behind it.

It’s important for them to know that multiple judges have determined the evidence supporting trans care is comparable to that of most pediatric care, overturning bans on care in the United States.

Readers also deserve to understand that the narrative Paul presents about high detransition rates and stories of regret does not stem from careful journalism, but rather, anti-trans activist groups. Lastly, they should be aware that these erroneous narratives are now being used to justify legislation aimed at banning transgender “for everyone.”

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Evan Urquhart, an experienced journalist, is the Founder of Assigned Media, and a Community Manager at Slate. Assigned Media is a news site dedicated to daily coverage of anti-trans propaganda and its effects.

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Commentary

Misleading NYT anti-trans article relies on pseudoscience

The opinion piece by Pamela Paul relies on routinely debunked disinformation and gets factual information wrong about transgender care

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EIM/Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – In an article published in the opinion section of The New York Times, opinion columnist Pamela Paul wrote a 4,500-word article filled with factual errors and unfounded assumptions about transgender care and the lived experiences of transgender people.

Although the article is presented as a piece on detransitioners, the interviews serve as vehicles through which Paul packages inaccuracies and disinformation with faulty citations and claims that are not supported by the evidence she presents.

The article is the latest in a series published by The New York Times to do so, and a simple fact check of the claims presented easily debunks the article’s central premises as highly misleading.

It is notable that this is not the first time Paul has waded into LGBTQ+ issues with the seeming goal of covering for anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Previously, she wrote an article criticizing LGBTQ+ organizations for the use of the word “queer,” a word that many LGBTQ+ people use to describe themselves.

She has written articles accusing transgender people of “erasing women.” However, this article is certainly her longest and most in depth attempt to tackle transgender issues; in doing so, she misses the mark.

Claim: Rapid onset gender dysphoria and transgender social contagion is making people trans.

Fact: Rapid onset gender dysphoria and transgender social contagion is not a validated theory, has been widely debunked as pseudoscience by major medical organizations.

“Most of her patients now, she said, have no history of childhood gender dysphoria. Others refer to this phenomenon, with some controversy, as rapid onset gender dysphoria, in which adolescents, particularly tween and teenage girls, express gender dysphoria despite never having done so when they were younger. Frequently, they have mental health issues unrelated to gender. While professional associations say there is a lack of quality research on rapid onset gender dysphoria, several researchers have documented the phenomenon, and many health care providers have seen evidence of it in their practices.”

At the beginning of the article, Paul discusses “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” and “social contagion” as potential reasons for the apparent increase in transgender individuals in recent years, raising concerns that these individuals will detransition.

However, her sources clearly contradict her premise. Her first source, used to support “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria,” is an article that has been retracted. Then she turns to Lisa Littman, who’s original paper on the topic was immediately withdrawn with an apology by the journal for correction after the data collection methods were revealed, with the republication stating that the research “does not validate the phenomenon” of transgender social contagion. Littman is notably one of the only researchers to argue for the theory, which has been repeatedly dismissed for lacking factual support and for recruiting subjects from anti-trans websites.

Recently, unable to validate the theory, she collaborated with Leor Sapir, who lacks a background in transgender mental health care and works at the anti-trans Manhattan Institute, to broaden the definition of “Rapid” so that even a period of two to four years could be considered rapid. She then published it in a journal run by Ken Zucker, an anti-trans “expert” whose clinic was closed following accusations of conversion therapy.

The second set of links, claiming to show “several researchers” documenting the phenomenon, actually refers to only three researchers, not “several.” These “researchers” include Lisa Littman’s personal website, a retracted article by Michael Bailey (Lisa Littman’s treasurer), and another article by Lisa Littman herself. The data sources used for the “documented phenomenon” are the anti-trans website Transgender Trend and a SurveyMonkey poll distributed on Reddit and Twitter.

The only source that correctly represents the consensus is the source showing that professional organizations oppose ROGD as pseudoscientific. In a letter from over 60 psychological organizations, the coalition for the Advancement & Application of Psychological Science calls for the elimination of the term, stating, “There are no sound empirical studies of ROGD” and “there is no evidence that ROGD aligns with the lived experiences of transgender children and adolescents.” Paul, however, simply and misleadingly presents this letter as the organization stating “there is not enough quality research.”

study in the prestigious journal Pediatrics entirely debunked the concept of ROGD, determining that most transgender people know their gender identity for years before they come out and seek treatment for gender dysphoria. When transgender people finally do come out, many are overjoyed to finally reveal their true self to the world around them – to others, however, the process may seem “rapid.”

To ascertain whether transgender identification occurs “rapidly,” researchers directly asked transgender teenagers: “How long have you known you were transgender?” They discovered that on average, transgender people know their gender identity for four years before first coming out and presenting for treatment.

Claim: Stephanie Winn, a “licensed marriage and family therapist,” spoke out in favor of “approach gender dysphoria in a more considered way” but then was “investigated” for conversion therapy.

Fact: Stephanie Winn suggested the treatment of transgender youth with acupuncture to “see if they like having needles put in them” and stating it could “help spark desistance.” She also pushed the idea that transgender men should be estrogen to make them feel more feminine.

“They have good reasons to be wary. Stephanie Winn, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Oregon, was trained in gender-affirming care and treated multiple transgender patients. But in 2020, after coming across detransition videos online, she began to doubt the gender-affirming model. In 2021 she spoke out in favor of approaching gender dysphoria in a more considered way, urging others in the field to pay attention to detransitioners, people who no longer consider themselves transgender after undergoing medical or surgical interventions. She has since been attacked by transgender activists. Some threatened to send complaints to her licensing board saying that she was trying to make trans kids change their minds through conversion therapy.

In April 2022, the Oregon Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists told Winn that she was under investigation. Her case was ultimately dismissed, but Winn no longer treats minors and practices only online, where many of her patients are worried parents of trans-identifying children.”

Paul then attempts to take readers through to other researchers who are, presumably, being “unfairly treated” for their “unorthodox” views on transgender people. One of those people is Stephanie Winn, who she presents as a “licensed marriage and family therapist” in Oregon. She claims that Winn simply spoke out “in favor of approaching gender dysphoria in a more considered way” and was attacked for this. A simple click on Paul’s link, however, shows how this is a highly misleading claim and misrepresents the brutality of what Winn was proposing.

In the thread linked by Paul, Winn muses that transgender men have a “sense of being less feminine” and could be made to feel more feminine by giving them estrogen. There is absolutely no research behind this claim, and in fact, giving transgender people the hormone of their assigned sex at birth has been tried in the past with disastrous effects.

In a paper published in 1967 by Harry Benjamin, one of the first major researchers into transgender care, he stated: “I have heard rather frequently in the patient’s history that androgen had been used in the past in an attempt to cure the transsexualism by masculinization. It is the wrong treatment. It aggravates the condition by increasing libido without changing its character or direction. Androgen is contraindicated.”

Winn has also advocated for the treatment of transgender youth with acupuncture, stating, “they can see how they like having needles put in them.”

Stephanie Winn has not been investigated or attacked simply for “approaching gender dysphoria in a more considered way.” Rather, attacks on Winn are linked to extremely cruel suggestions and musings around how transgender youth should be dealt using cruel, coercive, and painful conversion therapy techniques.

Claim: Transgender people may actually just be gay, and transitioning is a form of “conversion therapy.”

Fact: Gender and sexuality are different, many transgender people identify as gay or bisexual after transition, and gay acceptance is higher than trans acceptance.

Gay men and women often told me they fear that same-sex-attracted kids, especially effeminate boys and tomboy girls who are gender nonconforming, will be transitioned during a normal phase of childhood and before sexual maturation — and that gender ideology can mask and even abet homophobia.

“I transitioned because I didn’t want to be gay,” Kasey Emerick, a 23-year-old woman and detransitioner from Pennsylvania, told me. Raised in a conservative Christian church, she said, “I believed homosexuality was a sin.”

The claim that transgender people are “actually just gay” is one that has been made repeatedly by those opposed to gender affirming care, and one that has been repeatedly debunked. Paul wades into this claim by featuring Kasey Emerick, who claims that “believing homosexuality was a sin” played into her transition.

Factually, though, attitudes towards transgender people tend to be “significantly more negative” according to an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. This contributes to a much higher rate of violence and discrimination. Many transgender people, such as celebrity Laverne Cox, report that the most common response to coming out is, “couldn’t you have just been gay?”

According to the 2012 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, most transgender people identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer after transition. If transition was being used to “cure” being gay, it is a startlingly ineffective cure.

Claim: 80% of transgender individuals desist from being transgender if they go through puberty without intervention, and another study suggests that 30% of individuals stop taking hormone therapy medication.

Fact: Detransition rates are estimated to be between 1-4%. The study citing an 80% detransition rate is based on faulty outdated data, using criteria no longer in use. Furthermore, the study indicating a 30% discontinuation rate is based on military families not refilling their prescriptions through Tricare, rather than actual discontinuation of hormone therapy.

Studies show that around eight in 10 cases of childhood gender dysphoria resolve themselves by puberty and 30 percent of people on hormone therapy discontinue its use within four years, though the effects, including infertility, are often irreversible.

The claim that 80% of transgender youth detransition has been widely debunked and is contradicted by modern research, which indicates regret and detransition rates of 1-4%, according to a review of newer peer-reviewed studies by Cornell University. Recent studies reveal that 97.5% of transgender youth maintain a stable gender identity after five years.

The older article Paul references is a journal article in a publication with a very low impact factor; this article does not provide new data, and instead discusses the same two outdated sources commonly associated with the exaggerated “80% detransition rate” claim: Kenneth Zucker’s research from the 1990s on detransition, which uses outdated diagnostic criteria for “gender identity disorder” that misclassified feminine gay men as “disordered,” and Steensma’s studies from 2011/2013, known for similar methodological shortcomings.

Both of these studies share a similar problem that explains why the numbers are so different when compared to modern studies around transgender care: they utilize outdated criteria for “gender identity disorder,” which misclassified tomboys, masculine lesbians, and effeminate gay men as “disordered.” Notably, Zucker advocated for conversion therapy, arguing that “a homosexual lifestyle in a fundamentally unaccepting culture simply creates unnecessary social difficulties.” He also employed techniques aimed at coercing trans kids to conform to their assigned sex at birth, such as withholding cross-gender toys and advising parents “not to give in” to their trans youth’s desires to wear clothing that aligns with their gender identity.

The old criteria noted that to be diagnosed with “gender identity disorder,” you did not need to desire to be “the other sex.” Instead, the disorder was about gendered behavior that was deemed “too masculine” or “too feminine” by society, and purposefully included gay people who didn’t “act man or woman enough.” The new criteria, however, require the transgender youth to desire or insist to be the other sex.

Steensma’s 2011 and 2013 studies had similar issues in his research, which in some ways had even worse methodological flaws. Steensma used the old criteria, which is not the way that gender dysphoria is diagnosed today. Worse, the two studies classified every youth who did not return to the clinic as having “desisted” or “detransitioned” with no long term follow-up. Half of the participants in the studies did not return and all were classified as having “desisted.”

The sample sizes were tiny at the getgo – only 53 people were in the first study and 127 in the second study. Given the fact that a large portion if not the majority of Steensma’s patients were classified under decades old criteria and assumed permanently detransitioned simply for refusing to follow up, these studies cannot be used to make any reasonable claim of high desistance rates.

The last study that Paul refers to is a study released two years ago on military continuance of care. That study looked at all hormone therapy distributed under the military Tricare health insurance plan and determined that 30% of people stopped receiving their hormones through Tricare. What the study does not do, as Paul claims, is support the idea that “30% of people discontinued hormone therapy.” In fact, there are many reasons why people would no longer fill their hormone therapy through a military Tricare plan, especially towards the end of the study in 2017-2018:

  • The Trump administration began targeting transgender servicemembers, and many transgender servicemembers likely stopped filling their hormone prescriptions through Tricare for themselves or their family members, fearing being targeted.
  • Tricare has notoriously poor transgender care coverage, as evidenced by many military members responding to a thread discussing the results of this study, and many transgender servicemembers may opt to get their medication through a low cost alternative such as Planned Parenthood
  • Hormone therapy can be discontinued for surgery, fertility and pregnancy planning, and many other purposes.
  • Some nonbinary patients may obtain all the results they wish from hormone therapy before discontinuing, desiring no future results.
  • Transgender people may simply have not filled the medication through insurance and instead utilized online pharmacies, which have grown increasingly popular.
  • Transgender patients can easily fill prescriptions through GoodRX plans, which would allow them more privacy.
  • Transgender people may have been forced off care by military decisions

Even the authors of the article themselves state that they likely overestimate discontinuation:

“We only collected information on medication refills obtained using a single insurance plan. If patients elected to pay out of pocket for hormones, accessed hormones through nonmedical channels, or used a different insurance plan to pay for treatment before and/or after obtaining gender-affirming hormones using TRICARE insurance, we did not capture this information. This means that our findings are likely an underestimate continuation rates among transgender patients.”

There are many more factual errors contained within Paul’s article; it is 4,500 words long and covers virtually every anti-trans claim made in legislative hearings across the United States. Many advocates for transgender people, medical experts, and journalists have weighed in to cover other aspects of Paul’s piece. You can find those here:

Editor’s Note: Originally, the article read that Paul relied on a study by Lisa Littman that was retracted. This is corrected to read that Paul cited a separate study, which was itself retracted. Littman’s study was removed and republished with a correction noting that her research “does not validate the phenomenon” of social contagion with an apology from the journal.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Epic smear of Royal LGBTQ+ ally Amar Singh is dangerous

Why Graydon Carter’s fact-checking failure matters- Apparently, Air Mail doesn’t care. They’ve let inaccuracies stand to bring down a royal

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(Photo courtesy Amar Singh)

By Karen Ocamb | LONDON, UK – The rich, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in a 1925 essay, “are different from you and me.” That gap creates a persistent itch of snarky curiosity about how the other half lives. But often embedded in that perception is a belief that One Percenters need to be taken down a peg. 

In my opinion, that’s what is happening to LGBTQ+ ally Amar Singh, his family and his former girlfriend after an 12,799-word hit piece was posted in the digital magazine Air Mail, run by former Vanity Fair guru Graydon Carter. (I am not linking to the Air Mail story to avoid spreading misinformation.) 

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Amar Singh in his London gallery for 2017 LA Blade story. (Photo courtesy Amar Singh)

I met Amar Singh, then-28, in 2017 at SoHo House in West Hollywood and profiled him for the Los Angeles Blade, focused on the straight Indian royal’s LGBTQ+ activism.  “There are three tiers of suppression: female, LGBT, and caste—which is actually meant to be illegal but prevails very heavily in India,” said Singh, a member of the erstwhile Kapurthala Royal Family. He used his art gallery in London to showcase women, minority, and LGBTQ artists. 

“I’m a passionate individual who truly despises that there are human rights atrocities which are carried on a daily basis,” Amar said. “I’ve lost my cool in the past when meeting individuals who’ve said to me — and there have been many — ‘gay people deserve to die. Gay people must be locked up.’ Same thing for women.” 

It’s the immature flip side of that passion that launched the Air Mail screed. 

During the summer of 2023, Amar dated Liza, a 24-year-old Swedish woman he’d met online. It was a big deal. As happens with many rich, famous, and important people, he guarded his heart, wondering if lovers cared about him for who he was — or for his money and title. 

When Amar discovered his girlfriend had gaslit him and cheated, he wanted payback. He was encouraged by an acquaintance whose wife worked for Air Mail. Thus began a month of exaggerations and attacks by both Amar and his girlfriend — an emotional version of the film “The War of the Roses.”   

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Coming to his senses, Amar felt humiliated and ashamed by his behavior — having at one point blasted his ex over the phone as fat and inexcusably using the “C” word. He apologized to her, she apologized to him, and they recognized they still cared for each other. They tried to retract all the exaggerations, with Amar offering to compensate the writer for the time wasted and the paycheck she presumably would forfeit by dropping the story. She later called that a “bribe.” 

But the writers seemed intent on doing the story as if bringing down a royal activist would please Air Mail’s audience of “affluent intelligentsia.” 

Amar and Liza panicked, saying the story they gave the writers was for a film, “Thirst for Fiction.”

“When the journalists hounded my family, friends and Liza’s family with calls,” Amar says, “we panicked and just told them everything was for a movie. That was not true, foolish and due to extreme mental duress of our families calling us in tears.” 

On Oct. 19, 2023, Air Mail posted the story, which takes 47 minutes to read. What started out as “a cautionary tale of online dating among the 0.1 percent became something else,” Hannah Ghorashi writes beginning a story that features her and editor George Pendle as victims. 

There are only two mentions of online dating. There is no cautionary tale. Five minutes in, the reader asks: “who are these people and why should I care about them?”

But then they attempt to ruin Amar’s reputation. The story of broken-hearted ex-lovers using the media to get back at each other evolved into a mean girl frame that apparently incited threats of violence. 

“This 12,000-word smear campaign against me in an attempt to affect my human rights work which questions my family, my heritage, my education, my life’s work is completely unjustified,” says Amar. “Yes, I messed up in my personal life. But I still care about my ex-girlfriend and these personal mistakes do not warrant attacks against my family and human rights work which positively impacts thousands of LGBT+ individuals, women and children.”

On Jan. 8, 2024, Singh posted a long response on Instagram, with checkable refutations of the inaccuracies and allegations in the Air Mail story:  

–“One of the reasons I am publishing this statement now is that Air Mail’s article has been and is being actively used to cause harm to my family and me. Due to the article I have been threatened, blackmailed three times, experienced racism, threatened with violence, people have visited our properties, my 60-year-old mother has been threatened with violence and yesterday on January 7th, 2024 my parents home was defaced with red paint by one of the individuals black mailing me and stating they will make up stories to Air Mail unless I pay them. The police have been notified.” —

What prompted these actions now? One possibility is that the story was among google searches after the recent release of court documents regarding pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and his sex-trafficking accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell. A Jan. 5 New York Post headline shouted: “Jeffrey Epstein went to Vanity Fair’s office to suppress truth about his crimes — not Bill Clinton.” A search reveals numerous conflicting articles about whether Graydon Carter edited out stories from two Epstein survivors in an article by Vanity Fair writer Vicky Ward. A 2022 deep dive by Isaac Chotiner in The New Yorker concludes that Ward was lying. However, a July 10, 2019 detailed report by Kim Masters in the Hollywood Reporter says Carter “nipped and tucked and altered” Masters’ own pieces when she worked at Vanity Fair. 

Carter’s response to Masters is pertinent here: “Anyone who is familiar with the editing process of a big magazine like Vanity Fair would know that the story the writer turns in goes through numerous layers of editing, fact-checking, and legal review….[the Epstein aspect] did not meet our legal and editorial standards” of having three on-the-record sources for each allegation. 

But the story about Amar and his ex-girlfriend in Carter’s Air Mail fails to provide three independent, on-the-record sources for each allegation and apparently ignored evidence and receipts provided before publication. 

Instead, Pendle disparages other media coverage of Amar, including 3 stories in Vanity Fair, the New York Times (“The Indian Prince Who Supports Gay Rights and the Arts”), Elle, ArtNet, and 2 stories in Forbes including 30 Under 30/ Europe 2019, which noted that the gallery “made more than $3 million in 2018.” 

“I almost felt sorry for Amar. Magazines and newspapers had written about him in the past without challenging anything he had told them. He had said he was donating millions of dollars to this organization or using his massive funds to help with that museum, and it was published as the truth,” Pendle writes. “Here was a progressive Indian royal who could speak the language of L.G.B.T.Q.+ and women’s rights while promising huge donations to photogenic charities. It was the sort of exotic philanthro-porn that no one—not even AIR MAIL—could resist.”

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Portrait by eminent Black artist Renee Cox of Amar Singh wearing a Pride flag to celebrate LGBTQ+ allyship (Photo courtesy Renee Cox)

“Exotic philanthro-porn”? I’ve seen each link and checked each receipt from charities and museums for contributions and art work (including nonbinary Indigenous Chamorro artist Gisela McDaniel, Mosie Romney, Renee Cox to LACMA, a Lina Iris Viktor to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and another to the Crocker in Sacramento). It looks like Amar donated more than $3 million worth of art (to date) by LGBTQ, women and minority artists to numerous museums. 

The Air Mail authors also seemed to fudge quotes. For example, they write: “But to the critic and artist Kenny Schachter, Amar was a ‘fake aristocrat’ who frequently boasted about and overinflated his accomplishments in the art world. Others, who wished to remain anonymous, were similarly skeptical, claiming Amar’s work with the L.G.B.T.Q.+ movement was simply a way for him to ingratiate himself further into the art world.”

On Oct. 28, 2023, Schacter wrote Amar a horrified email:

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(Screenshot email from artist Kenny Schachter)

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Royal Amar Singh with Ravi Kant, Advocate in the Supreme Court of India
(Photo courtesy Amar Singh)

The story mentions “crusading Indian lawyer Ravi Kant” – who is actually an Advocate in the Supreme Court of India fighting LGBTQ “conversion therapy.” Kant also validated his work with Amar:  

“I was very impressed with the passion you brought in to the issue of conversion therapy happening on children and the need to work to stop this inhuman practice,” Kant wrote to Amar on Oct. 29, 2023. “Amar you have been very considerate for standing by and supporting this legal research work on this very important area.” 

And then there’s Liza. “The way she was portrayed by Air Mail following us correcting their story is utterly untrue,” says Amar.  

“In my relationship with Amar, we both messed up,” Liza says. “I made some bad choices like cheating and gaslighting, and I deeply believe that his words to me were merely a response to my behavior. All good that he has done and the kind person he is should not be overpowered by a few minutes of responsiveness to my actions. There is no one on this earth who can, with their hand on the heart, say that they have never said things they don’t mean when angry and hurt.”

Apparently, Air Mail doesn’t care. They’ve let inaccuracies stand to bring down a royal. So much for “intelligentsia.” 

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Karen Ocamb is the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade. She is an award-winning journalist who, upon graduating from Skidmore College, started her professional career at CBS News in New York.

Ocamb started in LGBTQ+ media in the late 1980s after more than 100 friends died from AIDS. She covered the spectrum of the LGBTQ+ movement for equality until June 2020, including pressing for LGBTQ+ data collection during the COVID pandemic.

Since leaving the LA Blade Ocamb continues to advocate for civil rights and social, economic, and racial justice issues.

She lives in West Hollywood, California with her rescue dog Pepper.

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