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Twitch adds and celebrates ‘Trans,’ LGBQ tags for its users

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SAN FRANCISCO – The global game-streaming firm Twitch announced last week that it has added affirming tags for its users. The California based high-tech company said that streamers will be able to select from over 350 new tags related to gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, ability, mental health, and more. 

Twitch is the largest of all of the popular social video platforms for online video gamers, and which has also been recently acquired by Amazon. The company said that “these additions won’t change how tagging works and are completely optional. They simply give creators more choices.” The streams’ tags also denote categories such as languages, geographic areas, in addition to newly added gender, sexual orientation, race and nationality categories.

The game streaming platform is nearly 70% adolescents and young adults ages 13 to 34 according to independent Twitch Tracker website’s data analysis and research.

According to Twitch Tracker, the streaming platform’s users engage in between 68 million to 73 million hours of streaming video each day.  

Twitch noted that, “We’d like to thank our trans community for originally requesting the “transgender” tag, and for their passion and persistence in pursuit of that request. This has been one of the most popular requests we’ve heard, and the simple truth is that we should have done this sooner.”

The streaming platform’s actions are following a current trend by social media platforms to be more inclusive. Earlier this month, Instagram rolled out a new feature for its platform users in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia that allows its users to select their preferred profile pronoun from he/him, she/her and they/them. Once selected, the pronoun preference will appear in small gray letters next to their username.

The change by Twitch comes at a time when Trans youth in the U.S. are under legislative attack in over 30 states, which are attempting to ban trans youth from participating in intermural and intramural sports at a secondary and collegiate level.

The company acknowledged that its LGBTQIA+ tag ‘began as an experiment a few years ago and stayed based on overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community.’ But it also acknowledged that it needed to be more expansive in affirming categories, “we understand that, as comprehensive as we have tried to be, we will inevitably miss tags that our community is looking for.”

“We’ve partnered with several independent, third-party organizations such as GLAAD, The Trevor Project, AbleGamers, SpecialEffect, and other experts focused on the progress of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and marginalized communities. And finally, we reached out to members of the Twitch community for their feedback,” the company wrote.

The company also stressed that it was mindful of its user’s online safety.

“Our hope is that these new tags help every community, but especially those that are underrepresented, grow and thrive. As with any means of discovery, there are bad actors who may use the ability to find streams for malicious purposes. Users that utilize these tags as a means to harass those displaying the tags will be subject to enforcement of our Hateful Conduct and Harassment Policy.”

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Meta allowing misinfo & hate speech to proliferate on Threads

Meta released a statement admitting its not extending its fact-checking- users have flooded Threads with racist & anti-LGBTQ hate speech

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Ethan Collier | WASHINGTON – Since its launch on July 5, Meta’s Threads has surpassed 100 million users, including far-right figures and extremists, and the platform quickly became rife with harmful content as Meta carved out exceptions to its community guidelines

As Media Matters previously reported, Meta launched Threads without the fact-checking program that aims to prevent the spread of misinformation on Facebook and Instagram and seemingly abandoned hate speech policies. The company even succumbed to complaints from right-wing users such as Ian Miles Cheong and Donald Trump Jr., dropping warning labels the platform initially placed on accounts with a history of spreading misinformation and restoring a post from anti-LGBTQ social media account Libs of TikTok that was previously removed as hate speech. 

Since Media Matters last documented misinformation and hate speech on Threads, top right-wing accounts have posted harmful content dozens more times — which Meta has not moderated.

Meta has allowed right-wing accounts to continue posting election and health misinformation, as well as conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden

Right-wing users on Threads have been able to peddle unchecked misinformation about the “rigged” 2020 election, COVID-19 vaccines, and abortion.

  • Media Research Center supported podcaster Joe Rogan’s absurd claim that Joe Biden’s victory was “rigged by the media,” stating, “He’s right. The media stole the presidency in 2020.” 
  • Epoch Times reporter and NTD News host Joshua Philipp claimed that “people have been conditioned during the COVID-19 pandemic to obey totalitarian policies they likely would have never gone along with in the past.”
  • The Threads account for former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast shared a clip on Thursday featuring Naomi Wolf, who accused a prominent pharmaceutical company of committing fraud when it sought emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine as proof that “people would have been worse off with the vaccine than without the vaccine, which is literally what we now know they are in terms of COVID and other side-effects.”
  • Founder of anti-abortion organization Live Action Lila Rose claimed, “It’s easy to ignore a statistic but it’s harder to ignore a story. Exposing the brutality of abortion—2500 children killed a day—is difficult, because the world likes to look the other way & abortion’s victims are nameless & voiceless babies.”
  • Live Action’s own Threads account is seemingly entirely dedicated to pushing dangerous claims about abortion, such as one post stating that birth control is “further promoting the sexual revolution’s agenda of convincing women that our liberation is chained to suppressing our fertility and killing our babies.” 
  • OutKick host Tomi Lahren complained that “confused Libs” are advocating for women’s rights when they “don’t know what a woman is” and instead “protect abortion and mutilation.” 

Despite a lack of evidence, right-wing figures baselessly claimed that a small amount of cocaine recently found in an area of the White House frequented by visitors and tour groups really belonged to Hunter Biden.

  • Rogan O’Handley, known online as DC Draino, wrote that it is “wild to me that Joe Biden helped pass the 1994 crime bill which imprisoned millions of black men for drug crime,” but “now when Hunter brings cocaine into the White House 30 years later, he gets a free pass once again.”
  • Donald Trump Jr. also raised suspicions, stating: “Absolutely no one watching is surprised that the most heavily secured, monitored, and guarded house in the world could not figure out the culprit! What exactly does insufficient DNA mean? It means… Hunter Biden!!!”
  • Right-wing personality Terrence K. William posted a meme implying the cocaine found in the White House is Hunter Biden’s.

Threads still isn’t enforcing the hate speech policies that govern Instagram, allowing users to post anti-LGBTQ, racist, and anti-immigrant rhetoric

Anti-LGBTQ attacks on Threads often include transphobic rhetoric and the “groomer” slur, as well as dangerous claims that the LGBTQ community is trying to “sexualize, sterilize and butcher” children. 

  • Conservative commentator Brandon Tatum posted a video with the caption “The LGBTQ community is being used to destroy the black community further!”
  • Teacher and host of the right-wing education podcast The Chalkboard Heresy Show Frank McCormick claimed, “Not even summer camp is safe from these exploitative groomers.” 
  • Far-right and anti-LGBTQ account Gays Against Groomers reposted an image of its tweet that read, “No one cares that you’re gay or trans. They care that you’re trying to sexualize, sterilize and butcher children.”
  • Grant Godwin, also known online as “The Typical Liberal,” shared a video proposing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would require trans men to register for the draft. He stated, “I like where Rep. Tim Burchett’s head is at! Wanna be a boy? Time to do boy stuff. Or, hear me out, we can get back to reality.” 
  • PragerU ambassador and former Today Is America president Xaviaer DuRousseau captioned a photo of Charlize Theron with her children: “Adopting two sons just to force them into dresses and a mentally ill lifestyle is so feral. This should be illegal.” 
  • The Babylon Bee posted a link to its article misgendering U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine, for which the right-wing website’s account was previously suspended on Twitter (before being unilaterally restored under new owner Elon Musk).

Racist, anti-immigrant, and xenophobic hate speech on the platform have included fearmongering about an “invasion” of “illegal aliens,” the uncensored use of racial slurs, including the N-word, and attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and representation.

  • Right-wing media personality and neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec has used Threads to spread cruel attacks against undocumented immigrants, falsely claiming that “illegal aliens are sex trafficking children and Joe Biden is helping them.”
  • A video posted twice of white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes saying the N-word has not been taken down in over a week. 
  • Bannon’s War Room linked to an Axios report on migration numbers with the caption: “It’s Called an Invasion—and Nations are finally waking up.” 
  • Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk mocked the diverse casting of the live-action reboot of Snow White, calling it “Snow White and her DEI Dwarfs” and suggesting that “Disney has lost $900 million at the box office on recent films, and something tells me that figure is only going to get worse.” 

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

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LGBTQ+ blogsite Joe.My.God celebrates 19 years & counting

As the attacks on the transgender community, drag community, & LGBTQ+ allies worsens, Jervis maintains his ‘call-to-arms’

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Veteran blogger and journalist Joe Jervis with an admiring drag queen. (Photo Credit: Jervis/Facebook)

NEW YORK – Nearly two decades have gone by since journalist, editor, and blogger Joe Jervis created what is arguably the oldest LGBTQ+ politics, culture, lifestyle, and entertainment blog, all from his New York City apartment alongside a feline companion.

In his daily blog Friday, Jervis recounted:

“Today marks the nineteenth blogiversary of this here website thingy. Counting this one, we’re at 138,342 posts over 19 years, the last 15 of which have been without a full day off, although posting on weekends is usually at a slower rate. As I’ve said on this day every year, whether I am insanely committed or am insane and should be committed – that is entirely your call.”

The veteran writer is also very much an activist on issues that impact the LGBTQ+ community both at home in the United States and abroad. He has tirelessly campaigned to advance same-sex marriage, military service for the LGBTQ+ community, battling the far right attacks on the humanity of LGBTQ+ people, and most recently while defending the drag community against unfounded lies, smears, and labeling by the conservative family values politicos and leaders of the various anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups- has pointed out the utter hypocrisy of those very people maintaining a running scorecard of religious leaders being arrested for criminal sexual actions against children. Jervis points out in post after post that not a single drag performer has been arrested nor charged with those types of crimes.

As the attacks on the transgender community, drag community, and even LGBTQ+ allies worsen under the current political environment, Jervis maintains his ‘call-to-arms’ writing:

“On behalf of myself and our tireless tech support guy Jack, who deals with a lot of stupid nonsense at stupid hours, you have our eternal thanks for being part of the rollicking community of “homosexual buccaneers” and straight allies that fight the good fight. The ride will likely only get rougher from here, so hang on. We’ve got the kids and righteousness on our side.”

The politically astute Jervis has certainly gained his share of detractors, but over the past 19 years and with an aggregate total of over nearly 1.3M visitors a month to what he refers to as “this here website thingy,” there is little doubt his reach and his impact will continue to be felt by the LGBTQ+ community, its allies, and beyond.

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YouTube demonetizes Matt Walsh after repeated transphobic vitriol

Walsh has been leading boycott of Bud Light for its collaboration with TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney, whom he called “weird & artificial”

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Ari Drennen | WASHINGTON – In a speech at the University of Iowa, self-described “theocratic fascist” and Daily Wire host Matt Walsh complained that his YouTube channel had been stripped of advertiser revenue, which he said was bringing in more than $100,000 per month.

An independent estimate suggests that Walsh’s YouTube revenue could have been as high as $1.6 million per year.

YouTube confirmed the demonetization, with a spokesperson writing, “We suspended monetization on Matt Walsh’s channel due to repeated violations of our YouTube Partner Program policies, which include our Advertiser-Friendly Guidelines. These policies apply equally to all creators, regardless of political viewpoint, and channels that repeatedly violate these policies are demonetized.”

The demonetization, which was announced before the speech in a Twitter thread by Daily Wire CEO Jeremy Boering, reportedly comes in response to Walsh’s increasingly vitriolic campaign against Dylan Mulvaney, which escalated after the transgender TikTok star announced a collaboration with Bud Light. 

Speaking before an audience of college students, Walsh announced that rather than stop his tirades against Mulvaney, he would make his show free to all viewers on the Daily Wire+ app and would upload episodes to Twitter, suggesting some kind of deal with Twitter CEO Elon Musk. “I truly see the fight against gender ideology as the last stand for Western civilization,” Walsh said. “Because if the sane side loses this, it’s over. It’s over after this.”

Walsh has targeted Mulvaney in a series of increasingly vicious attacks over a period of several months, beginning with a rant in which Walsh told the trans influencer, “You are weird and artificial, you are manufactured and lifeless, you are unearthly and eerie.” The monologue led to backlash within right-wing media and was cited by one Daily Wire writer in her decision to leave the company. But Walsh doubled down, saying that he “would rather be dead” than have a trans child. And then, at the start of  April, Bud Light sent Mulvaney a can of beer with her face on it. 

Walsh, who previously made comments supportive of teenage pregnancy, has a history of spreading anti-trans vitriol. As documented by Media Matters, between mid-February and mid-March, Walsh also repeated his statement about preferring death to a trans child; misgendered and deadnamed a trans woman featured in a Hershey’s chocolate ad (in Canada); defended his colleague Michael Knowles’ call to eradicate “transgenderism … from public life entirely” by claiming to be “in a war against the most deranged ideology ever invented by the human race,” which he called a “parasite”; and called the trans community “a suicide cult.”

YouTube’s hate speech policy promises to “remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups” based on … “gender identity and expression” and/or “sexual orientation.” Social Blade indicates that two Walsh videos had already been demonetized in April when the Daily Wire host led a boycott against Bud Light for collaborating with Mulvaney. If Walsh’s contract contains provisions similar to those found in the contract offered to Louder with Crowder host Steven Crowder, which stated that being demonetized would lead to a 25% cut in his salary, the loss of YouTube revenue is a huge financial blow to Walsh. 

The Daily Wire+ app continues to be available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play store. The Apple App Store’s content guidelines lay out a prohibition on “defamatory, discriminatory, or mean-spirited content, including references or commentary” targeting gender or sexual orientation, especially if the app or content “is likely to humiliate, intimidate, harass, or harm individuals or groups.” The Google Play terms of service similarly forbid “apps that promote violence, or incite hatred against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, caste, immigration status, or any other characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalization.” 

Walsh’s move to uploading his show to Twitter comes at a convenient time for the Daily Wire host. Twitter, which was acquired by Elon Musk in 2022, recently updated its terms of service to remove its previous prohibition on targeted misgendering and deadnaming of trans people. Musk recently launched an effort to reassure nervous Twitter advertisers and to convince those who previously abandoned the platform to return. In one recent interview, Musk claimed that Twitter was open to advertiser feedback but that “freedom of speech is paramount.”

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Ari Drennen is the LGBTQ program director for Media Matters, where she has worked since January 2022. She has a bachelors degree in political science and economics from Middlebury College. Previously she worked at the Center for American Progress and the League of Conservation Voters

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

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Twitter policy ban on misgendering or deadnaming trans folks gone

“Social media companies committed to maintaining safety for LGBTQ people should be working to improve hate speech policies not deleting ones”

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Twitter corporate headquarters in San Francisco, Calif. (Screenshot/YouTube KGO 7 ABC Bay Area)

SAN FRANCISCO – Earlier this month, Twitter covertly removed the section of the “Hateful Conduct Policy” which the social media giant first enacted in combatting targeted misgendering and deadnaming of transgender people in 2018.

Prior to the policy change, Twitter’s Hateful Content Policy stated:
“We prohibit targeting others with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category. This includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.” 

The final sentence, specific to transgender users, has since been removed. According to the Wayback Machine, the sentence referring to targeted misgendering and deadnaming was present on April 7th, but was stricken from the policy on April 8th.

The previous version is here, the current version is here.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis responded to Twitter’s rollback on Tuesday:

“Twitter’s decision to covertly roll back its longtime policy is the latest example of just how unsafe the company is for users and advertisers alike. This decision to roll back LGBTQ safety pulls Twitter even more out of step with TikTok, Pinterest, and Meta, which all maintain similar policies to protect their transgender users at a time when anti-transgender rhetoric online is leading to real world discrimination and violence.

The practice of targeted misgendering and deadnaming has been identified by the ADL and other civil society groups as a form of hate speech. Social media companies committed to maintaining safe environments for LGBTQ people should be working to improve hate speech policies, not deleting long-standing ones.”

Currently, TikTok and Pinterest explicitly prohibit targeted misgendering and deadnaming in their hate and harassment policy, while for both Facebook and Instagram, Meta has publicly stated that they “prohibit violent or dehumanizing content directed against people who identify as LGBTQ+ and remove claims about someone’s gender identity upon their request.”

In 2021, GLAAD joined Media Matters for America and 18 other organizations in calling for YouTube to also align with this as a best practice in their hate speech policy.

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TikTok to divest from Chinese parent if U.S. security deal fails

GLAAD’s annual Social Media Safety Index gave TikTok a failing score on LGBTQ+ safety, yet the app is popular, especially among LGBTQ+ youth

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TikTok CEO Shou Chew (Screenshot/YouTube - know Exact)

CULVER CITY – As the battle over TikTok posing a threat to U.S. national security and Americans continues to escalate, Shou Zi Chew, the chief executive of the Los Angeles-based video-sharing app, will make his first appearance before Congress to testify next week.

In contention is that TikTok is wholly and privately owned by Chinese parent company, ByteDance, which has raised bipartisan fears in local and state governments as well as in Congress of the app being used to collect and manipulate users’ data by the Chinese government or related entities.

The controversy surrounding misinformation, addictive content, censorship, and kids’ data allegedly being accessed by the Chinese government in addition to adults has seen several state governments ban the app entirely from state-owned mobile phones, computers, and data pads.

Shou Zi Chew, a Singaporean entrepreneur, will be attempting to skeptical lawmakers on Capitol Hill that his company’s social networking company poses no dangers to Americans, especially children.

TikTok’s LGBTQ+ following has generally positive experiences although there have been widely reported instances of users, notably transgender users seemingly targeted by the platform’s algorithms and having their accounts banned or repeatedly suspended.

Of greater concern is the staggering rise in anti-LGBTQ+ violence and threats on the platform prompting LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD, in its annual Social Media Safety Index, to give TikTok a failing score on LGBTQ+ safety.

Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor of communications at the University at Buffalo, who studies misinformation and extremism, told Scientific American journalist Helen Santoro in a December 2022 interview:

“It’s become pretty clear that the LGBTQ+ community is now at the heart of the new iteration of the culture wars that we have been unfortunately going through in recent years,” he says. This community has become “a staple of right-wing messaging and often propaganda.”

Scientific American reported the false claims and rhetoric used by right-wing extremists dehumanize and vilify the LGBTQ+ community and provoke stochastic terrorism, a phenomenon in which hate speech increases the likelihood that people will attack the targets of vicious claims.

Research has also shown that this type of rhetoric can motivate people to express and possibly act on their prejudiced views

According to GLAAD, Media Matters for America, and the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI social media plays a crucial role in the spread of this stochastic terrorism to include TikTok.

TikTok to divest from ByteDance if U.S. security deal fails- Report from Yahoo Finance:

Related:

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RuPaul: “Drag queens are the Marines of the queer movement”

“Register to vote so we can get these stunt queens out of office and put some smart people with real solutions into government”

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RuPaul Andre Charles (Screenshot/Instagram)

PROVO, S.D. – 12 time Emmy award winner RuPaul Andre Charles, drag queen, television personality, actor, musician, and model called out the conservative Republicans and extremists who are engaged in legislative and media attacks on LGBTQ+ Americans Wednesday.

In a video posted to his Instagram account, the drag superstar labeled Republican lawmakers passing anti-trans and anti-drag performance bills bullies and said:

“Hey, look over there! A classic distraction technique, distracting us away from the real issues that they were voted into office to focus on: jobs, healthcare, keeping our children safe from harm at their own school.

“But we know that bullies are incompetent at solving real issues. They look for easy targets so they can give the impression of being effective. They think our love, our light, our laughter and our joy are signs of weakness.

“But they’re wrong because that is our strength. Drag queens are the Marines of the queer movement. Don’t get it twisted and don’t be distracted. Register to vote so we can get these stunt queens out of office and put some smart people with real solutions into government.

“And by the way, a social media post has never been as powerful as a registered vote.”

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Local math teacher takes son to WeHo nail salon, defies negativity

The toddler’s pre-school teacher scolded him for wanting to paint his nails saying “painting your nails is only for girls”

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Christian Shearhod and his 3-year-old son Ashton (Photo via Shearhod/Instagram)

HOLLYWOOD – Christian Shearhod, who teaches math in Los Angeles County, took his three-year-old son to a West Hollywood nail salon after the toddler’s daycare teacher said “painting your nails is only for girls.”

“My son came home from school upset because his teacher told him that painting his nails is only for girls, so today I’m taking him to the nail shop!” Christian Shearhod said in a TikTok video posted last week.

Shearhod noted that the boy’s daycare teacher had scolded him for wanting to paint his nails, calling it a ‘girls only’ activity.

In an interview with NBC News Shearhod said his son first expressed interest in nail polish around the age of 2. 

“Since then, we started painting our nails together,” he said. 

Shearhod, in a relationship with his transgender girlfriend Eden, is a straight LGBTQ+ ally and uses his TikTok platform to bolster LGBTQ+ equality and visibility.

Eden, Ashton, & Christian Shearhod (Photo via Shearhod/Instagram)

After the negativity from his son’s daycare teacher which upset his son, Shearhod told NBC News that he and his girlfriend hoped to cheer the boy up by taking him to the nail salon.

“I really just wanted to make sure that he didn’t have guilt or shame, because it is something that he enjoyed, and we had done together multiple times,” Shearhod said, adding that he wants his son to enjoy life to the fullest at his age, without “strict gender norms.”

The following school day, Shearhod said he spoke with Ashton’s day care teachers. 

“I just told them, ‘Hey, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say that kind of thing to Ashton, kind of let him do his own thing,’” Shearhod told NBC he said to the daycare staff.

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@mr.shearhod

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StanChris asks his Dad some uncomfy questions

LA Blade contributor StanChris is back with a new video where he and his Dad engage in questions around his sexuality and how his Dad views it

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Screenshot/YouTube

LOS ANGELES – It’s a new year and Los Angeles Blade contributor StanChris is back with a new video where he and his Dad engage in questions around his sexuality and how his Dad views it.

Editor’s note: The following video is sponsored by SkillShare which is not endorsed by nor an advertising partner of the Los Angeles Blade.

ASKING MY DAD AWKWARD GAY QUESTIONS:

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YouTube Channel Subscribe here!!: (Link)

S O C I A L S & L I N K S

→Instagram: stanchris https://instagram.com/stanchris

→ Twitter: stanchrisss https://twitter.com/stanchrisss

→Spotify: qtboy3 https://open.spotify.com/artist/3deN7…

→Tik Tok: stanchrissss https://www.tiktok.com/@stanchrissss?…

→meme Instagram: woketwink https://instagram.com/woketwink

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How rise of school surveillance software affects LGBTQ students

“Should students who identify as LGBTQ be identified from monitoring software, and potentially be disciplined or punished?”

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15-year-old Desmond Napoles & his mother Wendy (Photo courtesy of the Napoles family)

By Anne Wen | NEW YORK CITY – During the pandemic, 15-year-old Desmond Napoles looked up the definition of sexuality out of personal interest on their school-issued tablet. The New York City sophomore did not realize at the time that school administrators and teachers could be alerted to the search. 

As schools increasingly monitor students’ online activities, LGBTQ students find themselves at particular risk. The tracking can “out” queer students because the software can notify school officials or law enforcement officers of searches related to sexuality and other topics. And it can make it harder for LGBTQ students, in particular, to access sexual health information online. 

The increase in district-issued devices during the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated worries among some queer students, who now feel they are constantly watched by their schools at home and school. 

“When you realize that you’re being tracked and you looked up something already, it’s pretty stressful,” said Napoles. The New York City Department of Education did not respond to questions from Youth Today about its use of monitoring software. But the district signed a contract with tracking software company GoGuardian in 2021, according to Bloomberg.

“UNINTENDED BUT HARMFUL CONSEQUENCES”

Eighty-nine percent of teachers surveyed in a spring 2022 Center for Democracy & Technology poll said their school monitors student activity on school-issued or personal devices.  

School surveillance targeting LGBTQ students: colorful artistic headshot of youth with curly hair and painterly makeup

Desmond Napoles (Photo by Aaron Williams)

“When you realize that you’re being tracked and you looked up something already, it’s pretty stressful,” said Desmond Napoles.

“Students are working under the false assumption that certain things — their chats, their documents — are private, when in fact, they’re being actively monitored by the school,” said Cody Venzke, one of the authors of the report. “That can come as a shock for students not aware that what they’re writing in the document they thought was their private journal is in fact being scanned by an algorithm and potentially relayed to school counselors or even law enforcement.”

U.S. Senate investigation into educational technology companies that sell products to monitor students’ online activity found that the products “raise significant privacy and equity concerns.” 

“Studies have highlighted unintended but harmful consequences of student activity monitoring software that fall disproportionately on vulnerable populations: artificial intelligence and algorithmic systems frequently mischaracterize students’ activity and flag harmless activity as a ‘threat,’ and students from minority or marginalized communities, including students of color and LGBTQ students, are far more likely to be flagged,” according to the Senate report, which focused on companies including Gaggle, GoGuardian, Bark Technologies and Securly Inc.

The Senate report noted research showing that algorithms used in the products are more likely to flag language used by people of color and LGBTQ students as problematic, and that, since LGBTQ students largely prefer to seek help online, some of these monitoring tools’ website filtering features “frequently” prevent them from accessing health information by flagging words related to sexual orientation.

“The impacts of these shortcomings range from disproportionate disciplinary rates of LGBTQ students to unintentional outing of LGBTQ students to parents and other adults,” according to the Senate report.

In responses to the Senate investigation, the companies emphasized their commitments to student safety. Gaggle, which reports its products are used by about 1,500 school districts, provided a list of more than a dozen school superintendents and officials who had agreed to serve as references for their products. 

Gaggle and GoGuardian, two major companies providing surveillance software to schools, declined interview requests from Youth Today.

But in an emailed statement, Gaggle said that its software had helped save the lives of 1,562 students who were planning or actively attempting suicide last school year and noted that LGBTQ youth were four times more likely to consider or attempt suicide than their peers. The company also cited a Gaggle-sponsored white paper that found 85% of educators reported the monitoring software helps reduce the harassment of LGBTQ students. 

GoGuardian sent a statement reading, in part, “GoGuardian believes that our schools and classrooms should be spaces where all students are treated equitably and have the opportunity to learn and thrive.”

The company noted its work with experts to strengthen “internal resources” in support of marginalized communities, citing recent educational content and a webinars produced in partnership with The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and mental health organization for LGBTQ youth. 

In a statement to Youth Today, a spokesperson for The Trevor Project wrote that the nonprofit does not partner with GoGuardian and does not plan to do so. Earlier this fall, The Trevor Project returned a $25,000 donation from Gaggle, citing concerns about the software’s “role in negatively impacting LGBTQ students.”

“TECHNOLOGY COULD HAVE BEEN A LIFESAVER”

School surveillance targeting LGBTQ students: white man in suit with arms crossed in government building

Photo courtesy of Chris Wood

Chris Wood, executive director of LGBTQ Tech, a nonprofit that provides tech policy advice about LGBTQ individuals, believes that schools ask students to use the services with good intentions, but the inadvertent effects of monitoring make schools less safe for queer students. 

“If you can’t have a supportive environment at home, then you look to a supportive environment, in the places that you’re at most often, like a public school or a library,” Wood said. “And if you’re then making it harder for them to gain access to those resources, through monitoring or filtering, then you’re creating an environment where we’re creating a mental health nightmare.” 

Wood also said that the web filters many districts use to protect students against sexual content, may also inadvertently block advice that helps LGBTQ individuals without supportive biological families. 

The way some districts use monitoring software may particularly harm students of color who are LGBTQ, Wood noted, by exposing them to a disparate risk of discipline due to their online activity. 

“Technology could have been a lifesaver. It could have been an opportunity for an individual to explore their identity and have safe and equitable conversations about their identity” Wood said. “Instead, we’re doing quite the opposite.”

To better serve students, teachers should connect LGBTQ students with more resources so that they can come to terms with their identity, said Maria Dolores Cimini, a psychologist and behavioral health researcher at the State University of New York at Albany.

“Should students who identify as LGBTQ be identified from monitoring software, and potentially be disciplined or punished, that is inappropriate,” Cimini said. “It is something that could negatively affect their mental health and could even increase increased concerns such as depression, anxiety, and even risk for suicide.”

School surveillance targeting LGBTQ students: white woman with glasses and short hair in front of solid grey background

Photo courtesy of Maria Dolores Cimini

Wendy Napoles, Desmond’s mother, is thankful for the New York school district’s use of filters to prevent students from viewing inappropriate content such as pornography on district devices. Both she and Desmond Napoles acknowledged that the monitoring software can provide safety, especially if a student’s search history reveals chronic mental health problems. 

But the potential to track a student’s search history, including topics related to sexuality and gender, feels like an invasion of privacy, Wendy Napoles said. 

“I’m just really worried, as Desmond is, about who is looking at this, and what are they doing with that data?” Wendy Napoles said. “Are teachers seeing it, where they may not have known a child was part of the LGBTQ community, and are they going to treat that child differently?” 

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Anne Wen is a Guam-based journalist who covers college education and Pacific islands for The Guardian, Teen Vogue, Pacific Daily News, and Youth Today. 

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The preceding article was previously published by Youth Today & is republished with permission.

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League Of Legends’ first gay black game character censored

“The straightwashing of queer characters from games proves that there is nothing more important than making the most money”

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First gay black character of K'Sante in League Of Legends (Photo courtesy of Riot Games)

SAN FRANCISCO – At the global gaming championship tournament ‘Worlds 2022′ held this weekend in the City by the Bay, Riot Games’ League Of Legends executive producer Jeremy Lee told British media outlet Sky News gaming reporter Martin Kimber, the company removes some references to LGBTQ+ people in countries in which same-sex marriage or being LGBTQ+ is illegal.

Riot Games, which is owned by Chinses Tech Media powerhouse conglomerate Tencent, has introduced the first gay black character of K’Sante into its League Of Legends with great fanfare including a promotional campaign with Out singer-rapper Lil Nas X.

Lil Nas X gave a performance at the Opening Ceremony during the Worlds Finals on Nov 5, an event that was hosted and promoted by Riot Games.

League is a phenomena as one of the most played video games across the world. Since its release in October 2009, League has been free-to-play and is monetized through purchasable character customization. The game is available on the Microsoft Windows and macOS platforms along with a mobile version and has spawned tournaments, numerous spin-off games and merchandise.

League’s gamers take on the role of champions in teams to work together to achieve objectives, and each has a backstory composed for them by the game’s writers.

 Lee told Sky News he was “very proud” of the new character and that Riot Games wants “everyone who plays League Of Legends to find a champion that resonates with them”.

But he admitted that “each region can localise and publish that story in what they feel like is best for the players”.

“Each region may publish certain aspects of the game a little bit differently to fit into the local culture,” he added.

Tencent’s global public relations lead Hanna Woo told Sky News when asked whether the company makes changes or omissions to the storyline behind some characters to suit the regime under which the game is published, she admitted: “Yes, I would say we do.”

Ben Austwick, known by his Twitch streamer handle of “biggusbennus” twitch.tv/biggusbennus told Sky he saw the admission of censorship by Riot Games as; ‘straightwashing shows money is most important.

 “Video games are part of culture and should be at the forefront pushing boundaries, especially in places where LGBT+ oppression is rife,” Austwick said.

“The straightwashing of queer characters from games in countries with a poor record of LGBT+ rights is sad and proves that there is nothing more important than making the most money,” he added.

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