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Tech companies failing to stop dangerous conversion therapy disinfo

According to the report, “rainbow-washing” particularly aims at the trans community for conversion to cisgender identities

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Max Huskins/Los Angeles Blade graphic

MONTGOMERY, Al. – Anti-LGBTQ groups “easily” spread dangerous disinformation online about the so-called conversion therapy as tech companies fail to de-platform such content, especially in non-English languages, according to two reports from the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE).

The reports detail that even though conversion therapy is a widely condemned practice, content related it is “distressingly easy” to find through simple searches on various platforms. 

Though searches in English yielded problematic results, GPAHE found that non-English languages, especially Swahili in Kenya, led to much more anti-LGBTQ disinformation. 

“Tech companies say they have taken steps to ban harmful content related to conversion therapy, but they have to do more, especially in non-English languages,” said Wendy Via, president and co-founder of GPAHE and co-author of the report.

The group’s research took place in English and Spanish in the U.S., English in Ireland and Australia, German in Germany, Spanish in Colombia, and English and Swahili in Kenya.

Conversion therapy has been condemned by dozens of medical and psychological organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA), which also supports a nationwide ban on conversion therapy. 

According to the Williams Institute, LGB people who have undergone conversion therapy are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide. 

Conversion therapy is banned for minors and sometimes adults in seven countries: Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Germany, Malta, France and Taiwan. Both France and Canada outlawed the debunked practice just last month. 

The U.S. has no nationwide ban, but conversion therapy is outlawed in 20 states and more than 100 municipalities in the nation. Partial bans also exist in Mexico, Australia, and Spain.

“Until online searches lead people to only authoritative information about the dangers of conversion therapy, tech companies are complicit in spreading anti-LGBTQ+ hate and disinformation that causes mental and physical harm for individuals, and furthers societal harm,” said Via. 

Generally, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, to some extent, YouTube have taken steps to curtail conversion therapy information, according to GPAHE’s first report “Conversion Therapy Online: The Ecosystem.” When the group searched the term “conversion therapy” on these platforms, they mostly found trustworthy information, except in Swahili. 

However, in comparing social media platforms, the group found that YouTube’s search mechanism returns disinformation and propaganda more frequently than Facebook or Twitter. GPAHE also said the platform is “rife” with pro-conversion therapy material. 

On YouTube, we point viewers to authoritative sources like the Trevor Project for conversion therapy related searches and remove hateful and harassing content against the LGBTQ+ community that violates our policies,” Elena Hernandez, a YouTube spokesperson told the Blade in an email.

YouTube also provided a listing on background of the platform’s policies:

  • Per our hate speech policy, we remove content promoting violence or hatred against protected individuals or groups, including the LGBTQ+ community. For example, content promoting conversion therapy violates this policy and will be removed
    • In Q3 of 2021, we removed over 44,000 channels, over 114,000 videos, and over 50 million comments for violation of our policy on hate speech.
  • Per our harassment policy, we also remove content that features prolonged name calling or malicious insults based on their intrinsic attributes, including sexual orientation or gender identity.
    • In Q3 of 2021, we removed over 70,000 channels, over 283,000 videos, and over 157 million channels for harassment & cyberbullying. 
  • Additionally, our hate and harassment policies include penalties for creators who repeatedly brush up against the line, including removal from the YouTube Partner Program.
  • Our Community Guidelines apply globally  in every country we operate. More than 20,000 people around the world, including many with non-English language expertise, work to detect, review and remove content that violates our policies.
    • We publish video removals by country in our quarterly Transparency Report – based on the IP address of the channel when a video was uploaded. This isn’t an exact indication of language, but can be used as a loose proxy to demonstrate that we vigorously enforce our policies around the globe, including on non-English content.
    • Note that within the top 10 countries for videos removed, the vast majority are non-English speaking, for example Vietnam, India, and Brazil.
  • Our systems are trained to raise authoritative sources, like news organizations and experts, in search results, recommendations, and information panels for certain sensitive topics. We’re always working to expand and improve these. 
    • For example, searches about “conversion therapy” and “reparative therapy” surface an information panel linking to The Trevor Project.

The company has come under fire in the past for policies surrounding conversion therapy. In 2019, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) revoked its enforcement of Google over an app tied to conversion therapy. At the time, other major companies – like Apple and Amazon – removed the app. 

Google eventually removed the app. “After consulting with outside advocacy groups, reviewing our policies, and making sure we had a thorough understanding of the app and its relation to conversion therapy, we’ve decided to remove it from the Play Store, consistent with other app stores,” the company said in a statement to Axios

Though initial search mechanisms generally didn’t lead researchers to conversion therapy providers, Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms did lead users down a dangerous conversion therapy “rabbit hole” once they found a provider, the report found.

The Blade could not reach Meta (Facebook) and Twitter for comment. 

Last year, a Reuters report detailed how even though Facebook banned conversion therapy, the debunked practice continued to thrive in Arabic. 

“Facebook led me to conversion therapy, and I’m not alone,” said Omar, an Egyptian man who turned to Facebook when he began feeling sexually attracted to other men. He requested Reuters use only his first name because he has not yet come out to his family. 

Though GPAHE’s report did not study Arabic languages, it did find that languages other than English yielded more harmful search results. 

In all languages and countries, GPAHE found that search results from Microsoft’s Bing and Amazon’s Silk and Alexa were “significantly less authoritative.”

“These companies are rarely, if ever, challenged on their search algorithms despite serving hundreds of millions of people worldwide,” the release said. 

GPAHE suggested that Bing and Silk create search algorithms that surface authoritative information. In addition, Amazon should remove conversion therapy providers from the Smile program, the group said.

Both Microsoft and Amazon did not immediately return requests for comment. 

Amazon has had a checkered past with anti-LGBTQ content, especially on its web store. However, the company did stop selling books prompting conversion therapy in 2019.

“It’s time for the major internet and social media companies to wake up to their role in promoting harmful practices and disinformation,” the report read. “Conversion therapy is dangerous. If someone is searching for this material on any internet platform, they should only find authoritative results that document the therapy’s harms.” 

The group also found a “highly problematic” difference between results in English and Swahili in Kenya. Search results in English led to a mix of trustworthy and false information, while results in Swahil lead to material that disparages and mocks LGBTQ+ people and calls conversion therapy repuatable. 

“Even the Wikipedia page in Swahili in Kenya is filled with hateful disinformation,” a GPAHE press release read. 

German search results yielded mostly accurate information about conversion therapy. The group said this was likely due to Germany’s conversion therapy ban and strict hate speech laws. 

“Unlike what GPAHE found in most other countries and languages, Google searches in German for various conversion therapy terms came up almost entirely with authoritative results,” the report read.

However, the group did find one exception in searching “reintegrative therapie.” The search term populated reintegrativethereapy.com, a conversion therapy provider, in all of the first four results. But mostly trustworthy information follows. 

Using terms such as “reintegrative therapy” or “unwanted same-sex attraction” is a common way for conversion therapy providers and proponests to evade safeguards and prompt their content. According to the GPAHE report, such search terms led almost exclusively to unauthoritative and harmful disinformation.

GPAHE suggested that tech companies incorporate the terms “same-sex attraction” and “reintegrative therapy” into the algorithms to increase reliable and safe results.

Another method conversion therapy supporters use is hiding behind a so-called religious imperative or claiming that they are protecting kids, the report said. 

“As conversion therapy providers constantly rebrand their malicious efforts and introduce new terms, tech companies need to keep up to protect their users,” said Via.

GPAHE has sent its report to tech companies and will follow up with each over the coming months. 

GPAHE added that it “hopes that the report will help tech platforms flag or ban harmful material and serve as an additional authoritative resource for those who search for these organizations or conversion therapy information in general.”

Many of the world’s most surfaced conversion therapy providers were detailed in the group’s second report, “Conversion Therapy Online: The Players.” GPAHE specifically laid out 25 organizations and their “sophisticated and extensive” online presence.

The report found that these providers are interconnected and are essentially composed of three major networks: the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, Core Issues Trust and Exodus Global Alliance. 

These groups have moved into the space, rebranding in a process known as “rainbow-washing,” where they claim to be “friends of the LGBTQ+ community” and feature “younger, hipper, more diverse faces,” according to GPAHE. The groups say they are “victimized by modern society,” co-opting ​​the “language of the LGBTQ+ rights movement to assert liberation for what they call the X-LGBT community.”

According to the report, “rainbow-washing” particularly aims at the trans community for conversion to cisgender identities.

“In recent years, proposed bans on conversion therapy have motivated providers to organize and up their legislative and litigation games,” the report read. “Their activities are bolstered and promoted by powerful social conservative organizations and relatively new X-LGBT groups, such as the Changed Movement, in various countries.”

Of the 25 groups named by GPAHE, 13 were based in the U.S., the most of any country. The states they were located in included Utah, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Kentucky, California, Missouri, Connecticut, Tennessee and Michigan. 

Other top conversion therapy organizations were located in Northern Ireland, Brasil, Mexico, Germany, England, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway. Others did not have a specific location listed. 

In addition to websites, many of the groups were also on Facebook. Some of the anti-LGBTQ organizations were also on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

“Getting rid of this harmful material online is an important step toward creating a society where LGBTQ+ people are accepted and loved and nobody feels like they want or need to change who they are,” said Heidi Beirich, report co-author and co-founder of GPAHE. “No more hate. That’s the overall goal.”

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Abusive practices & conversion therapy ties: Finnish Doctor Kaltiala

Dr. Riittakerttu Kaltiala published stating she helped “pioneer” trans care. The reality is more akin to a horror story

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By Erin Reed | WASHINGTON – On Monday, Bari Weiss’ platform, “The Free Press,” published an article by Dr. Riitakerttu Kaltiala, the chief psychiatrist in the department of adolescent psychiatry at Finland’s Tampere University Hospital.

Dr. Kaltiala claims to reveal the “truth” about gender-affirming care, contending that this truth is being “silenced” by esteemed organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology.

What she omits, however, are the troubling allegations of misconduct within her own gender clinic in Finland, her associations with conversion therapists and anti-trans entities, how those practices have found their way into her clinic, and her involvement in lobbying against trans care in the United States.

Ultimately, the story’s title as well as its assertions are false: gender affirming care is not dangerous, and to many of her patients, the only thing she has pioneered is their suffering.

Dr. Kaltiala initiated her medical journey in forensic and adolescent psychiatry, ultimately ascending to the position of chief psychiatrist of adolescent psychiatry at the university hospital. In 2011, despite her prior research portfolio having little to nothing to do gender medicine, she was tasked with establishing a gender clinic.

For years, details of her clinical practice remained obscure to American audiences. At the time, the urgency of anti-trans legislation in the United States had not even begun, and the operations of a chief psychiatrist in a Finish gender clinic seemed of marginal concern to the public eye.

This dynamic shifted in the early 2020s when the surge of legislation targeting trans people reached its zenith. Proponents of these measures, eager to deflect claims that their stance was rooted in religious discrimination, searched for ways to give their position a veneer of scientific credibility. A handful of Nordic clinics, such as Dr. Kaltiala’s, became invaluable to the anti-trans right, offering an appearance of scientific authority to support their cause.

Simultaneously, alarming testimonials from Dr. Kaltiala’s patients regarding their clinic encounters started circulating. The Finnish LGBTQ+ platform, Kehrääjä, solicited information from many of the clinics patients. What it found was shocking.

The publication detailed an alleged incident where a clinician asked a young girl to “describe to me how you masturbate,” an allusion to the discredited theory of transgender identity being a fetish, once used as a way to invalidate many transgender people.

Additionally, a transgender boy was allegedly cautioned that bottom surgery “seldom functions correctly,” and was remarked upon his stature, being told he would “be quite short for a man.” His treatment was subsequently put on hold after being told that his hobbies were “too girlish.”

Numerous patients have reported being addressed by their old names and pronouns in the clinic, a practice that apparently persisted irrespective of legal name changes. While the clinic denies these claims, Dr. Kaltiala’s statements reflect a similar stance.

She is on record opposing the validity of transgender people’s gender identities, once stating, “Acceptance means saying, ‘So you’re a boy who feels like you’re a girl,’” to a transgender girl. These assertions are consistent with patient accounts that children were referred to by their sex assigned at birth, regardless of any legal name changes or if they had been living in accordance with their gender identity prior to arriving at the clinic.

Similarly, she opposes allowing trans youth to change their IDs, stating that “it would be irresponsible to cement their gender self-identification in state documents” to Leor Sapir, an activist from the Manhattan Institute opposing care.

“How does it feel knowing you’ll never be as good as real man?”

The clinic apparently utilizes gatekeeping methods not used in modern standards of care that were more common decades ago. One patient reports being told, “how does it feel knowing you’ll never be as good as a real man.” The patient likewise claimed to Kehrääjä that he was always expected to display traditional, strong masculinity that would then be judged by the staff.

The clinic required “real life experience” in your gender identity to obtain care, but that “real life experience” did not begin until after diagnosis, according to some patients. The mandatory requirement of “real life experience” combined with enforcement of gender stereotypes is more akin to how trans people were treated in the 1970s than modern times. These practices have been decried by Amnesty International.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect is the clinic’s endorsement of what appears to be “gender exploratory therapy,” a new form of conversion therapy. This method, increasingly favored by right-wing opponents of trans healthcare, aims to postpone transition indefinitely while attributing a trans identity to factors other than a person’s authentic experience of gender.

As a result, necessary care is perpetually deferred until trans youth feel that transitioning is no longer viable or they age into adulthood. This form of conversion therapy, endorsed by many in the Christian right in the United States, has also been advocated by the American College of Pediatricians — an organization with a deceptive name that has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Here are a list of supposed “causes of being trans” that gender exploratory therapy seeks to “explore,” all while putting off transition indefinitely. The list is from “Parents of ROGD Kids,” and patient reports from Dr. Kaltiala’s clinic show that the clinic tries to explain trans identification on many of these unsupported “causes” of being trans. You can see that the number of “truly transgender people” is listed as a tiny speck, with the implication that most people who identify as transgender are not “truly trans.”

“It feels like the whole process is about searching for various reasons why the child is transgender. The option that transgender identity could be an innate, unchangeable trait is considered only as a last resort,” one family told Kehrääjä. Numerous accounts of experiences at the clinic detail delayed transition and denial of care until adulthood, with many stating the experience was traumatic or harmful.

“at this hospital, we provide… exploratory intervention”

Dr. Kaltiala claims that gender affirming care is dangerous, but in reality, it is her practices that are dangerous to her patients. She has explicitly endorsed gender exploratory therapy, stating that “at this hospital, we provide… exploratory intervention” when delivering a speech to the Florida Board of Medicine advocating the banning of gender affirming care. The harms of this institutionalized, therapeutic gaslighting are evident in patient reports solicited from others who have undergone exploratory therapy.

The clinic’s lengthy waiting lists have reportedly inflicted harm on patients. In search of timely care, some have reportedly sought treatment beyond the nation’s frontiers. One family, for instance, obtained a diagnosis from a private doctor who legally prescribed puberty blockers. Despite this, the clinic reported the patient to child protective services and filed a criminal complaint. These actions resulted in no legal repercussions; however, Dr. Kaltiala’s clinic subsequently terminated the patient’s care.

Gender affirming care is not “dangerous,” it saves lives. A recent report from the esteemed medical journal, The Lancet, published on July 26, highlights that gender affirming care constitutes a form of preventative healthcare. It is associated with an improved quality of life and plays a crucial role in the well-being of transgender youth.

Numerous studies have shown that it leads to positive psychological outcomes and reduces suicide rates significantly—some studies report a remarkable 73% decrease in suicide rates. The endorsement of gender affirming care is supported by a collection of over 50 papers compiled by Cornell University, all of which underscore its beneficial effects.

Dr. Kaltiala’s engages in numerous other falsehoods in her article. She claims, for instance, that up to 80% of transgender children will “desist” from their gender identity—a claim based on decades-old data that has been widely debunked by newer studies. She endorses the idea of “social contagion” as a driver behind transgender healthcare, proposing that “gender clinics around the world” are diagnosing “social contagion-linked gender dysphoria.”

Yet, on average, transgender youths have a longstanding awareness of their gender identity, often 4-8 years, before they reveal it to their parents. The invocation of “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” and similar concepts, which insinuate that transgender youths’ gender dysphoria emerges suddenly due to social contagion, has been repudiated by over 60 leading psychological organizations.

She also leans heavily into the idea that gender affirming care lacks “high quality” evidence, according to an analysis using the GRADE technique done by those in the country. This point has been heavily refuted by medical experts as well as several courts in the United States, including federal courts in Arkansas and Georgia. It would be impossible to conduct a study that obtains a “high quality” score because it would require a randomized controlled trial, which is not ethically possible for gender affirming care. In fact, most medical care does not have “high quality” GRADE scores because if a treatment is known to be likely lifesaving from clinical experience and observational data, it would be difficult to obtain approval to withhold that care.

See this portion of a judgement by a federal court in Georgia which evaluates this very claim:

Dr. Kaltiala cannot be characterized merely as an impartial medical researcher; she has emerged as a key figurehead for an anti-trans movement. She has been deeply involved with many of the key players in trans care bans. She’s appeared in a podcast by Genspect, an entity known for opposing gender affirming care up to the age of 25teasing transgender children on social media, and promoting Moms for Liberty—a staunchly conservative anti-LGBTQ+ “parental rights” organization in the U.S.

In the her appearance on a Genspect podcast, Dr. Kaltiala was featured alongside Stella O’Malley, founder of Genspect, who has labeled trans girls as “porn induced” fetishists and stated they warrant “no empathy.” She similarly has worked with the Catholic Medical Association’s Patrick Hunter, a Desantis-handpicked Florida Board of Medicine member who was integral to the care bans in the state. She testified at the Florida Board of Medicine hearing to help ban care.

Were Dr. Kaltiala a single chief adolescent psychiatrist in a private medical hospital in the United States, it would warrant concern. Instead, she runs the gender program of one of only two hospitals that serve trans youth in Finland. Her rise to her position and the outdated methods she employ for trans youth in her clinic’s care means she can have outsized influence on policy. That influence then gets magnified and singled out to help ban care in the United States.

Likewise, her willingness to promote harmful policies towards trans patients has given her purchase in the biggest circles opposed to transgender rights. JK Rowling retweeted her story. It was shared by Leor Sapir of the Manhattan Institute. The far-right Alliance Defending Freedom blasted the story. So did Seth Dillon. Even Elon Musk has joined in the discussion about her.

The prevailing narrative for the past few years has painted Finland as a “progressive place” for transgender healthcare that later retracted its approach following a “careful examination of evidence.” However, there has been scant scrutiny of the actual practices at the country’s primary clinic. Now, the stories of those on the front lines—the patients grappling with a healthcare system rife with mistreatment and political agendas—are coming to light.

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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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Instagram reinstated Gays Against Groomers’ account

The group’s accounts have repeatedly claimed LGBTQ people are “grooming” children rhetoric that Meta has said “violates hate speech policies”

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Graphic by Molly Butler for Media Matters

By Camden Carter | WASHINGTON – On October 25, Instagram suspended and then quickly reinstated the account of the anti-LGBTQ group Gays Against Groomers, allegedly apologizing for getting it “wrong.” The group, its state chapters, and its affiliates have repeatedly and falsely claimed that LGBTQ people are “grooming” children and “normalizing pedophilia,” seemingly violating Instagram and parent company Meta’s terms of service. 

Media Matters has already reported on the group’s Instagram account pushing anti-LGBTQ hate and seemingly violating Meta’s policies. But Meta has generally offered minimal response, which suggests that its hate speech policies are narrowly interpreted and applied. And while the company specifically reiterated that calling LGBTQ people “groomers” violates its policies, it seems to have ignored content targeting teachers, medical providers, and parents that support LGBTQ youth with the “groomer” slur. 

Meta’s inadequate policy enforcement regarding Gays Against Groomers is consistent with its history of failing to moderate hate speech and its pattern of allowing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric to proliferate on its platforms, including from large accounts.

Instagram has a history of failing to adequately moderate hate speech, including from the main account of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Gays Against Groomers

  • Instagram’s community guidelines state that the platform wants “to foster a positive, diverse community” and that it will “remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech.” The policy further specifies that “it’s never OK to encourage violence or attack anyone based on their … sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation” and that “overstepping these boundaries may result in deleted content, disabled accounts, or other restrictions.” [Instagram, accessed 10/26/23]
  • Instagram, in particular, has a history of failing to moderate harmful accounts despite Meta’s anti-hate speech and harassment policies. [Media Matters, 5/18/222/18/227/6/222/21/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers is composed of experienced right-wing grifters, despite claiming to be a “grassroots” organization. The group’s founder Jaimee Michell and former chair and co-founder David Leatherwood both have employment histories with right-wing firms and connections to right-wing figures, as do several of GAG’s staff and members. [Instagram, 6/6/23; Media Matters, 7/6/232/7/23]
  • In September, Media Matters reported on a plethora of posts from Gays Against Groomers’ main account that seemingly violate Instagram’s policies — including by referring to LGBTQ people as “groomers” and targeting trans people with claims of mental and moral deficiencies. In one post, the organization claimed, “Gender ideology is a trojan horse for pedophilia.” In another post, Gays Against Groomers described a clip from Sesame Street discussing pride as “grooming, point blank.” As of the time of publication, the account has over 360,000 followers. [Media Matters, 9/26/23; Instagram, 3/23/236/5/23, accessed 10/18/23
  • A Meta spokesperson told The Advocate that examples from Media Matters’ September report, which were cited by The Advocate, were “non-violating,” but that “if someone were to use the term ‘groomer’ as an attack against someone based on being part of the LGBTQ+ community, it violates our hate speech policies.” Posts cited by The Advocate included a shared video of children dancing and waving Pride flags, which the poster called an “indoctrination ceremony” with the caption “Indoctrinated kids are groomed kids,” a video of Megyn Kelly attacking Target’s pride collection and saying if “you’re marketing this stuff to little kids, you are a groomer,” and a post with a caption claiming, “There’s no such thing as ‘trans kids.’ There are only groomed kids.” [The Advocate, 9/26/23; Instagram, 6/6/235/18/234/6/23
  • In September, Gays Against Groomers’ Facebook account was reportedly suspended as a “result of a platform error.” According to the Daily Dot, the Facebook account was suspended around September 19, but was reinstated by September 22 despite the account’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Meta even claimed “the suspension was the result of a platform error.” [Daily Dot, 9/25/23
  • On October 25, the Gays Against Groomers Instagram account was briefly suspended by the platform. According to reporting from The Advocate, a person close to the conversations around the group’s suspension “speculated that while Meta’s trust and safety team likely found the group to violate the platform’s guidelines, an intervention might have come from the company’s political team to avert the scrutiny of Republicans in Congress, who have been critical of social media companies for purportedly suppressing conservative voices.” After the account was reinstated, Gays Against Groomers posted on X (formerly Twitter) a message it allegedly received from Instagram that said the platform was “sorry we got this wrong and that you weren’t able to use Instagram for a while.” [The Advocate, 10/25/23
  • Since the Gays Against Groomers Instagram account was reinstated, the group has used the platform to promote its two backup accounts, link to merch, and attack Instagram for “[siding] with predators.” [Instagram, accessed 10/26/23, accessed 10/26/23, accessed 10/26/23]

On Instagram, prominent figures associated with Gays Against Groomers have called multiple LGBTQ figures “groomer” and claimed that “there is a lot of pedophilia in the gay community”

  • BTQ figures “groomer” and claimed that “there is a lot of pedophilia in the gay community”
    • Jaimee Michell, the founder and president of Gays Against Groomers, posted a clip from the show Generation Drag with a caption asking, “Is this just entertainment for groomers by groomers??” The post, which seemingly calls the show’s LGBTQ cast “groomers,” appeared on Michell’s personal Instagram account, where she has over 229,000 followers. [Instagram, 5/2/22, accessed 10/16/23; Deadline, 4/26/22
    • In the caption of another post, Michell claims, “The history and origins of ‘queer theory’ are deeply nefarious and its goal has always been to normalize pedophilia.” The post includes a video that claims to tell “the truth about ‘Queer Theory’ and how schools support pedophilia” with the hashtag #ExposeGroomers.” [Instagram, 12/11/22
    • The New York chapter leader of Gays Against Groomers, whose handle is Magay_45 and who is listed only as “Rachel” on Gays Against Groomers’ own site, posted a video about schools supporting children who are questioning their gender, claiming that it is because “they want to normalize pedophilia” and that “there is a lot of pedophilia in this gay community.” In the caption, Rachel claimed, “The gay community indeed have many perverts in it.” [Instagram, 9/21/23]
    • Rachel also attacked a trans author in a video post, saying, “I should call you a groomer.” In the caption she refers to them as having a “me^tal d!sorder.” [Instagram, 7/18/23
    • Gays Against Groomers co-founder and former board member David Leatherwood shared a video on Instagram featuring an LGBTQ influencer discussing gender and biological sex with a caption that began, “Ok groomer.” Leatherwood has since left the organization, but continues to post anti-LGBTQ content on his account, which currently has more than 34,000 followers. [Instagram, 11/30/22; Media Matters, 7/6/23; Instagram accessed 10/23/23]
    • Florida chapter leader Jana Warnecke shared and responded to a video of someone suggesting ways for parents to support their children’s exploration of gender identity, accusing them of “grooming children to believing that [they] aren’t born in the right body.” In her video, she also claimed that “this is, like, very grooming” and “they can push this as far as they like.” Warnecke has over 41,000 followers on Instagram. [Instagram, 8/10/23, accessed 10/26/23]

Instagram accounts for Gays Against Groomers’ state chapters baselessly refer to LGBTQ people as “groomers” and claim that “molestation” is “slipping thru the cracks now during our gender revolution”

  • Gays Against Groomers Georgia accused a drag queen of “grooming” for reading to children. The video post called for the cancellation of a drag story hour happening in the state. [Instagram, 10/4/23
  • Gays Against Groomers Colorado shared a photo of a transgender state representative over which the words “Now thats what I call a groomer” were superimposed. The caption claimed that she is “pushing for sterilizing medications & butchering of children.” [Instagram, 8/6/23
  • Gays Against Groomers Tennessee posted a video of nonbinary singer Sam Smith dancing to the Teletubbies theme song with a caption claiming, “It’s GROOMING.” [Instagram, 9/11/23
  • Gays Against Groomers Washington posted a cartoon originally captioned “You call that being molested?” with a post caption reading “This is the same kind of thing that is slipping thru the cracks now during our gender revolution.” [Instagram, 8/7/23]

Accounts affiliated with Gays Against Groomers have repeatedly attacked teachers, doctors, and parents who support LGBTQ youth as “groomers”

  • ts who support LGBTQ youth as “groomers”
    • Gays Against Groomers D.C. claimed in a post that teachers who teach children about gender identity are “groomers.” [Instagram, 9/29/23
    • Gays Against Groomers Illinois declared on Instagram that “Minnesota is continuously lowering the age to start medical intervention for CHILDREN who have been groomed to think they are trans is disgusting and it must be banned before any more children lay victim to this wretched ideology.” The image in the post showed a screenshot of a headline about a hospital in Michigan discussing “gender identity” with young patients. [Instagram, 8/15/23
    • Gays Against Groomers Illinois posted a video in collaboration with the group’s main account in which the speaker said every institution that supports age-appropriate gender-affirming care has been “captured by groomers” and that the people involved in them should “never see sunlight again.” [Instagram, 4/4/23
    • Gays Against Groomers Wisconsin shared a TikTok featuring a child with parents who are supportive of them being trans, with the caption, “This is child abuse. Grooming a child to believe they are the opposite sex is bad parenting.” The second half of the video features a man asking, “Who is to say that you — what’s not gonna happen is — you’re pushing this on him?” At one point, text reading, “This is a mass contagion” appears at the top of the video. [Instagram, 8/14/23
    • Becky Weiss, who is an “ambassador” for Gays Against Groomers, claimed in a video post that children “cannot be LGBTQ unless they are being groomed to be so.” In the caption of the post she encourages her audience to “give Boston Children’s a call to let them know how you feel about the mutilation of healthy children” and provides a phone number. [Twitter/X, 9/22/23; Instagram, 9/1/23
    • Michell shared a post featuring a quote from TheBlaze’s Allie Beth Stuckey in which she claimed that only “perverts and predators” would talk to children about being trans. Michell’s caption exclaims, “Say it louder for the groomers in the back‼️” [Instagram, 4/20/22
    • In the caption of a post, Weiss claimed, “A child is not capable of having a sexual orientation unless they have been groomed into having one.” She also wrote, “To teach a child that they can be gay, lesbian, pan, bi, yada yada yada… is to imply that children are sexual beings.” [Instagram, 10/5/23]

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

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Research/Study

100,000 trans youth live in states that banned critical civil rights

Approximately 300,000 youth ages 13 to 17 in the U.S. identify as trans- New report estimates the impact of five types of legislation

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Texas trans youth protesting anti-trans laws aimed at youth. (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

LOS ANGELES – According to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, about 105,200 transgender youth aged 13 to 17 live in 22 states where gender-affirming medical care is banned.

Nineteen of these bans—all except three—were enacted in 2023. An estimated 92,700 transgender youth reside in these states. About 26,000 transgender youth in five states with bans are currently able to access care due to court orders that prohibit enforcement of the laws.

Most gender-affirming care bans block access to a range of treatments, including puberty blockers, hormones, and surgical care, which are considered best-practice medical care for transgender youth by major medical associations in the U.S.

Approximately 300,000 youth ages 13 to 17 in the U.S. identify as transgender. Researchers estimate the number of transgender teenagers affected by five types of laws and policies from the 2023 legislative session—gender-affirming care bans, bans on sports participation, bathroom bans, gender-affirming care “shield” laws, and conversion therapy bans.

Results show that an estimated 96,800 transgender teenagers live in states that restricted their access to health care, sports, or school bathrooms in 2023. However, tens of thousands of transgender youth aged 13 to 17 in other states gained protections this year through laws that ensure access to gender-affirming care and prohibit conversion therapy.

“A record number of laws impacting transgender youth were introduced in state legislatures in 2023,” said lead author Christy Mallory, Legal Director at the Williams Institute. “While most of them did not pass, the ones that did significantly shifted the legal landscape for transgender youth.”

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS

Restrictive Legislation
Bans on sports participation

  • 101,500 transgender youth—about one-third of transgender youth in the U.S.— live in 23 states that restrict access to school sports for transgender students.
    • Five of these laws were passed in 2023. An estimated 14,200 transgender youth live in these states.
    • 11,100 transgender youth live in four states with sports participation bans that cannot be enforced due to court orders.

School bathroom bans

  • 32,700 transgender youth live in states that ban transgender students from using school bathrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity.
    • 23,600 transgender youth live in states that passed bathroom bans in 2023.

Protective Legislation
Gender-affirming care “shield” laws

  • 146,700 transgender youth—about half of transgender youth in the U.S.—live in states with gender-affirming care “shield” laws that support access to care by protecting doctors and parents who prescribe or seek access to medical care for youth.
    • 88,000 transgender youth live in states that passed these laws in 2023.

Conversion therapy bans

  • 198,000 transgender youth—about two-thirds of transgender youth in the U.S.—live in states that ban conversion therapy, a practice intended to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, for minors.
    • 21,800 transgender youth live in states that passed bans in 2023.

Read the report

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Research/Study

Right-wing media smear California Senator Laphonza Butler

Right-wing media was quick with attacks and smears, especially focusing on her identity, the fact that she is a Black, LGBTQ woman

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Zachary Pleat & Jasmine Geonzon | WASHINGTON – Soon after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would appoint Democratic activist Laphonza Butler to replace the late, longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein, conservative media immediately moved to discredit Butler and attack her qualifications.

Right-wing media outlets and anti-abortion groups have falsely claimed she’s ineligible to serve in the U.S. Senate, suggested that she is an abortion extremist due to her previous role as president of EMILY’s List, and used Butler’s identity as a Black lesbian woman to undermine her appointment.

Butler has a long history of public service and political work in California, and she is qualified to serve as U.S. senator

  • On October 1, Newsom announced he would appoint Butler to the Senate to complete the remainder of Feinstein’s term following her death. The term ends in January 2025, and Butler is able to run for the seat again in 2024 if she so chooses. [The New York Times, 10/1/23]
  • Butler was officially sworn in to the U.S. Senate by Vice President Kamala Harris on October 3. Butler is now the third Black woman to serve in the history of the Senate. [The Associated Press, 10/3/23]
  • Butler recently served as the president of EMILY’s List, a political action committee that supports Democratic women in favor of abortion rights, but she previously worked in California politics for years. Though Butler moved to Maryland to lead EMILY’s List, she has long ties to California as a homeowner in the state and is soon expected to re-register to vote in the state before her swearing-in. [CNN, 10/2/23; The Associated Press, 10/2/23]
  • In the past, Butler has worked in California labor organizing and political consulting. Butler previously served as the president of SEIU Local 2015, the largest union in California, and she was an adviser to Harris’ 2020 presidential run. [Los Angeles Times, 10/1/23]
  • According to legal experts, Butler qualifies to represent California in the Senate as long as she resumes her residency there before assuming office. UCLA law professor Rick Hasen elaborated further on Butler’s eligibility based on previous legal precedent, writing, “9th Circuit case law says one must only be a resident upon assuming office, whether appointed or elected.” [Business Insider, 10/2/23; Twitter/X, 10/2/23]

Many right-wing media attacked Butler for being a Maryland resident when she was nominated, often without mentioning her extensive history in California

  • RedState: Newsom was “birthing an immediate scandal” by appointing “a Maryland resident to the seat.” RedState compared the situation to “the constant jabs that Mehmet Oz got from the press for previously living in New Jersey” during his failed 2020 run for Senate in Pennsylvania. [RedState, 10/2/23]
  • The Gateway Pundit: “Newsom to Appoint Abortion Activist Laphonza Butler to Fill Feinstein’s Senate Seat – Who Lives In Maryland and Registered to Vote There Last Year.” The article added, “Laphonza Butler lives in Maryland and registered to vote there LAST YEAR!” [The Gateway Pundit, 10/1/23]
  • Newsmax host Eric Bolling listed some of Butler’s history of public service in California, then asked: “Why not a Californian … to represent their own state?” Bolling noted that after Butler began working as a union organizer, “she moved to California, where she was instrumental in raising minimum wages and hiking taxes on wealthy Californians. She also served as a University of California regent for three years until she moved to Maryland.” [Newsmax, Eric Bolling The Balance10/2/23]
  • The Gateway Pundit posted a second article attacking Butler for living in Maryland while ignoring her history in California. [The Gateway Pundit, 10/2/23]
  • The Daily Wire: “Journalists online noted that Butler listed her state of residence on her X account as Maryland.” The article added, “EMILY’s List was already cleaning up their website to hide where Butler allegedly lives. The organization removed the following line from their website: ‘She lives in Maryland with her partner Neneki Lee and their daughter Nylah.’” [The Daily Wire, 10/1/23]
  • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro: “Congrats to the state of Maryland on finally obtaining three Senators.” [Twitter/X, 10/2/23]
  • HotAir: “Meet California’s new senator: Laphonza Butler of … Maryland?” HotAir portrayed Butler as an out-of-state carpetbagger without a single mention of her extensive history in California, concluding: “We will apparently have our interests handled by, checks notes again for accuracy, Maryland’s Laphonza Butler. I’m sure she’ll represent California just fine, though…from 2,645 miles away.” [HotAir, 10/2/23]
  • In a Townhall article titled “Here’s What’s Odd About Newsom’s Pick to Fill Feinstein’s Vacancy,” the only “odd” thing mentioned was that “some are pointing out that Ms. Butler might be a Maryland resident.” [Townhall, 10/2/23]
  • National Review emphasized that Butler “is a Maryland resident” without mentioning her history in California. National Review focused on the upcoming primary election for that Senate seat while continuing to portray Butler as having no association with California: “By naming an out-of-state resident, Newsom may have helped himself avoid the wrath of the Democrats who have already launched campaigns in the 2024 Senate primary. If they can’t defeat a Maryland resident in a California primary, they’ll really only have themselves to blame.” [National Review, 10/2/23]
  • LifeNews: “Congratulations to Maryland on getting a third Senator, Laphonza Butler.” [Twitter/X, 10/2/23]

Right-wing media and anti-abortion organizations portrayed Butler as an extremist for leading EMILY’s List

Many of these right-wing media comments falsely portrayed Democrats as supporting “on demand” abortion “up until the moment of birth.” But multiple fact checks by news organizations have explained that Democrats generally support abortion until fetal viability, with exceptions for the health of the person carrying the fetus and other extremely rare exceptions.

  • Fox host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: Butler is a “carpetbagging baby killer.” [Fox News, Outnumbered10/2/23]
  • TheBlaze: “Butler has made clear she seeks a uniformly Democratic state that guarantees women the legal ability to exterminate their offspring.” TheBlaze described EMILY’s List as “a leftist outfit that raises money to support prospective female lawmakers who will support the abortion agenda once in office.” The article also criticized Butler for speaking out against anti-abortion legislation nationwide. [TheBlaze, 10/2/23]
  • Hugh Hewitt: “She is the president of EMILY’s List so she’s an abortion rights absolutist, left-wing, way out there, on demand, right up to the point of birth and maybe beyond.” Hewitt also said, “She’s a Black lesbian woman, which checks a couple of boxes for Gavin Newsom with the party’s activist base,” and twice mentioned that she currently lives in Maryland. [Salem, The Hugh Hewitt Show10/2/23]
  • Ben Shapiro complained that Butler is “a lesbian Black woman who leads an organization devoted to abortion.” [The Daily Wire, The Ben Shapiro Show10/2/23]
  • Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America: Newsom appointed “the biggest pro-abortion extremist he could find.” The anti-abortion organization concluded its press release objecting to Butler’s appointment by writing: “The last thing Washington needs is another rubber stamp for the brutal abortion industry.” [Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, 10/2/23]
  • LifeSiteNews criticized Butler as an “abortion activist” and claimed that EMILY’s List “is actually a pro-abortion group that opposes any limits on the killing of preborn children up until the moment of birth.” [LifeSiteNews, 10/2/23]
  • LifeNews: “Democrats are the party of abortions up to birth. Joe Biden, Gavin Newsom, Laphonza Butler.” [Twitter/X, 10/2/23]
  • Fox News contributor Guy Benson: “‘Butler currently lives in Maryland’ — but she’s fanatically devoted to activism on behalf of unlimited abortion, so that’s what matters most.” [Twitter/X, 10/2/23]
  • National Right to Life attacked Newsom for appointing a “pro-abortion activist” to the Senate. The anti-abortion organization called the action “just another example in a long line of actions that Newsom has taken to push unlimited abortions.” [National Right to Life Committee, 10/2/23]
  • Fox guest Chris Bedford: “Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been dead for 24 hours and they appoint a Black lesbian who has devoted her life to killing babies in the womb.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle10/2/23]

Right-wing media also used Butler’s race and sexuality to attack her appointment to the Senate

  • RedState: Butler’s “only qualifications appear to be working on Kamala Harris’ failed 2020 presidential campaign while being a ‘black lesbian.’” The author continued, “I’m just really glad we select the most powerful people in the country based on race and who they sleep with.” [RedState, 10/2/23]
  • TheBlaze: “Extra to being an exponent of the abortion regime, Butler, a lesbian, is also an outspoken LGBT activist.” [TheBlaze, 10/2/23]
  • Steven Crowder: “Laphonza Butler in Swahili means nothing. … Laphonza means nothing. It’s something that African Americans, Black Americans make up.” [YouTube, Louder with Crowder10/2/23]
  • Newsmax host Rob Schmitt: “Laphonza Butler is a Black lesbian and is also a rabid, full-term abortion advocate. Now, whether or not she’s qualified for this, that doesn’t really matter.” Schmitt also said that Newsom’s “pandering” about appointing a Black woman to a vacant Senate seat “is just incredibly disappointing and incredibly insulting,” adding that the governor “certainly checked the box, not to mention a few others, when he appointed Laphonza Butler.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight10/2/23]
  • Fox contributor Tammy Bruce: Butler’s appointment is “an insult to Black women who have served.” Bruce said: “This is a message to the far left, to Kamala perhaps. … It’s the height of identity politics, right? It’s like these boxes get checked. It’s an insult to Black women who have served, who continue to make a difference in this country, who’ve paid their dues. It is about the ultimate in politics, but this is all politics for us.” [Fox News, Outnumbered10/2/23]

Charlie Kirk calls Senate appointee Laphonza Butler “the high priestess of the oppression Olympics”10/02/23 4:37 PM EDT

Ben Shapiro complains that Laphonza Butler is “a lesbian Black woman who leads an organization devoted to abortion”10/02/23 12:39 PM EDT

Conservatives respond with racist smears and vitriol following Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s affirmative action dissent

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

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Research/Study

Attacks on LGBTQ+ rights associated with democratic backsliding

The first study to analyze the relationship between LGBT of LGBTI people and their rights across 175 countries

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UC Berkeley students protest in the Spring of 2020. (Photo by Geoff Livingston)

LOS ANGELES – A new report from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that countries that are highly accepting of LGBTI people tend to have high levels of liberal democracy, such as free and fair elections and the protection of civil liberties. More accepting countries also tend to have higher GDP per capita and a greater share of their population in urban environments.
 
Using data from the LGBTI Global Acceptance Index and the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute, researchers examined the relationship between democratic backsliding and acceptance of LGBTI people. The report highlights four countries—Indonesia, Brazil, Poland, and Ghana—to describe the complex dynamics between anti-LGBTI rhetoric and policies and the rise of authoritarianism.
 
Results show that attacks on LGBTI people and their rights are strongly associated with democratic backslide. A decline in LGBTI acceptance may, under some conditions, be a bellwether of democratic decline.
 
“Anti-LGBTI rhetoric and policies can signal a more fundamental erosion in democratic norms and institutions,” said study author Ari Shaw, Senior Fellow and Director of International Programs at the Williams Institute. “Efforts to marginalize LGBTI people are, on their face, evidence that democracy and respect for minority rights are under threat.”
 
Restrictions on freedoms of association and expression, in particular, may negatively affect LGBTI acceptance given that they are fundamental to the ability of activists to organize and advocate for greater inclusion and to oppose further rollback of rights.
 
“The links between democracy indicators and LGBTI acceptance are clear but complex,” said study author Andrew R. Flores, Visiting Scholar at the Williams Institute. “Future research should examine how state-sanctioned attacks on LGBTI people influence democratic backsliding and how democratic backsliding diminishes acceptance of LGBTI people and their rights.”

Editor’s note:

Democratic backsliding is “a process of regime change towards autocracy that makes the exercise of political power more arbitrary and repressive and that restricts the space for public contestation and political participation in the process of government selection”.

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Research/Study

Instagram lets Gays against Groomers spread harmful rhetoric

Many of the group’s posts violate Instagram’s policies against hate speech, harassment, and misinformation, but has gone largely unchecked

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Camden Carter | WASHINGTON – Meta has allowed anti-LGBTQ group Gays Against Groomers — which falsely frames itself as a grassroots coalition that wants to protect children, but is actually composed of experienced right-wing grifters — to push false narratives about LGBTQ people on its platforms, particularly Instagram. 

Facebook, Instagram, and Threads are some of the few mainstream platforms that have not banned Gays Against Groomers, even though the group seems to have repeatedly violated the platforms’ policies, including by repeatedly promoting the anti-LGBTQ “groomer” slur, claiming trans people have mental and moral deficiencies, and spreading misinformation that’s been debunked by third-party fact-checkers. 

Instagram, in particular, has a history of failing to moderate harmful accounts despite Meta’s anti-hate speech and harassment policies. Attacks have often targeted LGBTQ people, whom Meta has repeatedly claimed it is committed to supporting.

Gays Against Groomers maintains Facebook, Instagram, and Threads accounts, but it has been banned or suspended from other platforms:

  • The anti-LGBTQ group falsely frames itself as a “grassroots” coalition that wants to protect children. On June 6, the group claimed on Instagram, “1 year ago today, @thegaywhostrayed had the idea to create this organization to fight back against the sick agenda being pushed on kids from inside the community. … Our team is comprised solely of volunteers, dedicating huge amounts of their time to furthering our mission. No one has pocketed a dime, and we have had zero big donors. Everything we do is purely a grassroots effort.” [Instagram, 6/10/23] 
  • Gays Against Groomers is actually composed of experienced right-wing grifters. The group’s founder Jaimee Michell and former chair and co-founder David Leatherwood both have employment histories with right-wing firms and connections to right-wing figures, as do several of its various staff and members. [Media Matters, 7/6/232/7/23]
  • The organization has already been banned from Venmo and PayPal. PayPal, which is also Venmo’s parent company, stated that the group violated its prohibition of “activities that promote hate, violence, or discriminatory intolerance.” [Media Matters, 9/26/22]
  • Meta’s platforms are seemingly some of the only major social media platforms that hasn’t banned or suspended Gays Against Groomers. The group’s Google account has been banned, and Gays Against Groomers was suspended from Twitter multiple times, at least one of which was reportedly for using the anti-LGBTQ “groomer” slur that was prohibited on Twitter before Elon Musk took over the company. [Instagram, 5/20/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers’ official Instagram account was created on June 6, 2022, and has since gained over 357,000 followers. Since its creation in June 2022, the group’s main Instagram account has promoted a backup account in its bio. According to the backup account’s bio, it is “just here because we know who big tech protects, so our time on Instagram is probably limited.” Gay’s Against Groomers’ Instagram account has remained on the platform for over a year, during which period it has posted over 1,000 times. [Instagram via Media Matters, 6/6/22]
  • On Facebook, Gays Against Groomers had garnered approximately 39,000 followers between its page’s June 6, 2022, creation and publication of this piece. The organization has used this Meta-owned platform to promote its merchandise and accounts on other platforms. According to the Daily Dot, the Facebook account was suspended last week, but has since been reinstated with Meta confirming “the suspension was the result of a platform error.” [Facebook, 8/24/23; Daily Dot, 9/25/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers has also joined Threads, Meta’s version of Twitter that is anchored to a user’s Instagram account. Threads is currently dictated by the same Community Guidelines as Instagram, however several potentially violative accounts quickly migrated to the new platform, including Gays Against Groomers, which has accumulated over 24,000 followers. On Threads, Gays Against Groomers has continued to post hateful and false content about LGBTQ people. [Threads, accessed 8/31/23]

Meta’s policies prohibit users from targeting LGBTQ people with hate speech (including “groomer”) and harassment, and it promises to label misinformation:

  • Instagram’s community guidelines state that the platform wants “to foster a positive, diverse community” and that it will “remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech.” The policy further specifies that “it’s never OK to encourage violence or attack anyone based on their … sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation” and that “overstepping these boundaries may result in deleted content, disabled accounts, or other restrictions.” [Instagram, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Instagram users must also follow policies around hate speech that govern Facebook. Instagram’s community guidelines also link to Facebook’s hate speech policy, which prohibits “content targeting a person or group of people … on the basis of … protected characteristic(s)” with “dehumanizing speech or imagery in the form of comparisons, generalizations, or unqualified behavioral statements.” The policy specifies that it includes targeting protected groups with comparisons to criminals, statements denying existence, harmful stereotypes, and generalizations about physical, mental, and moral deficiencies. [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Instagram users are subject to Facebook’s policies against bullying and harassment. Instagram’s community guidelines also link to Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy, which protects “private minors, private adults (who must self-report), and minor involuntary public figures” from claims about sexual orientation or gender identity and “expressions of contempt, disgust, or content rejecting the existence of an individual.” [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Meta told the Daily Dot that “baselessly calling LGBTQ people or the community ‘groomers’ or accusing them of ‘grooming’ is governed under their policies prohibiting hate speech.” [Daily Dot, 7/20/22
  • Meta claimed that posts on Instagram that contain information that has been deemed false, misleading, or altered by a third party fact-checker will be labeled as such and deprioritized in feeds. According to Meta, the company is “committed to fighting the spread of misinformation on Facebook and Instagram” and it works “with independent third-party fact-checking organizations who are certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to identify, review and take action on this content.” Until recently, Meta claimed that “each time a fact-checker rates a piece of content as false, we significantly reduce the content’s distribution so that fewer people see it,” and that it applies “a warning label that links to the fact-checker’s article, disproving the claim with original reporting.” Meta also said its “reduced distribution” approach could be applied to content deemed “altered” or “missing context.” [Facebook, accessed 8/31/238/31/23]

Meta’s policies prohibit users from targeting LGBTQ people with hate speech (including “groomer”) and harassment, and it promises to label misinformation:

  • Instagram’s community guidelines state that the platform wants “to foster a positive, diverse community” and that it will “remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech.” The policy further specifies that “it’s never OK to encourage violence or attack anyone based on their … sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation” and that “overstepping these boundaries may result in deleted content, disabled accounts, or other restrictions.” [Instagram, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Instagram users must also follow policies around hate speech that govern Facebook. Instagram’s community guidelines also link to Facebook’s hate speech policy, which prohibits “content targeting a person or group of people … on the basis of … protected characteristic(s)” with “dehumanizing speech or imagery in the form of comparisons, generalizations, or unqualified behavioral statements.” The policy specifies that it includes targeting protected groups with comparisons to criminals, statements denying existence, harmful stereotypes, and generalizations about physical, mental, and moral deficiencies. [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Instagram users are subject to Facebook’s policies against bullying and harassment. Instagram’s community guidelines also link to Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy, which protects “private minors, private adults (who must self-report), and minor involuntary public figures” from claims about sexual orientation or gender identity and “expressions of contempt, disgust, or content rejecting the existence of an individual.” [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Meta told the Daily Dot that “baselessly calling LGBTQ people or the community ‘groomers’ or accusing them of ‘grooming’ is governed under their policies prohibiting hate speech.” [Daily Dot, 7/20/22
  • Meta claimed that posts on Instagram that contain information that has been deemed false, misleading, or altered by a third party fact-checker will be labeled as such and deprioritized in feeds. According to Meta, the company is “committed to fighting the spread of misinformation on Facebook and Instagram” and it works “with independent third-party fact-checking organizations who are certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to identify, review and take action on this content.” Until recently, Meta claimed that “each time a fact-checker rates a piece of content as false, we significantly reduce the content’s distribution so that fewer people see it,” and that it applies “a warning label that links to the fact-checker’s article, disproving the claim with original reporting.” Meta also said its “reduced distribution” approach could be applied to content deemed “altered” or “missing context.” [Facebook, accessed 8/31/238/31/23]

On Instagram, Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly referred to LGBTQ people as “groomers”:

  • In a post, Gays Against Groomers claimed that LGBTQ people “are actively grooming kids into the Rainbow Cult.” The post cited a report that found “1 in 4 high school students identifies as LGBTQ” and implied that it is a result of the LGBTQ community “grooming” kids. [Instagram, 4/28/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers shared a TikTok that showed a video of children dancing and waving Pride flags, calling it an “indoctrination ceremony.” The caption of the post reads, “Indoctrinated kids are groomed kids.” [Instagram via Media Matters, 6/6/23, Instagram, 6/6/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers shared a clip from Sesame Street celebrating Pride, saying that it is about “grooming children for sexual orientation and sexual preference.” The caption referred to the video as “teaching toddlers about sex” and “grooming, point blank.” [Instagram via Media Matters, 6/5/23, Instagram, 6/5/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers shared a TikTok claiming that being trans is a “social contagion” that is being pushed by “woke teachers.” The post (seemingly made by the organization’s associate director of communications, Carol Hatch) also claims that parents who support their trans children are guilty of “grooming,” and accuses them of “sexualizing children” and making them “low-hanging fruit for predators.” The claim that gender dysphoria is a “social contagion” has been debunked by numerous medical organizations. [Instagram, 5/30/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers attacked Target for “pushing LGBTQ+ clothing and products on children.” In a post noting that the group had called for a boycott of Target, Gays Against Groomers included an image where the Target sign was replaced with the word “groomers.” The caption that the group will “no longer allow these companies to pervert our youth and groom them into the Gender Cult!” [Instagram, 5/25/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers posted a clip of Megyn Kelly discussing the organization and attacking Target, saying that if “you’re marketing this stuff to little kids, you are a groomer.” The caption of the post called for viewers to boycott Target and “not support companies that support sexualizing and indoctrinating children.” [Instagram, 5/18/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers posted a video about a clip from a children’s TV show featuring a Pride celebration and trans characters, captioned “There is a massive agenda currently being pushed to manipulate and groom your children.” [Instagram, 5/16/23]
  • The organization posted a video claiming that if you are against the organization, that’s because you want to “push your agenda because you want to make it alright to be a sexual queer kid in the 21st century. You want full-on access to adult porn for kids, kids have sex with adults.” The caption referred to the people who do not support GAG as “people that want to groom and sexually abuse children.” [Instagram, 4/25/23]
  • In a video posted by Gays Against Groomers, the speaker claims that “the entire point of the Pride events” is to “sexually groom” children. The caption stated: “If you don’t want to be called a groomer, stop acting like one.” [Instagram, 4/24/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers shared a post promoting a recently published article on its blog titled “The Transgender Bill of Rights: Gay Erasure and the End of Childhood Innocence.” The caption of the post claimed that the “The Trans Bill of Rights” is “SPONSORED BY PEDOPHILES,” that “they want to erase us” and “REMOVE gay people from the conversation,” and that progressives are really “groomers.” [Instagram, 4/9/23
  • The caption of a post shared by the group read, “There’s no such thing as ‘trans kids.’ There are only groomed kids.” The video in the post featured the leader of the Illinois chapter of Gays Against Groomers discussing the inclusion of a flag with the words “protect trans kids” in the background of an animated movie and asking: “Why are we highlighting the sexualization of children? Why are we pushing ideologies onto these kids?” [Instagram, 4/6/23]
  • The organization shared a video in which the speaker said every institution that supports age-appropriate gender-affirming care has been “captured by groomers” and that the people involved in them should “never see sunlight again.” [Instagram, 4/4/23]

On Instagram, Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly targeted trans people with claims of mental deficiencies:

  • Gays Against Groomers posted a video featuring the group’s New York chapter leader claiming that “therapists are manipulating parents and the children” and said trans people have a “mental disorder.” The caption quoted the person in the video as saying, “Chopping off body parts will not make you the opposite sex, and will probably not solve your mental disorder.” [Instagram, 5/4/23
  • Gays Against Groomers posted a video claiming that being trans is a “mental illness.” The caption, referencing an image of a trans person in an ad, said that “mental illness should not be celebrated as if it is something to aspire to be like. And that is exactly what this poster is.” [Instagram, 4/21/23
  • Gays Against Groomers posted a screenshot of a tweet it posted saying that “trans is the new emo. Except instead of growing out of that phase with just a bad haircut, these kids will be left sterilized and missing body parts.” The post also promotes a T-shirt and other merchandise for sale. [Instagram, 4/11/23
  • Gays Against Groomers posted screenshots of an article from its blog in response to the Nashville, Tennessee, school shooting. The caption used the tragic event to make the blanket claim that trans people are a “monstrosity of a movement” and that the shooter was one of its “savage footsoldiers” who “openly encourage” “bloodshed.” [Instagram, 3/28/23
  • Gays Against Groomers posted about the Nashville school shooter, speculating that they were on testosterone and suggesting that hormone therapy may have been responsible for their violent actions. The caption also claimed that “we need to have the discussion about the effects these drugs are having on the minds of young, mentally ill people.” [Instagram, 3/27/23
  • The group shared a post claiming the rise in percentage of Gen Zers who identify as LGBTQ is “not organic. It’s a social contagion.” The post also claimed that “being trans is a trend.” [Instagram, 4/27/23
  • Gays Against Groomers shared a video in which the speaker says the “Cartoon Network is literally guilty of trying to indoctrinate children into the gender cult” seemingly because the TV network posted about sharing and respecting people’s pronouns. The speaker also claimed that the “people that push this” are “actively recruiting children” to be trans. [Instagram, 3/31/23]

Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly spread misinformation about gender-affirming care on Instagram, including falsely claiming that it is a form of mutilation or pedophilia:

  • Gays Against Groomers has spread false narratives about gender-affirming care, even though these tropes have been repeatedly debunked by Meta’s third-party fact-checkers:
    • Gays Against Groomers posted an image of a tweet that equated gender-affirming care with mutilation and referred to trans people as part of a “cult.” [Instagram, 6/9/23] 
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a post referring to gender-affirming surgery as “sterilization and mutilation.” [Instagram, 5/18/23
    • Gays Against Groomers again shared a post referring to gender-affirming surgery as “sterilization and mutilation.” [Instagram, 5/26/23
    • The organization posted that “gender ideology” is being “pushed on children, leading them to be chemically castrated and mutilated.” [Instagram, 5/17/23
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a post claiming that “transing youth is the new conversion therapy, only 1000x worse.” It claimed that those supporting people’s gender identity are “erasing us” (meaning gay people). [Instagram, 5/13/23
    • Gays Against Groomers also shared a post that compared gender-affirming care for youth to pedophilia. The post also claimed that providing gender-affirming care constitutes “erasing” lesbians. [Instagram, 5/9/23
    • The group shared a TikTok with a caption claiming that “effeminate boys and masculine girls are being herded like cattle into transition by parents, activists & doctors” and called it “gay erasure.” [Instagram, 4/3/23
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a TikTok with a caption saying that “children are being drowned in trans ideology” and that there is an “indoctrination issue.” The video said it’s “not a gun control issue, and it’s not a mental health issue.” [Instagram, 4/1/23

On Instagram, Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly accused LGBTQ people of having moral deficiencies, including by pushing the right-wing myth that LGBTQ people are embracing pedophilia:

  • Recycled claims that that LGBTQ people are embracing pedophilia have also been thoroughly debunked, yet Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly pushed this narrative on Instagram:
    • The group posted a screenshot of a tweet claiming that a “trans lifestyle” is “being pushed on children” by people “because they are evil.” The second image in the post promotes merchandise being sold by Gays Against Groomers. [Instagram, 5/12/23]
    • The organization posted a video in which the speaker claims that students care about trans rights only because they have been “indoctrinated.” The caption stated: “A child is not capable of being queer. To say a child can be queer is to say a child is a sexual being.” [Instagram, 3/29/23
    • Gays Against Groomers posted a video in which the speaker shared an article from Fox News falsely claiming that the United Nations backed recommendations to “lower the age of consent and decriminalize sex between an adult and a child.” The caption of the post claimed that this shows “they are moving forward with their agenda.” This post was flagged as false by Instagram, but as of publication it remained up with nearly 20,000 likes. [Instagram, 4/18/23
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a post implying that allowing gender-affirming care for children would lead to the removal of protections around sexual consent. The caption stated, “If a child can consent to something as extreme as permanently altering their bodies … what CAN’T they consent to?” and insisted that “that’s where this agenda leads next.” [Instagram, 4/14/23
    • The group posted a video in which the speaker claimed that “the inevitable logical end to this entire conversation” is asking, “If a child at 12 years old can consent to permanently changing their sex, how can they not consent, at that point, to actually engage in sex?” The implication was that the end goal of providing gender-affirming care to minors is to remove the legal protections around the age of sexual consent. [Instagram, 4/16/23
    • The organization posted a video in which the speaker claimed that the representation of fictional characters as gay is not about representation but about “sexual messaging.” [Instagram, 4/5/23
    • In a video shared by Gays Against Groomers, the creator implied that “LGBT rights” are being used as a cover for “people trying to convince you that they should twerk in front of your kids.” [Instagram, 3/30/23
    • In another video posted by the organization, the speaker echoed the false right-wing narrative that the LGBTQ community has progressed from wanting to get married to wanting “gay porn in school libraries.” The caption also claimed that “our children have become the target of a deep, dark agenda.” [Instagram, 3/23/23
    • That same day, the group posted a screenshot of a tweet in which it claimed that “gender ideology is a trojan horse for pedophilia.” It added that “if children can consent to something as extreme and permanently altering their bodies” they will be allowed to consent to anything. [Instagram, 3/23/23
    • Gays Against Groomers also posted a screenshot of a tweet stating that “pornographic or sexually explicit children’s books in schools” are “always LGBTQ+ material.” The caption of the post claimed that “they hide behind the rainbow to avoid criticism.” [Instagram, 3/21/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers posted a video accusing both Q Chat and The Trevor Project of being “a gateway for pedophiles to gain access to children.” Q chat and The Trevor Project are organizations aimed at helping queer youth. [Instagram, 3/4/23

Gays Against Groomers has also targeted LGBTQ people on Meta’s other platforms, Facebook and Threads:

  • Gays Against Groomers posted to Threads that “schools have become nothing more than dysphoria factories that pump out confused children leading them straight to the butcher’s table.” The post also stated that we should “abolish the education system.” [Threads, 7/8/23
  • The group also claimed that “predators and perverts hide being the rainbow.” The post included a meme implying that sex offenders are excused if they are LGBTQ. [Threads, 7/5/23
  • Gays Against Groomers used Threads to promote a giveaway with an image that said “Groomers GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL.” The giveaway included stickers that say “big pharma loves trans kids” (with a dollar sign-emblazoned heart) and a magnet depicting a Monopoly-style policeman dragging a drag queen to prison by the legs. [Threads, 7/5/23
  • On Threads, Gays Against Groomers expressed surprise that its accounts and Moms for Liberty’s accounts have “both made it this long on social media.” This comment came in response to a Moms for Liberty comment saying, “Maybe we’ll finally be cool enough to get banned.” [Threads, 7/5/23
  • On Facebook, the group referred to doctors who provide gender-affirming care as “child butchers.” The caption of the post claimed that doctors and hospitals are “pushing kids to medically transition.” [Facebook, 7/18/23
  • In another Facebook post, Gays Against Groomers called the mothers of trans children “psychotic” and claimed that they are using their children as a “status symbol.” It added that parents who support their trans children have “Transhausen by proxy” and promoted merchandise bearing the phrase. [Facebook, 7/23/23
  • In another post, the organization declared that it does “not say family friendly drag queen” but “groomer clown” and equated LGBTQ books to “pornographic filth” and gender-affirming care to “child sterilization and mutilation.” The post urged followers to do the same. [Facebook, 7/30/23
  • In one post shared to Facebook, Gays Against Groomers claimed that trans rights activists believe that “children should have their body parts removed to define their gender.” The caption of the post also claimed that gender ideology is “rooted in irrationality.” [Facebook, 8/2/23]
  • On Facebook, Gays Against Groomers promoted its new media hub. The caption said the group is “going nuclear on these groomers and child predators.” [Facebook, 8/5/23
  • Gays Against Groomers has also attacked drag queens on Facebook, implying that they are “attracted to” children. [Facebook, 8/6/23
  • Gays Against Groomers used a Facebook post to falsely suggest that surgery is the only form of gender-affirming care and that it is regularly offered as treatment for minors. The caption of the post said the group would “post the pictures here ourselves but it would get us banned.” [Facebook, 7/7/23]

Related:

Grifter Gays: How conspiracy theorists and right-wing operatives created Gays Against Groomers

Instagram is letting accounts promoting hate speech go unchecked

Right-wing LGBTQ influencers switch teams as homophobic video shared by DeSantis campaign draws widespread condemnation

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

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EdTech threats to LGBTQ student privacy & equity in the age of AI 

Schools are filtering & blocking LGBTQ+ & race-related content, with licensed special education teachers more likely to report such practices

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LGBTQ + censored graphic by Nicole Bixler

By Elizabeth LairdMaddy Dwyer & Hugh Grant-Chapman | WASHINGTON – In schools across the country, the use of educational data and technology (edtech) remains nearly ubiquitous. In addition to supporting instruction, schools have used edtech to respond to the painfully present safety threats that they face on a daily basis — from gun violence to the youth mental health crisis.

However, long-standing technologies such as content filtering and blocking and student activity monitoring pose well-documented privacy and equity risks to students. Nonetheless, schools continue to deploy these technologies on a mass scale. And with generative artificial intelligence (AI) becoming rapidly integrated into the education space, many new risks are being introduced to students.

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) conducted surveys of high school students and middle and high school parents and teachers from July to August 2023 to understand how edtech used by schools is tangibly affecting those it claims to serve. The research focuses on student privacy concerns and schools’ capacity to address them; emerging uses of AI-driven technology such as predictive analytics; and deep dives into content filtering and blocking, student activity monitoring, and generative AI, encompassing both well-established and emerging technology. These surveys build on CDT’s previous research, which revealed that student activity monitoring is adversely affecting all students, especially historically marginalized and under-resourced students.

Whether old or new, technologies deployed across schools have negative impacts on students, and schools are out of step in addressing rising concerns:

  • Schools are not adequately engaging and supporting students, parents, and teachers in addressing concerns about school data and technology practices: Students, parents, and teachers report a lack of guidance, information, and training on privacy, student activity monitoring, content filtering and blocking, and generative AI. They want more support from their schools and to be involved in decisions about whether and how these technologies are used.
  • Content blocking and filtering is stifling student learning and growth: Students and teachers agree that this technology is a barrier to learning, often making it hard to complete school assignments and access useful information.
  • Student activity monitoring continues to harm many of the students it claims to help: Disciplinary actions, outing of students, and initiating of law enforcement contact are still regular outcomes of the use of this technology, even though it is procured by schools to help keep students safe.
  • Schools have provided little guidance about generative AI, leaving students, parents, and teachers in the dark: Students, parents, and teachers report a collective state of confusion about policies and procedures related to responsible generative AI use in the classroom. Meanwhile, students are getting in trouble for the use of this technology.

Even more disheartening is that in all of these areas, at-risk communities of students are still experiencing disproportionate negative impacts of these old and new technologies:

  • Schools are filtering and blocking LGBTQ+ and race-related content, with Title I and licensed special education teachers more likely to report such practices: Although filtering and blocking technology was originally intended to primarily target explicit adult content, more school administrators are using it to restrict access to other content they think is inappropriate, including LGBTQ+ and race-related content. Title I and licensed special education teachers are more likely to report this occurrence. In key respects, this finding parallels the broader trend in education of removing books and curricular content on these subjects.
  • Student activity monitoring is disproportionately harming students with disabilities and LGBTQ+ students: Students with individualized education programs (IEPs) and/or 504 plans as well as licensed special education teachers report higher rates of discipline arising from student activity monitoring. LGBTQ+ students are also still being disciplined more than their peers and outed without their consent.
  • Title I and licensed special education teachers report higher rates of students receiving disciplinary actions for using or being accused of using generative AI: Despite having little guidance from schools on generative AI use, Title I teachers, licensed special education teachers, and parents of students with IEPs and/or 504 plans report higher rates of their student(s) getting in trouble as compared to peers.

Previous CDT research and this year’s findings continue to document the risks and harms of edtech on all students but especially on vulnerable communities. As uses of edtech, particularly AI-driven technology, continue to expand, education leaders across the country should focus not only on privacy concerns but also on identifying and preventing discrimination. Luckily, they already have the tools to do so with well-established civil rights laws that apply to discriminatory uses of technology.

Read the full report (Here)

Explore the research slide deck (Here)

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The preceding article was previously published by The Center for Democracy & Technology and is republished with permission.

CDT is the leading nonpartisan, nonprofit organization fighting to advance civil rights and civil liberties in the digital age.

CDT shapes technology policy, governance, and design with a focus on equity and democratic values. Established in 1994, CDT has been a trusted advocate for digital rights since the earliest days of the internet.

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Candace Owens suspended for anti-LGBTQ YouTube hate again

The Daily Wire personality’s channel has recently featured false accusations that the LGBTQ “agenda” is to push pedophilia

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By  Ari Drennen | WASHINGTON – A short video posted Tuesday on the Daily Wire’s YouTube channel contained a by-now familiar disclosure: the platform had suspended Candace Owens, “prohibiting her from posting or appearing on any of the Daily Wire’s YouTube channels.” Multiple Daily Wire personalities have triggered enforcement actions by the platform for their frequent vitriol against LGBTQ people.

In announcing the news, Daily Wire personality Michael Knowles did not say how long the suspension was expected to last, but Daily Wire CEO Jeremy Boreing stated in June that Owens and Knowles had both received two strikes against their accounts for violating YouTube’s policies on hate speech. Three strikes against a YouTube account in a 90-day period can lead to its termination. Because the Daily Wire did not confirm the timing of the first strike, it is possible that it occurred prior to the current 90 window, leaving the podcaster with two strikes.

In response to a request for comment, a YouTube spokesperson stated: “We issued a strike to the Candace Owens Podcast channel for violating our hate speech policy, which prohibits content promoting hatred against protected individuals or groups, including the LGBTQ+ community.”

The video “Carlee Russell The Female Jussie Smollet?!” appears to have been removed from Owens’ channel. Media Matters previously reported on comments featured in the video, which followed Owens’ publication of an interview titled, “Is Homosexuality Ruining Western Civilization?” and included the claim that “it is gay men that are abusing children” in the Catholic Church.

Independent analysis still shows, however, that Owens’ YouTube channel, which is estimated to earn as much as $1.1 million per yearremains monetized with advertiser content. Knowles’ show, which Social Blade estimates to bring in as much as $3 million annually, is monetized as well. 

Knowles responded to his own prior suspension by removing the most extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from his show and telling his audience that they could find the content — including a members-only segment he called “Trans Tuesday” — on the Daily Wire’s website. Owens, meanwhile, plowed ahead with vicious attacks against gay people

Content from before Owens’ previous suspension featured accusations that anybody who shopped at the retail chain Target was “gay” and “a pervert,” claims that “transgenderism” is “a cancer and we should fight it,” and boasts that the podcaster could beat up a nonbinary naval service member. YouTube’s hate speech policies say content that “repeatedly targets, insults, and abuses a group based on protected group status across multiple uploads” may lead to penalties. 

YouTube’s enforcement of its policies related to the LGBTQ community has been uneven. In April, after repeatedly targeting TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney, Daily Wire personality and “What is a Woman” filmmaker Matt Walsh had advertiser revenue stripped from his channel, only to have it restored 90 days later despite Walsh publicly vowing not to change his behavior.

The banner image on Owens’ YouTube channel advertises her show as streaming live on DailyWire+, Rumble, and X (formerly Twitter). YouTube, notably, is missing from that list.

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

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Political attacks on Trans youth are the tip of the iceberg 

“This is a coordinated & organized effort to erase not just trans people, but LGBTQ people from being able to publicly live our lives”

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Rebecca Farmer | BOULDER, Colo. – The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) released Banning Medical Care and Legal Recognition for Transgender People, the fifth in MAP’s report series, Under Fire: The War on LGBTQ People in America. 

The report details how the dramatic increase in political attacks on transgender youth are just the tip of the iceberg and part of a coordinated effort to eliminate transgender people of all ages from public life.

This year alone, state legislatures introduced more than 725 anti-LGBTQ bills shattering previous records. In 2023, more states enacted bans on transgender youth medical care than passed bans on marriage equality in 2004, one of the worst years in the fight for marriage equality.

“While most of the public focus has been on recent efforts to ban medical care for transgender youth, these attacks are part of a much larger, coordinated effort to try to erase transgender people from public life entirely,” said Logan Casey, Senior Policy Researcher & Advisor at MAP.  “Anti-LGBTQ extremists want to make it impossible for transgender people to be ourselves and to be legally recognized according to our gender identity.”  

This latest report in the Under Fire series from MAP identifies five core tactics opponents are using in their attempts to erase transgender people from public life: 

Tactic 1: Banning health care for transgender youth

The pace at which states are banning access to this care is remarkable. For example, prior to 2021, no states banned medical care for transgender youth.

Today, 22 states have enacted this kind of ban – 19 of them during this year alone. Currently more than 1 in 3 transgender youth live in a state that bans or severely restricts health care for them.  These kinds of laws have been enacted in all but two states in the U.S. South, leaving transgender youth in nearly an entire region without access to medically necessary care.  

Tactic 2: Banning health care or severely restricting health care for transgender adults

Bill introduced across the country are more explicitly targeting transgender adults’ access to care. Nearly one-third of youth-focused medical care ban bills introduced in 2023 would also limit health care for at least some transgender adults.

Some legislation seeks to ban healthcare for transgender adults by redefining a minor to include adults up to age 26.

At least nine states explicitly exclude transgender-related healthcare from Medicaid coverage for adults as well as youth. Some states also ban coverage transgender-related care in state health insurance plans.  Roughly one in seven bills attacking transgender health care included provisions to ban or restrict coverage in private health insurance.  

Tactic 3: Limiting transgender people’s ability to live openly and participate in daily life

Anti-LGBTQ forces are increasingly targeting the ability of transgender people to live openly and safely as themselves throughout their daily lives. This includes making it impossible or extremely difficult to obtain accurate ID, banning the use of bathrooms, restricting social transition, and more.  

ID documents: Four states ban people from updating the gender marker on their birth certificates and another 12 states impose invasive and overly burdensome medical requirements.  

Bathroom bans: Nine states now ban transgender people from using bathrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity. 

New bans, especially in Florida, are expanding their scope to apply not only to schools but also to other government-owned buildings and spaces; Florida’s ban includes major airports, sports arenas, and much more.  

Forced outing: Five states now require schools to out transgender students to their families, often regardless of whether this might put the child at risk of harm.  

Opponents are also working to overturn the existing but limited protections for transgender people, while also working to enact new ways to remove opportunities for legal recognition.

Just in 2023, four states have enacted a new kind of law that defines “sex” throughout state law to allow discrimination against transgender and nonbinary people. Two additional states’ governors issued executive orders to the same effect.  

Fewer than half of states have explicit nondiscrimination protections for transgender people. Some states are working to undermine those existing protections with religious exemptions

Tactic 5: Criminalizing and harassing supporters of transgender people

Even supporters of transgender equality are being targeted. Healthcare providers for transgender people are facing loss of their licenses or even criminal penalties for providing medically necessary care that is endorsed by major medical associations.

In five states, it is now a felony to provide best-practice medical care to transgender youth.  Dozens of hospitals have reported receiving bomb threats and other serious harassment for providing medically necessary care to transgender youth.  

Many bills in recent years also target parents who support their transgender children. Florida legislation introduced in 2023 would have allowed the state to remove children from their families if the parents were even suspected of supporting them in receiving best-practice medical care. 

“Make no mistake – this swift and coordinated attack on transgender people in the U.S. is part of a larger war on LGBTQ people,” said Casey. “It’s essential that we see beyond one bill or policy to understand the broader scope of what is occurring. This is a coordinated and organized effort to try to erase not just transgender people, but LGBTQ people overall, from being able to publicly live our lives.” 

The entire “Under Fire” series is available here

About MAP: MAP’s mission is to provide independent and rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all. MAP works to ensure that all people have a fair chance to pursue health and happiness, earn a living, take care of the ones they love, be safe in their communities, and participate in civic life. www.mapresearch.org

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Intrusive legislation intimidates & drives self-censorship in schools

Between January 2021 and June 2023, 392 educational intimidation bills have been introduced in state legislatures

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High School students during classes break. (Photo Credit: Flagler Schools/Facebook)

By Suzanne Trimel | WASHINGTON – A wave of state legislation sweeping the nation is creating the conditions to intimidate educators into self-censorship in schools, according to a new PEN America report released this past month.

Educational Intimidation: How ‘Parental Rights’ Legislation Undermines the Freedom to Learn examines the rise of what PEN America has dubbed “educational intimidation bills,” a category of legislation that has the effect of prompting self-censorship in schools through indirect mechanisms, rather than direct edicts. Under the guise of advancing “parental rights,” nearly 400 of these bills have been introduced that risk empowering ideologues to intervene in the curricular and extracurricular decisions of teachers, librarians, and school administrators, overriding the judgment of educators and the views of the majority.

These intimidation bills are distinct from “educational gag orders,” a class of bills previously documented by PEN America that directly ban what can be taught in classrooms, targeting discussions of race, racism, gender, aspects of American history and other “prohibited” or “divisive” concepts. Intimidation bills compound the crisis in public education, casting a chilling effect through new tools that radically expand the avenues for lone parents, government officials, and citizens to monitor and exert control over pedagogical decisions.

“This rising tide of educational intimidation exposes the movement that cloaks itself in the language of ‘parental rights’ for what it really is: a smoke screen for efforts to suppress teaching and learning and hijack public education in America,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of Free Expression and Education programs at PEN America. “The opportunity for parents to inspect and object to school curricula is already commonly granted in public school systems, as it should be. But this spate of provisions dramatically expands these powers in ways that are designed to spur schools and educators to self-censor. These bills risk turning every classroom into an ideological battleground, forcing teachers out of the profession, and jeopardizing the future of millions of students.”

In its Index of Educational Intimidation Bills that accompanies the report, PEN America has identified 392 educational intimidation bills introduced in state legislatures between January 2021 and June 2023, 39 of which have passed into law in 19 states. The organization catalogs 12 types of educational intimidation provisions, including those that:

  • would require teachers to post all instructional or professional development materials on public websites, making it easy for any citizen to object;
  • would restrict students’ library access or make it easier for individual parents to get books banned for all students;
  • invite parents to opt students into or out of certain content, creating unwieldy “a la carte” curricula that risk defeating the unifying purpose of public schools;
  • expand the concept of “obscenity” beyond its well-established legal definition, opening educators and librarians up to criminal penalties;
  • would deputize teachers with requirements to police students’ gender expression.

The report documents how many of these laws and policies are already responsible for educational censorship across the country. An art teacher in Tennessee no longer teaches about Mexican artist Frida Kahlo or artist and AIDS activist Keith Haring because of the state’s HB 529, which requires teachers to alert parents to any LGBTQ+ content so they can withdraw their children from the lesson. Fear of discipline or criminal liability under some of these new state laws has driven school districts to ban books with sexual or LGBTQ+ content, from Missouri, to Virginia, to Florida, to, most recently, Iowa.

Laws and policies in Florida, Indiana, and at least seven other states require that parents be notified of any significant changes to their child’s gender expression or sexual orientation, turning teachers into what North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum called in a veto message, “the pronoun police.” One school district in Florida even banned ‘Safe Space’ stickers, because the presence of a student in such a space could “trigger a duty” for the school staff to notify a parent of their child’s “well-being.” Such measures, argue the report’s authors, compromise the role of educators and schools in supporting students and exercising professional judgment to engage families constructively in issues affecting their children.

Among the key findings from the report include:

  • Between January 2021 and June 2023, 392 educational intimidation bills have been introduced in state legislatures, 39 of which have passed into law. An additional nine policies have been adopted via executive order or enacted as part of state regulatory policy.
  • At least 19 states have passed educational intimidation bills or adopted them via state policy.
  • These bills overwhelmingly emanate from conservative legislators: 377 of the 392 have been introduced by Republicans.
  • Over 80 bills would force teachers to monitor students’ gender expression, forcibly outing students to their parents regardless whether educators believe that such a disclosure is warranted, or how it will be received. Outing provisions are in effect, by law or by executive order, in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Utah, Kentucky, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Virginia.
  • Of the intimidation bills introduced in 2023, 45 percent have an anti-LGBTQ+ provision, including the forced outing of students.
  • Missouri (31) has introduced the most educational intimidation bills in the nation, followed by Texas (21), Oklahoma (20), South Carolina (18), Indiana (17) and Mississippi (16).

The ideological motivation behind the bills is another key focus. As the authors explain, the bills are based on model legislation produced by a small group of conservative think tanks and activist groups, with the vast majority sponsored by Republican legislators, sometimes in concert with, or following other legislation that includes more direct censorious prohibitions. One bill proposed in Kansas was described by a supportive lawmaker as a “slick little way” of preventing critical race theory from being taught in classrooms.

The report authors express grave concern about increasing “experimentation and copycatting” across state lines to introduce these laws. Bills that fail during one legislative session are often reintroduced or recycled in the next, and in the current political climate, even provisions that are less extreme in their wording can be interpreted or applied in ways that advance censorship. Similar policies are also being adopted at the district level, making the true impact difficult to quantify.

“These bills are not what they seem,” Friedman continued. “They are the next phase in a years-long campaign to incite panic and impose ideological strictures on schools. Education in a democracy must be characterized by openness and curiosity, by the freedom to read, learn, and think. These bills strike at that foundation, in novel, sometimes subtle, yet potentially irrevocable ways. Their spread should not be taken lightly.”

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The preceding article was previously published by PEN America and is republished with permission.

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