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GLSEN names first Black, nonbinary executive director

Willingham-Jaggers takes over at a time when schools are becoming a battlegrounds over Trans inclusion in sports and LGBTQ+ themed books

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Melanie Willingham-Jaggers courtesy of GLSEN

NEW YORK – National LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLSEN Wednesday named Melanie Willingham-Jaggers as its new executive director – the first Black and nonbinary person to hold the position. 

GLSEN, founded by a group of teachers in 1990, advocates for making K-12 schools safer, more affirming and inclusive environments for LGBTQ youth. According to the group, its programs and resources reach millions of students and educators in K-12 schools.

“I am thrilled to continue and accelerate the important work GLSEN started more than 30 years ago,” said Willingham-Jaggers. “Education is the cornerstone of our democracy and GLSEN’s work is rooted in the belief that education can and should be an experience that is safe, inclusive, and affirming for all students. I am committed to ensuring our organization lives up to that promise and advances work based always on GLSEN’s core strategies: anti-racism, gender justice and disability justice.”

Willingham-Jaggers, who joined GLSEN in 2019, takes over at a time when schools are becoming a battleground for political debate over trans inclusion in sports and LGBTQ-themed books some consider “inappropriate,” or even “pornographic.” 

According to the Movement Advancement Project, 10 states already have laws in place that bar trans students from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.  

In 2022, so far, 16 bills banning Trans youth from sports have been introduced in state legislatures across the country, according to Freedom for All Americans. After passing the state Senate and a House committee, South Dakota is close to sending an anti-trans sports bill to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, whose chief of staff recently said Trans people in sports is “sort of like terrorism.”

Last December, the American Library Association (ALA) announced that it had documented 155 separate incidents of efforts to remove or ban books by or about LGBTQ+ and Black people since June 2021. Officials in one Virginia district went as far as to say they want to see books “burn.”

“LGBTQ+ students across the country are facing a crisis amid attacks on their rights and the ongoing pandemic, and we need bold leadership now more than ever,” said Rocío Inclán, GLSEN Board of Directors chair, adding that Willingham-Jaggers is “exactly the leader our movement needs to bring our fight for LGBTQ+ justice to the next level.” 

According to GLSEN, Willingham-Jaggers brings “extensive experience” in leading social justice movements, with a proven track record of building and running successful high-impact programming, training and developing individuals and leading teams.

High-ranking members from LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations around the country hailed Willingham-Jaggers’ appointment. 

“The appointment of Melanie Willingham-Jaggers heralds an exciting new chapter in the organization’s history,” said Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal and GLSEN’s founder. “I look forward to seeing GLSEN reach new heights under their leadership.”

Willingham-Jaggers – who served as board chair of the Audre Lorde Project, a New York-based organization for LGBTQ+ people of color, before joining GLSEN – will now assume the official position after being named interim executive director in early 2021. Before that, they served as deputy executive director. 

“The world of K-12 schools has been turned completely upside-down over the past few years,” said Eliza Byard, senior advisor for the campaign for Our Shared Future and GLSEN’s former executive director. “And Melanie’s vision and experience will provide the essential ingredients of new strategies for a new time.”

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LGBTQ Non-Profit Organizations

Target & vendor remove T-shirt from webstore after ACT-UP NY objects

Silence = Death and its accompanying reversed pink triangle symbol was created by artisans with The Silence=Death Project

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

MINNEAPOLIS – Retail giant Target and its vendor partner, New York City-based retailer The Phluid Project, removed a T-shirt which used the iconic slogan Silence = Death and its accompanying reversed pink triangle symbol from availability on the Target web store Friday.

In a story first reported by longtime Rolling Stone editor Daniel Kreps, a series of tweets this week called out both Target and The Phluid Project for not clarifying if proceeds of sales of the item would be channeled to ACT-UP NY,  the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), a non-profit.

ACT-UP NY also sells t-shirts and other apparel with the iconic imagery to generate funds for its efforts to raise awareness and contribute to HIV/AIDS campaigns including funding for Housing Works, New York’s largest AIDS service organization and Health GAP, which fights to expand treatment for people with AIDS throughout the world, which are direct outgrowths of ACT-UP.

Silence = Death and its accompanying reversed pink triangle graphic symbol was created by artisans and graphic designers from The Silence=Death Project. The six-person collective in New York City was comprised of Avram Finkelstein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston, Charles Kreloff, Chris Lione, and Jorge Soccarás.

The Silence=Death poster was also used by ACT-UP as a central image in their activist campaign against the AIDS epidemic. Because of ACT-UP’s advocacy, the slogan and pink triangle remains synonymous with AIDS activism.

A spokesperson for Target, Brian Harper-Tibaldo told the Blade that “This shirt was designed by our vendor partner, The Phluid Project, who is working directly with ACT-UP to address their concerns. The item is only available on Target.com and we’ve temporarily pulled it from our assortment until the concern is resolved.”

The Phluid Project’s Chief Executive Officer, Robert Garett Smith, told the Blade in a phone call Friday afternoon that once he had learned about the social media exchange he communicated with Target to suspend sales of the T-Shirt. Smith said that he was in communication with ACT-UP NY and that steps were being undertaken to mitigate the issue.

Smith emphasized that his company is queer owned and operated, he himself is a gay man who is also HIV positive and his goal is for fulfillment and empowerment for LGBTQ+ people. He reiterated his mission statement posted to the firm’s website which reads; “We strive to amplify the rising voice of today’s youth, which rejects binary gender norms, and favors an inclusive world that allows individuals to wear what makes them feel good—that is, what best reflects who they really are inside.”

A Federal records check by the Blade showed that there was no registered Copyright or Trademark for the slogan and its image, and that technically it is in the public domain, a fact that ACT-UP NY noted in their tweet Friday. At issue for the collective was what it defined as ‘corporatization’ of the iconic imagery.

The Phluid Project’s Smith said that he believes in monies and profits being part of a reinvestment into the LGBTQ+ community especially given the political attacks on the community, mainly Trans and queer non-binary people currently.

ACT-UP NY in a June 2018 tweet after a similar controversy with global footwear giant Nike after a compromise earlier with clothing company Levi Strauss & Co noted that their position is that companies should not profit off queer people’s lives without sharing those profits.

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LGBTQ Non-Profit Organizations

Lambda Legal & Black & Pink: Legal system anti-LGBTQ+ bias survey

“Everyone who interacts with the criminal system, whether a victim or are suspected of a crime has legal rights & must be treated fairly”

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Courtesy of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department NC

NEW YORK – Lambda Legal, in partnership with Black & Pink National, launched the new Protected & Served? community survey Thursday, a study that will explore discrimination and bias against LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV in the criminal legal system.

The findings of the Protected & Served? survey, will inform and support new research, advocacy, litigation, and policy efforts to address the discrimination and abuse experienced by LGBTQ+ people and living with HIV in the criminal legal system, and hold them accountable.

“Everyone who interacts with the criminal legal system, whether they are a victim of a crime or are suspected, accused, or convicted of committing a crime, has legal rights and must be treated fairly,” said Senior Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist for Lambda Legal, Richard Saenz. “However, we know that is not the case for many people, especially LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV. If people in our communities have had an experience with the criminal legal system or another government entity such as child protective services, we need to hear from them so that together we can make change.”

“The idea that we are supposed to compartmentalize the harm we experience from systems of police while engaging with these systems for our care and safety is a recipe for disaster,” said Executive Director for Black and Pink National, Dominique Morgan. “And if these systems truly desire to be our core system of care and justice, they should welcome feedback that allows them to see their true impact. The Protected and Served? report is a much needed mirror to police, jails, prisons, and school security.”

The first Protected & Served? report, which explored government misconduct by police, prisons, the courts and school security against LGBTQ+ and people living with HIV, has been an important resource for litigators, advocacy groups, scholars, journalists, and government entities, including the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

This year’s updated report will build on the success of the first report by expanding the survey to include questions about the experiences of more marginalized populations within our communities, including incarcerated people, young people, sex workers, and immigrants, and will ask questions about interactions with the U.S. immigration system, government systems focused on youth such as child protective services, and broader law enforcement.

The survey will also ask how these experiences have influenced trust, or distrust, in the criminal legal system.

Strength in Numbers Consulting Group, an LGBTQ+ led research, evaluation, and philanthropic strategy firm, will facilitate the survey and contribute to the report.

The survey, which is anonymous and confidential, will open today, May 5, 2022, and will be open until July 8, 2022. Online participants will have an opportunity to enter a drawing to win 1 of 10 gift cards in the amount of $100. The report will be published in late 2022.

For more information, including the survey, please visit www.ProtectedAndServed.org

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LGBTQ Non-Profit Organizations

Human Rights Campaign uses the word ‘gay’ & Tik Tok suspends them

A comment that included the word ‘gay’ got the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ rights advocacy non-profit suspended for a couple of days

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HRC/Twitter

CULVER CITY – A Tik-Tok reel-post of the protests against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ on which the Human Rights Campaign left a comment that included the word ‘gay’ got the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ rights advocacy non-profit suspended for a couple of days.

In a tweet Monday, HRC wrote, “Seriously @tiktok_us? You banned us for using the word gay in a comment. You need to do better!”

 Ty Cobb, senior director of strategic initiatives at HRC, told The Advocate Tuesday in a statement:

“What message does it send to young people when we comment or post LGBTQ+ content and it’s deemed inappropriate and a violation of community guidelines? We’re fighting a battle for our lives. Elected officials are trying to censor our speech and restrict our access to healthcare and equal opportunity. Our need to communicate to our community and allies is more important than ever right now. Having our TikTok account suspended for two days means our ability to post educational, affirming content was restricted, which is nothing short of devastating.”

Tik-Tok has a checkered and problematic history in its engagement with the LGBTQ+ community. TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. 

There are no tailored TikTok policies specifically addressing safety for the LGBTQ community. Instead, the platform’s community guidelines relevant to protecting the LGBTQ community are folded into TikTok’s “organized hate” and “hateful behavior” policies barring users from directing hate toward an individual or groups based on their “sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity,” among other characteristics.

LGBTQ rights organization GLAAD analyzed LGBTQ safety on TikTok in its Social Media Safety Index released in May. In its recommendations, it noted that “TikTok must prioritize improved practices and systems to reduce anti-LGBTQ hate and extremist content.”

Anti-LGBTQ content not only slides under TikTok’s radar but seems to be actively promoted by the company’s algorithm.

Media Matters for America, a Washington D.C.-based media watchdog group noted: “Let’s be clear: No one knows exactly how TikTok’s “For You” page algorithm is formulated. We have a rough idea, as TikTok has explained that recommendations are based on a number of factors like user interactions, video information, and device settings.”

LGBTQ+ individual users on the Tik-Tok platform also find themselves targeted by organized efforts by right-wing homophobes who have discovered how to “game” the platforms to force content guideline strikes or violations algorithms which sometimes result in a complete ban and deplatforming of those users affected.

The Culver City based social media company spokesperson responding in an email to The Advocate explained the company took action immediately after it knew of the issue with HRC.

“We restored the comment as soon as we were made aware of this error and will continue to provide ongoing training to help our moderators make consistent and accurate decisions,” the spokesperson for the company said. “We are proud that LGBTQ+ community members choose to create and share on TikTok, and our policies seek to protect and empower these voices on our platform.” 

Tik-Tok has not responded to the Blade’s request for explanation or comment.

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