By Laura Marquez-Garrett | SEATTLE, WA. – You’re fourteen years old, in a small, conservative midwest town, and queer. Where do you go? Afraid to approach anyone in person, you go online. You search on YouTube for “Gay Pride” and “Pride Parade,” then get videos over days, weeks, even months telling you that gay is bad, and you are going to hell. Now where do you go?
This is what LGBTQ+ youth deal with everyday. Not because there isn’t enough gay-positive content on the Internet, but because certain online platforms choose to prioritize engagement over safety. They push kids into excessive use through things like engagement with strangers, endless scroll, push notifications, and extreme content.
Which brings me to the Kids’ Online Safety Act (KOSA). KOSA was introduced in late 2021. As a parent, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and an attorney who walked away from a successful, business litigation practice in early 2022 to work with children and families harmed by certain online platforms, I admired its intent but could not unequivocally support it. Understanding, as I do, both the life-saving importance of resources for LGBTQ+ youth and the devastating harms these products cause millions of kids every day, KOSA’s original wording fell just short of striking a necessary balance between the two.
But that KOSA is gone.
In response to feedback and concerns, KOSA’s co-authors met with LGBTQ+ organizations and communities and listened – as reflected in the changes they made – and a new KOSA was born. The new bill will protect young people from harmful design and programming decisions, while explicitly safeguarding youth autonomy to explore online.
Because, yes, online platforms do provide much needed communities for LGBTQ+ youth. In 1995, my first year of college, we searched for and found local resources, as well as entire communities via virtual bulletin boards and chatrooms, on this new thing called the Internet. For most of us, me included, it was the first time we felt seen and heard. Only those platforms helped us without also manipulating and exploiting us; while the platforms at which KOSA takes aim – in fact, the only platforms at which KOSA takes aim – are exploiting and abusing the youth who need them the most. Don’t forget the Facebook documents exposed in late 2021 showing images of teenage brains, discussing vulnerabilities of youth and related design and programming “Opportunities.”
I see it every day. Transgender teens targeted with violent, suicide-themed, and transphobic content, no matter what they search; children so locked-in to extended use designs and social metric tools that they stop sleeping and self-destruct; young women – almost every one of them – flooded with connection recommendations to predatory, adult users; middle and high school kids targeted with drug dealer “Quick Adds” and advertisements for vaping, alcohol, and other harms. What about the 16-year-old who goes through a break-up and searches for “positive affirmations” and “inspirational quotes,” and gets hundreds of videos advocating self-harm and suicide instead?
If you think these are hypotheticals, think again. I have investigated accounts and associated data for multiple 16-year-olds who asked platforms that would have been covered under KOSA to send them uplifting content only to receive overwhelming amounts of self-harm and suicide. Those children are gone. I have seen accounts used by 10- and 11-year-old girls where adult strangers reached out via direct message, saying how happy they were to find them, that the platforms’ technologies recommended them, then abused and exploited them. Some of those children are gone as well.
This is the status quo for millions of American children and these are the types of harms KOSA tackles, while also now making clear that content is not at issue. To accomplish this, it defines harms via existing statutes, definitions, and other objective metrics; and also now includes a “Limitation” carving out any circumstance where a child deliberately and independently searches for or specifically requests content. The new and improved KOSA explicitly recognizes that it is the province of youth to search for LGBTQ+ content (or any content).
To say it plainly: If a child is seeking out LGBTQ+ content, under KOSA, they would still be able to search for it. KOSA prevents Big Tech algorithms from pushing dangerous content onto that child’s feed without their consent.
For the record, KOSA does not require identity verification. It also does not cover every type of online platform or service. Non-profits, for example, are exempt, meaning that any non-profit providing LGBTQ+ resources will fall outside of KOSA’s reach entirely. These are just a few examples of how KOSA was changed to ensure the protection of LGBTQ+ youth on every side of this debate.
When did we become okay with companies treating people like this, much less children? And now that we know, are we actually thinking about waiting another year or two to see what happens?
For adults, if you remain unsure, ask LGBTQ+ youth (or any teen) about their experience. Not open-ended questions like “Do you enjoy social media?” but things like “Do these platforms ever give out your information to or try to connect you with predators or drug dealers?” and “Do you ever want something positive but get self-harm, disordered eating, or suicide content instead?”
For American youth, if you have yet to read KOSA, please do. Please ask questions and share your own experiences with your representatives – good or bad. It’s easy to get caught up in panic and what-ifs. But I promise you, the biggest danger right now is not KOSA, it is relying on anyone but yourself to decide your future and the future of the kids who come after you.
This is your moment. Speak up so we can hear you.
Laura Marquez-Garrett is a 2002 Harvard Law School graduate and spent the first twenty-years of her career in Big Law, where she oversaw complex litigation matters and business disputes and specialized in electronic evidence and forensic investigation.
In January of 2022, Laura met Social Media Victims Law Center founder, Matthew Bergman, and watched the Netflix documentary, Social Dilemma. The following month, Laura left her predominantly defense-oriented practice to join the Social Media Victims Law Center.
She now contributes to the center’s mission of holding social media companies legally accountable when they fail to protect young users from foreseeable harm.
Social Media Victims Law Center founder Laura Marquez-Garrett, Lance Preston, Founder and Executive Director of the Rainbow Youth Project USA, and Washington Blade White House correspondent Chris Kane joined host Rob Watson on Rated LGBT Radio to discuss The Kids Online Safety Act as it is making its way through Congress as a means to protect kids, including LGBTQ kids from harm that can come from social media.
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Bi immigrants need to have the hard conversations about visibility
“We have to find the courage to break generations of trauma and stigma and sometimes that takes the hard conversations”
By Dulce Vasquez | LOS ANGELES – My husband of nine years sat at the table in what I imagine was stunned silence.
“What’s going through your mind right now?” I asked, picking at the remains of my scrambled eggs and soyrizo breakfast.
“Are you leaving me?”
“What? Why would you think that?”
“The only other friend whose wife came out to him, left him.”
I had just come out to him as bisexual. My heart was beating so loudly I could feel the thumping in my sinuses. It had been weeks where I had tried to find the right time to tell him, coming up short every time. The only other person I had come out to at that point was my best friend and my therapist. This was different. This had real repercussions.
I’ve been bisexual my whole life – as in, I’ve been attracted to men and women for as long as I can remember. In first grade I had crushes on my two best friends, a girl and a boy. But as the eldest daughter in a Mexican household where traditional gender roles were enforced, I had a role to fill. And as an immigrant, I simultaneously had to assimilate. I had to be perfect.
After an entire day of cleaning other people’s houses, my mother would pick up my brother from daycare and have a home cooked meal ready to go by the time my stepfather got home. During family gatherings, women and men were separated. The women prepped and cooked food inside, while outside the men drank and grilled. The men always ate first, the women fixing their plates as if they were royalty. The budding feminist in me hated this unspoken arrangement.
I’m not sure at what point I learned what gay or lesbian meant, but in my world the idea of homosexuality had always carried a negative connotation. In the late 90s, middle schoolers rampantly chastised each other with “that’s gay.” Our high school’s support group was the Gay-Straight Alliance. As far as I knew, there was no “both.” There was no middle. There was no LGBTQ+.
In the fall of 2004, I started college with a tool that no other freshman class had ever had: thefacebook.com. This nascent website let me sleuth the incoming first-year class. On my Facebook profile, I decided I’d arrive on campus interested in “men” and “women” – but when early in the school year a guy down the hall said something along the lines of, “Dulce just wants to sleep with everyone, it’s on her Facebook profile,” I swiftly deleted my relationship preferences and went back into the closet.
Last year, as I was deep into a run for Los Angeles City Council, I was applying for endorsements from different organizations that shared my values. I was repeatedly asked if I identified as LGBTQ+. Every time I said no, a little piece of me crumbled. I was contributing to the bi erasure in our society. As I realized this, I looked around at my campaign team – most of them queer youth themselves – and felt so ashamed that I didn’t have it in me to live my life as authentically and pridefully as they do.
So why now? Well, I’m 37 years old, and I will continue being bisexual whether in or out of the closet. I am choosing not only to live authentically, but to hopefully create space for others to do the same. I haven’t experienced the kind of discrimination that we are seeing run rampant throughout our country — especially directed at the trans community. And part of me feels I haven’t suffered enough to earn the label. At the same time, I want to spotlight that we exist and that I am proud of who I am. I want all of our voices and experiences to be heard, valued, and validated.
For many first generation immigrants, deviating from the heteronormative is a big deal. At the same time — for any first gens reading this — we have to find the courage to break generations of trauma and stigma and sometimes that takes the hard conversations and the willingness to create boundaries in order to break those cycles. Adelante.
Dulce Vasquez is a candidate for State Assembly District 57 to replace the retiring Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer. Dulce is an education advocate, community activist, and Neighborhood Councilmember.
As an openly bi Latina immigrant, Dulce knows first-hand that we need to achieve full, lived equality for women, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community and communities of color.
Anti-LGBTQ+ group ‘Science for Truth’ spreads hate globally
Russian website translates propaganda into more than 18 languages
By HEIDI BEIRICH | A rather mysterious Russian website run by a group called Science for Truth (Наука за правду) is a major vector worldwide for lies about the LGBTQ+ community. Their site, pro-lgbt.ru (meaning “about-LGBT” in Russian), was previously identified by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) as an organization that repeatedly appeared in top search results for conversion therapy, the discredited practice of attempting to change LGBTQ+ people’s sexual orientation or gender identity that has been described as akin to torture by a U.N. special rapporteur. It showed up prominently on Bing and Google in places like Kenya, Colombia and even the U.S. (see the full GPAHE report here.)
A unique aspect of the site is that it translates its anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda into over 18 major languages, including all major European languages, as well as Arabic, Hebrew and Chinese. The site also publishes articles in languages that have fewer speakers, including Serbian, Georgian and Hungarian, which are less likely to be content moderated. Even though the site is filled with dehumanizing material about LGBTQ+ people, it still shows up as a top search result for information on LGBTQ+ issues in many countries. This allows the group to spread their bigoted messages far and wide globally, making it an influential actor in the broader anti-LGBTQ+ movement. According to the Semrush app, the pro-lgbt.ru site garnered around 15,000 unique visitors in July 2023 alone.
So what is Science for Truth?
Started around 2017, Science for Truth’s mission is to “disseminate facts that are deliberately kept silent by the leaders of the LGBT movement, which leads to the involvement of unsuspecting citizens in a destructive lifestyle, fraught with the most serious consequences for their health and well-being.” As indicated in its name, the group presents itself as disseminating materials based on science created “in collaboration with scientists, psychiatrists and sexologists.” This statement, though, is highly misleading; what Science for Truth disseminates is dehumanizing pseudoscience apparently designed to undermine the movement for LGBTQ+ rights in Russia and abroad.
Much more than a simple group of “scientists,” Science for Truth spreads lies and dehumanizes LGBTQ+ people on its website, Telegram channel, and VK account by describing LGBTQ+ people as “pedophiles,” “homofascists” and potential terrorists. For instance, the site has a post postulating that “anti-sperm bodies” that are “formed in sodomites and homosexuals” could lead to “autoimmune infertility, miscarriages, cancer in children and DNA destruction” resulting in a “genocide” if spread amongst society. They also post in support of aversion electroshock therapy, which involves electrical shocks, at times to a man’s genitals, while they look at gay pornography or related material, as a solution to “cure” one’s innate homosexuality.
The group is known for targeting the LGBTQ+ movement and attempting to bully activists and scientists living in Russia. In 2018, the group took aim at a scientific paper released by two academics at the once liberal-leaning Moscow university, Higher School of Economics (HSE), accusing them of “collaborationism” for having written that gay people “should be assumed to be born that way,” and elaborating that their efforts to destroy “traditional values” were “a psychological means of destroying Russian statehood and a way of destroying the collective identity of the peoples of Russia.” They also regularly cheer on the placing of Russian LGBTQ+ activists on the notorious list of “foreign agents,” and the arrest of activists for “treason,” and encourage supporters to report their materials to the Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media) for them to be blocked.
One of the principal figures connected to Science for Truth is the mysterious figure who goes by Ivan Stepanovich Kurennoy (Иван Степанович Куренной), and refers to himself as the coordinator of Science for Truth. He uses the avatar of a white-bearded traveler from the 19th century in all of his online publications. In his works, he refers to himself as an “independent researcher” or a “Depopulation Technology Researcher,” and he engages in widespread conspiracy-mongering. The basis for many of his views regarding the LGBTQ+ movement comes from his belief in a secret plot to depopulate the earth by lowering the birth rate through the spread of LGBTQ+ values. He claims that the publication of the now widely discredited book “The Population Bomb,” which wrongly predicted a mid-20th century demographic catastrophe caused by insufficient agricultural production and overpopulation, set off a series of events in the West that led political leaders to introduce the LGBTQ+ agenda in order to limit population growth.
Another belief relates to the COVID pandemic, where Kurennoy argued that a “chipping” process taking place during the vaccination drive was part of these same “depopulation” efforts. In another one of his odd rants, he wrote that Russian parliamentarians could do “what Hitler failed to do” and pass the 2019 draft law “On the Prevention of Domestic Violence,” which, though it never passed, sought to strengthen Russia’s comparatively weak laws against domestic violence.
Some of Kurrenoy’s past posts are tinged with antisemitism which may be an indication of where some of his stranger conspiracist beliefs originate from. Around 2016, before he turned to mainly demonizing LGBTQ+ people, Kurrenoy frequently posted about control of Ukraine by the Israeli lobby, secret plots by George Soros, and a “fifth column” in Russia that is descended from Jews. In one post, he explicitly points to “the globalists,” referring to them as a “parasites,” as the source of funding for LGBTQ+ people.
Of the articles that the members of Science for Truth have published in academic journals, many, if not most of them are clearly not up to scientific standards, but rather ideological. These include, among others, “The problem of anthropomorphic interpretation of animal behavior in the context of the discussion about the characteristics of human sexual behavior,” published in the “academic” journal “World of Science” (Мир Науки), in which the “independent researchers” of Science for Truth set out to disprove the argument that “homosexuality is a kind of norm for humans, since it is common in nature.” The journal has a history of publishing questionable materials from other authors as well with titles such as “Changes in the physical properties of baptismal water under the influence of electromagnetic radiation,” pointing to the overall lack of scientific rigor of the journal. Interestingly, in the piece criticizing the HSE professors’ paper, the Science for Truth authors claim that the authors had published in an English-language journal “apparently for better understanding in a country that has declared the fight for the rights of sexual minorities abroad a foreign policy priority,” making their agenda quite clear.
Another figure connected with the group is Viсtor Grigorievitsch Lysov (Виктор Григорьевич Лысов) whose participation with the group goes back at least to 2017. On his livejournal account, Lysov has written articles on such topics as “the sacralization of homosexuality,” and the “Pederastization of Russia,” where he argues that the “pederastic value system has long been firmly rooted” in Russian society. He makes regular appearances on the Science for Truth VKontakte (VK) page. Lysov’s main contribution to the Science for Truth project is his propagandistic texts “The rhetoric of the LGBT movement in the light of scientific facts” and “Dehumanization,” in which he takes on the “myths of gender ideology,” and claims that LGBTQ+ rights would lead to the “normalization of pedophilia.” On his ORCID site, used for tracking academic publications, Viktor Lysov is listed as being located in both Russia and Germany. The website links he shares are of the anti-LGBTQ+ American organizations Family Research Institute and the American College of Pediatricians, both listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the German Institute for Youth and Society (Deutsches Institut für Jugend und Gesellschaft), an organization known for offering “conversion therapy” services. In a solo publication in the “World of Science,” “Homophobia’ is not latent homosexuality,” his affiliation is also listed as the German Institute for Youth and Society, in Reichelsheim, Germany, however, when a previous investigation reached out to the Institute, they denied having any affiliation with Lysov.
Garnik Surenovich Kocharyan (Кочаряна Гарника Суреновича) is one of the few “doctors” at Science for Truth with an actual medical career. As a part of his practice, Kocharyan provides treatments for “disorders of sexual preference” including “violations of sexual orientation” and “sexual perversions.” He is the honorary president of the Kyiv-based conversion therapy clinic Association of Sexologists and Sex Therapists of Ukraine (Асоціація сексологів та сексотерапевтів України, ASSTU), which claims to bring together “specialists from various fields of natural sciences and humanities” of sexology, and provide for “the application and development of therapeutic methods aimed at improving a person’s sexual life.” The organization has published announcements calling for the full “decommunization” of the country at the end of the war to deal with alleged left-wing plots to spread “gender ideology” in Ukraine. In some of the more polemical posts by the association, ASSTU have written:
“Total illiteracy in the field of sexology and mass propaganda of LGBT — leads to the fact that even psychologists and doctors begin to believe that homosexuality is exclusively innate. Believing in such a thing is a crime against Ukrainian children, teenagers and youth, a crime against all future generations … We will not allow Ukrainian science to be manipulated to meet the needs of organized groups of sexual deviants. We will not allow introducing LGBT ideology into the consciousness of our citizens.”
Aside from Kurrenoy, Kocharyan is one of the main propagandists associated with Science for Truth. He has published posts under the group’s name promoting “conversion therapy,” one referring to “forced homosexualization” as a “modern destructive trend in sex education,” and another concerning the alleged “fallacy of ideas about the innate nature of homosexuality.”
Beyond, this, Science for Truth also has a recognizable association with the ant-LGBTQ+ group CitizenGO. Several of their petitions have been published on the CitizenGo website, though they appear to have then been removed at a later date. It is interesting to note that while posts for other groups on the CitizenGo site have been given labels indicating that they were “created by a person or organization not affiliated with CitizenGO,” this was not the case with posts from Science for Truth, indicating an association with CitizenGO that may be closer than that of other organizations.
Several individuals are not full members of the Science for Truth team, but collaborate with them or promote each other’s work. The doctors at the “Phoenix Clinic” (Клиника «Феникс»), based in the center of Rostov-na-Donu, are a regular fixture in Science for Truth posts. One associate is Olga Alexandrovna Bukhanovskaya (Бухановская Ольга Александровна) who was recently featured on a broadcast of Solovyov Live. Another is psychiatrist Anton Vasilyevich Dyachenko (Антон Васильевич Дьяченко), who has written that it is “incorrect to deny the presence of a biological norm.” Among some of the cases treated by the psychologists of the “Phoenix Clinic” are people who “insist on changing their biological sex and feel like a representative of the other sex,” “strive to dress in clothes of the opposite sex, but cannot overcome this need,” “accuse relatives or neighbors of theft, which does not correspond to reality,” and those who “feel possessed by spirits, genies, who force them to carry out their orders and commands.” Psychology PhD candidate Alexander Neveev (Александр Невеев) is another Science for Truth associate with a pseudo-scientific career who has published interviews on the topic of homosexuality on the Science for Truth YouTube page. Alex Shatner’s (Алекс Шатнер) partnership with Science for Truth goes back to November 2017, when he was a co-author of a text on the “myth of homosexuality among animals.” He, too, is listed as a co-author in the “World of Science” article “The problem of anthropomorphic interpretation of animal behavior in the context of a discussion about the characteristics of human sexual behavior.”
In order to break free of their small radical right-wing echo chamber in Russia, a member of their group in early 2018 has also attempted to influence Russian knowledge of LGBTQ+ issues by editing an enormous number of articles on the Russian Wikipedia page under the username “Путеец” (traveler) with content from the group’s website. The edits made were so outrageous, with “sweeping conclusions based on an inaccurate understanding of biological problems,” that the moderators of the Russian site gave the user a topic-ban on “biomedical information in LGBT articles.” After the account was further prevented from making these kinds of edits, the group released an article on their site criticizing the “bias” of the website moderators.
Science for Truth regularly lobbies the Russian government and pushes for ever-increasing restrictions on LGBTQ+ rights in Russia. Recently, Ivan Kurrenoy has even reached out to the famous pro-Kremlin propagandist Margarita Simonyan to ask her to support their group and its issues. In September 2018, they called on the minister of health to continue to regard homosexuality as a pathology. In January 2019, the group published an open letter to the Russian Duma on the topic of the “impending LGBT revolution in Russia” in which they spread more disinformation on the LGBTQ+ movement’s agenda to “convert” straight people, and LGBTQ+ values causing population decline in the West. As early as 2019, Ivan Kurrenoy has been petitioning government officials, such as Deputy Chairman of the Duma Pyotr Olegovich Tolstoy (Пётр Олегович Толстой), to call for the censoring of LGBTQ+ content online. In the publication “Zavtra” (Tomorrow), they published an open letter on October 16th, 2021, to the head of Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing) Anna Yurievna Popova to investigate Vadim Valentinovich Pokrovsky, the head of the department of the research institute of epidemiology of Rospotrebnadzor, as a potential “foreign agent” for voicing the importance of sex education for Russian children. After this letter was ignored, Science for Truth published an appeal in which they questioned whether Rospotrebnadzor was a “foreign agent.” The letter read:
“In the face of Rospotrebnadzor, society would like to see an ally, and not compradors and collaborators, who are trying to introduce methods of molesting Russian children on the recommendations of the U.N. Committee (CEDAW), which requires Russia to destroy traditional values, including among religious figures, introduce ‘sex education,’ abolish prevention of abortion and legalization of prostitution, among other things with the help of foreign agents.”
In the letter, they claimed that the appeal was made “through Senator Margarita Nikolaevna Pavlova,” implying that the group has at least some institutional support among the Russian elite. In a more recent letter, the group lambasted the Minister of Health Mikhail Albertovich Murashko for not doing enough at the U.N. to promote “Russian science” (despite the fact that the group claims that Russian science is “so controlled by the West that it does not express a sovereign position”). They demanded, among other things, the promotion of “Russian science,” the restriction of trans-affirming care in clinics, and to check for “foreign agents” in the field of medicine. In May 2023, the group claimed that the ministry of education considered proposals of Science for Truth on “issues of mental norms and pathology in the field of psychosexual health and sexual perversions.” They have also written that the recent ban on gender-affirming care in Russia was originally a proposal that they submitted to the Russian government. In another post, the group claims to have been able to present their work at the 2022 Demographic Development of the Far East and Arctic conference (2022 демографическое развитие Дальнего Востока и Арктики) in which anti-LGBTQ+ senator Inga Iumasheva Albertovna, who once spoke out against “LGBT propaganda” being a “threat to national security,” was present. Science for Truth were also present at the IV Hippocratic Medical Forum the year prior, when Albertovna also gave a presentation.
Despite this apparent interaction with the Russian government, GPAHE could not find Science for Truth or any other affiliated names in the official database of Russian NGOs. This fact, as well as the curiously anonymous nature of many of their members, points to its likely role as a small, yet influential soft-power instrument of the international anti-LGBTQ+ movement, given their ability to spread their bigoted message both domestically and abroad. Either way, Science for Truth’s influence in Russia and abroad is only growing, and its bigoted message is reaching further, particularly online.
Heidi Beirich is co-founder of Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.
Johnny Depp, Amber Heard and the deeply unsatisfying matter of re-litigating their trial
Netflix series was panned by critics
WASHINGTON – On Aug. 16, Netflix released a three-part docuseries revisiting last summer’s televised civil litigation over allegations that Amber Heard had defamed ex-husband Johnny Depp by claiming to have survived sexual violence and domestic abuse during their four-year relationship.
Rather than offering anything new by way of insight or analysis from anyone with relevant qualifications or experience, each episode features clips from some of the online “creators” who turned their hot takes on the trial into a veritable cottage industry of amateur legal commentary and courtroom conspiracy theories, feeding the rapacious demand for anti-Heard and pro-Depp content. (As if to underscore the project’s unseriousness, these included a men’s rights YouTuber who wore a Deadpool mask and was surrounded by Spider-Man costumes.)
Worse still, “Depp v. Heard” director Emma Cooper fails not only to answer but also to even ask the obvious questions that have lingered since a verdict was returned more than 14 months ago by seven jurors in northern Virginia who were not sequestered as the case became, by far, the most popular topic on social media and online platforms.
At the same time, however, the episodes include footage of courtroom testimony that offer a glimpse, though incomplete, into some of the trial’s more salient and dispositive moments that I otherwise would never have seen (with neither the time nor the inclination, either last year or now, to follow 120+ hours of argument by the parties presented over the course of a seven-week trial.)
Do these scenes redeem the series? Hardly. But that does not mean they offer nothing of value, especially considering that while this was not the retelling of last summer’s events that we deserve, it remains the only one we’ve got. At least, for now.
Susan Sontag, in her 1977 collection of essays “On Photography,” proclaimed “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.”
In “Depp v. Heard,” the cameras facilitate a very specific kind of tourism that feels both exploitative and voyeuristic, because the reality in which we find ourselves trespassing is dark: the unraveling of a relationship between movie stars through patterns of dysfunction and abuse both familiar and alien, knowable and unknowable, like a city you have visited but never called home.
Especially when coupled with the more outrageous moments from trial that made headlines at the time – such as the debate over whether Heard defecated on Depp’s bed and blamed his teacup Yorkshire Terrier – there is a temptation to treat footage of testimony concerning the smashing of liquor bottles and hurling of wine glasses, the shoving and taunting and threats, even the physical and sexual violence, as though it were pure spectacle.
However, this would suggest, wrongly, that the painful realities of the actors’ relationship are so far removed from our lived experiences that we do not, cannot, or should not relate to them. As if a seven-week trial adjudicating the conflicts in our own intimate relationships or those involving the people we love would not turn up evidence of trouble and dysfunction, or worse.
Considering that we are primed to pick winners and losers and heroes and villains, perhaps it was unsurprising that incomplete and selectively edited footage from the case provided ample fodder for Instagram reels and TikTok videos that were created in the service of narratives that, most often, favored Depp and vilified Heard.
For me, witnessing these scenes in their proper context revealed a picture so much more complicated and, frankly, ugly that the prospect of framing the case in this manner seemed as preposterous as the idea that audiences leaving a production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” should find themselves allied with either Martha or George.
To take just one example: From the witness stand, Heard recounted how she would often return home to their shared Los Angeles penthouse to find Depp nodding off in a chair because he had washed Roxicodone down with whiskey, or lying supine on the sofa fully unconscious with melted ice cream pooled in his lap. Worried about her husband’s apparent substance use disorder and unsure how best to help, the actress admitted she would sometimes take photos of him and share the pictures with a trusted friend.
Or, Depp’s attorney asked, was she just trying to humiliate him? Or, online commentators asked (often rhetorically), was this a calculated and premeditated move to collect evidence she would use against Depp in litigation or for purposes of extorting him?
As if these motives are mutually exclusive.
Having experienced the pain of watching loved ones spiraling in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction, I can tell you why I suspect Heard took the photos, but of course the reality is neither I nor anyone else – perhaps not even she – has any clue.
Last year, so much of the online noise about the trial came from content creators who made specious arguments to poke holes in the credibility of Heard’s testimony or alleged ulterior, sinister hidden motives based on the actress’s countenance, demeanor, speech, and other behavior.
For example, in clips that were often selectively edited or presented outside of their proper context, Heard might have seemed to cry more hysterically upon realizing the cameras were trained on her, which were used as supposed proof that her claims of suffering abuse at the hands of her ex-husband must therefore be fabricated.
Watching the footage in the manner presented on screen in “Depp v. Heard,” it becomes even more obvious how silly these interpretations were. In reality, of course, no one – not even police officers, trial court judges, F.B.I. and C.I.A. agents, trial lawyers or forensic psychiatrists – can reliably spot when someone is lying to them.
However convincing some YouTuber may have been, and however comforting the idea that we are able to see through the lies of others, I’m sorry to tell you the research on this is overwhelming and uncontested.
As Malcolm Gladwell observes in “Talking to Strangers,” Amanda Knox was falsely convicted for a murder she did not commit because “much of the prosecution’s case…rested on the allegedly strange, guilty behavior she exhibited,” which “the public deemed not in line with typical responses to grief and trauma.”
The cameras did not tell the complete story.
Well before 2022, private details about Depp and Heard’s troubled relationship had spilled onto the pages of tabloids like The Sun, which called Depp a “wife beater” in a 2018 story alleging that “overwhelming evidence was filed to show Johnny Depp engaged in domestic violence against his wife.” After he sued the paper for defamation, London’s High Court of Justice ruled against the actor in 2020, concluding the claims at issue were “substantially true.”
Still, last summer’s litigation between the actors earned far more public attention and unearthed far more (and far more titillating) private information, causing, therefore, far more damage than the supermarket rags and gossip blogs – as well as, ironically, the financial and reputational damage resulting from the very defamation claims that were adjudicated at trial.
As a reminder, Depp sued his ex-wife for a 2018 opinion article in the Washington Post in which she had written, “two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” Heard was referencing the backlash against, essentially, identical claims she made in a statement after securing a restraining order against Depp following their divorce in 2016. (“During the entirety of our relationship, Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to me,” she wrote.)
In so many cases including this one, intimate partner abuse is messy. An audio recording of one of the couple’s arguments shows Heard acknowledging she had struck her ex-husband but denying that she punched him. Her testimony, meanwhile, detailed serious violent crimes, including that Depp had thrown her into a ping pong table and repeatedly hit her in the face before sexually assaulting her with a liquor bottle that may have been broken.
Of course, assuming their sworn testimony to be true, it must also be said, domestic violence is a gendered crime. And the imbalanced power dynamics within their relationship put Heard at a disadvantage, including in this respect. While both are famous actors, the wealth, power, and fame wielded by Depp was then (and remains, now) much greater.
The disparity was evident from the outset. In the Netflix series, throngs of fans are shown cheering the Pirates of the Caribbean star and booing Heard on the first day they were sighted arriving separately to the Fairfax County Circuit Court. Meanwhile, online, evidence of a sustained and coordinated character assassination of Heard had just begun to emerge.
The smear campaign would persist through the trial and beyond. The actress was called a manipulative liar, a gold digger, an abuser, a violent psychopath, a drug addict, and worse. Some of the most outrageous claims were among the most widely circulated: She snorted cocaine on the witness stand, killed her own mother to conceal testimony that would have exonerated Depp, plagiarized lines from the film The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Creators mocked Heard by lip-synching over audio of her testimony about suffering violent abuse in videos that went viral on TikTok along with hashtags like #JusticeForJohnnyDepp, which was seen nearly 3 billion times on the platform. (#justiceforamberheard earned just 25 million views.) One-sided articles and videos, many containing false and misleading claims, were promoted by Ben Shapiro’s conservative media outlet The Daily Wire through its estimated $35,000 and $47,000 purchase of Facebook and Instagram ads.
“Depp v. Heard” was panned by critics.
“If ever a true-crime documentary needed the usual collection of talking-head interviews with esteemed journalists, law enforcement veterans and legal experts to put things in perspective,” Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times wrote, “this is it — but that never happens.”
Others, like CNN’s Brian Lowry, agreed: “How much is gained from listening to a guy in a Deadpool mask offering extensive trial takes is a question ‘Depp v. Heard’ should have contemplated and apparently didn’t,” he wrote.
Several reviews added that part of the problem was that not nearly enough time had elapsed between the events and their retelling. Bustle’s Scaachi Koul pointed to other recent projects involving the private lives of public figures (especially women) that, with sufficient space and distance, found new and interesting things to say about their subjects and opportunities to tell their stories anew.
Ryan White’s excellent documentary “Pamela: A Love Story,” which was released by Netflix in January, manages to find plenty of worthwhile material about actress and model Pamela Anderson along with the broader sociocultural forces of the 90s and early aughts that helped shape – and were shaped by – the era’s most enduring sex symbol.
The film would have been nothing, however, without Anderson. Listening to her tell her own story, one realizes how poorly suited everyone else was to the task – particularly the leering talk show hosts and journalists who treated her as nothing more than a sex object.
And maybe that, above all else, is the lesson to be gleaned from “Depp v. Heard”: Let’s come back to this story when we’re ready to cut through the bullshit, reframe the conversation away from the “him vs. her” framing, stop relying on provably unreliable evidence, consider the broader context of their relationship and the impact of the trial that happened on TikTok and YouTube, and listen to Heard if and when she’s ready to talk about this again.
Until we get that docuseries (or documentary, scripted series, film, book, whatever), I fear everything else will be deeply unsatisfactory and unsatisfying.
Christopher Kane is the White House correspondent and chief political reporter for the Washington and Los Angeles Blade newspapers.
Legal registration of NGOs is vital for advancing human rights of LGBTQ+, intersex rights in Africa
Kenya and Eswatini groups have won legal victories this year
By MULESA LUMINA, KAAJAL RAMJATHAN-KEOGH AND TANYA LALLMON | Upholding the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, other gender diverse and intersex (LGBTQI+) people remains a pivotal human rights concern across Africa. In recent years, despite significant but sporadic victories in several African courts affirming the human rights of individual members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to uphold LGBTQI+ rights, including their members’ right to freedom of association, many obstacles hinder such organizations’ ability to register with appropriate authorities in order to operate legally.
As unpacked in a webinar organized by the International Commission of Jurists, such obstacles include bureaucratic red tape, a dearth of domestic laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) and the existence of criminal laws targeting and perpetuating discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals. The severe anti-LGBTQI+ backlash from community and religious groups exacerbates the situation and compounds these obstacles, further undermining advocacy efforts.
The Kenyan Supreme Court in February 2023 ordered that the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission be allowed to register because the authorities’ initial decision to refuse registration was discriminatory and unconstitutional, violating the right to freedom of association solely because of the sexual orientation of the organization’s members. In June this year, the Supreme Court of Eswatini became the latest African apex court to rule in favor of registering a LGBTQI+ human rights NGO, directing the minister responsible for registering companies to reconsider his initial refusal because, procedurally, it violated the Constitution. While the Swazi Supreme Court’s ruling in the case did not necessarily rely on a clear statement upholding the human rights of LGBTQI+ people in Eswatini, this remains a welcome decision. Seven years prior, the Botswana Court of Appeal ordered the Registrar of Societies to register Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) on the grounds that the refusal to register LEGABIBO as an organization was unlawful and a violation of the right to freely associate.
Still, across Africa, civil society organizations continue to oppose the denial of registration and seek redress for violations of the right to freedom of association of their members. Nyasa Rainbow Alliance (NRA), for instance, is one such organization with a pending decision in their legal quest for registration. NRA’s case is still awaiting hearing and determination by three judges of the Malawian Constitutional Court.
The right to freedom of association is a fundamental foundation of any democratic society. Exercising this right by forming and legally registering NGOs is essential for enhanced advocacy since it allows organizations to apply for funding, operate bank accounts that hold these funds, employ staff, work with international partners, and access global and regional human rights mechanisms and fora.
As noted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (African Commission) in its Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, the rights to freedom of association and assembly under the African Charter “are inextricably intertwined with other rights”. Further, in the matter mentioned above the Supreme Court of Kenya also emphatically stated, “[g]iven that the right to freedom of association is a human right, vital to the functioning of any democratic society as well as an essential prerequisite [for the] enjoyment of other fundamental rights and freedoms, we hold that this is inherent in everyone irrespective of whether the views they are seeking to promote are popular or not.”
It goes without saying that human rights NGOs play a critical role in upholding democratic principles and safeguarding human rights by mobilizing collective action, holding governments accountable, offering direct assistance to victims of human rights violations, challenging discriminatory laws and policies and more. The Triangle Project, for example, is a South African NGO that has been instrumental in amplifying awareness of anti-LGTBQI+ hate crimes, influencing policy change and supporting victims.
NGOs advocating for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, in particular, empower and protect these oft-marginalized individuals by offering awareness-raising platforms, connecting them with key stakeholders, and providing access to resources and services that might otherwise be denied to them. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, many LGBTQI+ Africans were abruptly cut off from the NGOs that were their safe havens and sources of social and economic support. Additionally, amid increasing hostility towards LGBTQI+ persons in many African countries, including Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda, NGOs like the Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) and LGBT+ Rights Ghana provide crucial protective spaces.
Having legal status is also a prerequisite for holding observer status and participation in the sessions of bodies like the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. However, the withdrawal of the Coalition of African Lesbians’ observer status by the African Commission and recent denials of such status to Alternative Côte d’Ivoire, Human Rights First Rwanda, and Synergía – Initiatives for Human Rights undermine the right to freedom of association and represent missed opportunities to ensure that the human rights of marginalized groups, including LGBTQI+ persons, are placed on the African human rights agenda.
Registration of LGBTQI+ human rights organizations in Africa is more than a matter of legal formality. It can be a significant step towards bolstering advocacy and promoting human rights for all. It is truly unconscionable that, in 2023, LGBTQI+ people continue to endure violence, persecution, discrimination and bigotry amid the reignited backlash against their human rights in multiple African countries. It is essential for governments to protect the right to freedom of association by dismantling barriers to registration and working closely with these groups to realize the human rights of all people. Only through collective efforts can we build an inclusive society that is able to guarantee the right to dignity of all persons and offer protection and non-discrimination to all.
Mulesa Lumina is the Legal and Communications Associate Officer for the International Commission of Jurists’ (ICJ’s) Africa Regional Program, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh is ICJ Africa’s Director and Tanya Lallmon is a former ICJ Africa intern.
School boards are the battlefield for LGBTQ+ Rights
The battlefield for LGBTQ+ rights is closer to home than you may have thought says a progressive university student activist
By Cameron Driggers | GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Queer people are under attack across the United States, whether it be through legislation which strips the LGBTQ+ community of hard fought protections and rights, attempts to censor queer literature and media, or outright violence against the community.
Many have rightly laid the blame for this spike in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment on demagoguery spewed from leading conservative figures such as Governor Ron DeSantis. However, decidedly less attention has been paid to the role local school boards have played in facilitating grotesque bigotry within the public school system.
School boards and the school districts they oversee, like most municipal authorities, have generally been regarded as an afterthought by larger allied electoral organizations, which is reflected by the measly resources they have put into controlling them. This oversight has proven to be an immensely costly one, and to the detriment of queer and trans young people everywhere.
Although some state governments are headed by rabid homophobes such as Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem, and Florida’s Republican governor, all indeed responsible for enacting pieces of highly-publicized anti-queer legislation- it lies largely in the purview of school boards to both interpret and implement them.
The former of which is a particularly important power, given that the most harmful of the laws in question, such as DeSantis’ signature “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, were intentionally written vaguely as to empower conservative school districts to impose the most extreme application of the law possible.
Over the past few years, far-right forces have successfully captured school districts across the country. Perhaps the most notorious of these forces is Moms For Liberty, which has distinguished itself not only as a dangerous hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but also as the foremost vehicle for the propulsion of bigots into positions of power within educational institutions.
M4L channels large sums of unaccountable dark money to blanket cities with mailers and other advertisements rife with frantic misinformation, which is able to drown out any rebuttal from under-resourced opponents. After employing this dubious strategy during the 2023 election cycle, candidates backed by MFL or other like minded groups won a score of school board seats. Not only in places where you’d expect, but also in deep-blue communities in states as New Jersey, Maryland and even California.
In Florida, the hysterical culture war spun up by Republicans manifested into Moms For Liberty’s most decisive victory in the nation. Ron DeSantis himself joined MFL in bankrolling dozens of their handpicked goons. Out of sixty-seven endorsed candidates, forty-one were elected. As a result, DeSantis’ administration has worked in-tandem with nominally independent school districts to impose fervent anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry within the state’s public schools.
The battlefield for LGBTQ+ rights is closer to home than you may have thought
These victories represented a terrifying new reality in which systemic homophobia could perniciously expand to new extents. Many of the increasingly outrageous headlines surrounding new anti-LGBTQ+ regulations in schools can be attributed to far-right school board members that were swept into office upon a platform of explicitly anti-queer sentiment.
These rogue school boards, despite an outcry from the students they are charged with serving, have pushed onward with a radical agenda. Teachers who support LGBTQ+ students have found themselves doomed to non-renewal of their teaching contracts. Superintendents face pressure to throw marginalized students under the bus lest they too find themselves abruptly fired.
Furthermore, school boards have embraced transphobia by taking aim at transgender student athletes and their ability to use facilities which correspond to their gender. Perhaps most abhorrently, many school boards have considered mandating the Outing of vulnerable LGBTQ+ students to unaccepting parents, opening the door for abuse and abandonment. Beyond just LGBTQ+ issues, far right board members have pushed for arming teachers, disbanding student identity clubs, and other regressive measures that also pose an existential threat to public education in the United States.
Defeating the far right campaign to hijack our education is imperative, and it is possible. I should know, because I have done it. Flagler County, Florida where I grew up, is one of the epicenters of the culture war in the state.
For instance, our small town made headlines after a sitting school board member, supported by another, (both of which being M4L cheerleaders, natch) filed a police report against district library staff for offering literature which served queer students and students of color. In the Summer of 2022, some friends and I organized a campaign to replace these two members of our school board with true champions for issues students care about.
We spent our hot Summer days knocking on thousands of doors, registering our peers to vote, and sign-waving along busy intersections. We were outspent massively, by both Moms For Liberty and Ron DeSantis’ personal super PAC. We faced long political headwinds in a county which voted for DeSantis by over thirty-five points in the last general election. Despite all of those challenges, we successfully unseated both incumbents on election night, representing one of only a handful of school boards that did not shift to the right.
The kind of grassroots movement I experienced in my hometown is exactly what is needed across not only Florida, but the entire country. The likes of Moms for Liberty are well-funded by far-right dark money donors. But while they might have the money, young people have something far more important: energetic passion. That is to say, the fuel which empowers a scrappy band of high schoolers to spend their Summer changing hearts and minds to defy the odds.
With that said, providing resources to young people eager to take on far-right school boards in their own communities must be an urgent priority, because the battlefield for LGBTQ+ rights is closer to home than you may have thought.
Cameron Driggers is progressive student activist attending the University of Florida. As a highschooler, Cameron led state-wide campaigns to resist anti-queer measures, such as the Don’t Say Gay School Walkouts of 2022.
Presently, Cameron continues to advocate for empowerment of young people to make change as an Organizing Fellow for People Power For Florida.
The arm of imperialism: The church’s anti-gender and anti-SOGIE rhetoric
Anti-rights agenda in Africa has weaponized LGBTQ+, intersex rights
By Anna Mmola-Chalmers | Recently, in Botswana, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya and Malawi, the church has thrown the public into a moral panic with its anti-rights agenda that weaponizes LGBTQI+ human rights paddling the same narrative that homosexuality is a Western agenda intended to destroy African values, family, culture and procreation.
These anti-gender movements have spread across Europe and the U.S. in recent years. They focused on what they themed “gender ideology,” framing gender as destructive and unnatural.
The main characteristics of the movement are that they lean towards a more conservative understanding of religion, are aligned with politicians, mainly the right-wingers, are anti-choice, emphasize the traditional family value and attack comprehensive sex education in schools.
A similar modus operandi manifested in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia and Botswana, where they have infiltrated Parliaments to support anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda, undermine judicial decisions by introducing new laws to contradict judgements in Namibia, and manipulated Parliament to ignore the decriminalization judgement in Botswana.
The movement masquerades as representatives of public morality for the public good, but what is also clear is that these anti-LGBTQI+ groups are also anti-human rights and anti-women’s rights, and intent on keeping the status quo of inequalities, separation, and oppression of minorities, the poor and vulnerable.
On the surface, the narratives that the movement paddles are seemingly pro-African and care about African culture and norms. They frame homosexuality as un-African, and part of the Western culture intended to erode African values and cultural norms. They embrace anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda and nod at African leaders who denounce efforts by civil society to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct and pronounce these laws as part of the African culture.
In their hypocrisy, they purposefully ignore the historical fact that laws against homosexuality are a colonial relic inherited from colonial masters in the 17th and 20th centuries. The buggery laws are part of the vagrancy laws introduced by the colonialists to separate the local communities from the colonialists, slaves from masters — to keep lives in the colonies separate so that colonialists can exercise control over the natives, contain them in their territories and keep the streets clean. This form of oppression was characteristic of all the colonies in Africa.
Today, once again, history repeats itself, the modern imperialists in the form of church groups such as Family Watch International, a U.S.-based NGO, replicating similar tactics through an intense global campaign that uses homosexuality as an entry point to thwart equal rights and influence African leaders to oppress the most marginalized citizens through misinformation, trickery and pseudo-scientific research.
This sounds familiar because it is the same colonial masters’ tactics used in the 17th century. These are the same far-right ideas of white supremacists, with anti-gender and anti-rights agenda.
Just like the colonialists, organizations and groups like Family Watch International are deliberately using family and children, ideals that are cherished in Africa, to reject LGBTQI+ members of the family and encourage governments to put in place the harshest penalties, including death, towards individuals identifying as LGBTQI+, and promote the most harmful practices such as conversion therapy, to “rehabilitate” homosexuals.
A dangerous church culture of stigma, discrimination and hate has been cultivated and sanctioned. Botswana experienced this harmful practice during the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana protest march, shaping negativity and hatred towards another human being in the public space. And here we are again, as Africans, centuries later, ambushed, manipulated and pitted against one another, and once again, the church is at the helm of yet another atrocity.
We have also seen that the anti-SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression) movement is anti-rights and seeks to influence and destroy any structure that represents human rights and attempts to protect the rights of marginalized groups, traditionally at the bottom of the family unit, women, children and the disabled. Recently in Africa, including Botswana, the courts have defended LGBTQI+ by making favorable decisions to protect their rights.
Because of that, the judiciary is under attack, as we witnessed with the Namibia Parliament passing a bill that contradicts the Supreme Court judgement to undermine the judiciary. The legislators in all these countries where there is a religious backlash — Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Botswana and Uganda — are responding to the influence and uncertainty raised by these groups, in the process undermining the rule of law, a trait characteristic of far-right conservatives who are intent on maintaining the status quo of inequalities and oppression.
The African public is tricked into believing that laws against homosexuality represent African cultural norms and beliefs, a fallacy engineered to convince Africans that colonial laws are our ideas. Our African values and norms are reflected in our post-colonial and post-apartheid constitutions, which embrace tolerance, dignity, compassion, nondiscrimination and inclusivity.
Africa does not possess social norms that promote harm, hate, discrimination and indignity, those are the imperialist ideals, past and present, intent on wiping out the indigenous Africans. Unfortunately for the new imperialists, Africa has wised up and amassed new human rights jurisprudence in many African nations, including the African Court. In 2021, the African Court wrote an advisory opinion urging African governments to abolish colonial criminal laws, explicitly focusing on vagrancy laws, which treat the most marginalized in our society with contempt.
In conclusion, the African leaders are alerted not to fall into the same trap their forefathers found themselves in and allowed colonial masters to enforce laws that treat the most marginalized in their societies with contempt. The African leaders of then had no lessons to learn from, the current politicians should keep history from repeating itself.
Anna Mmola-Chalmers is the LGBTQI+ programs manager at the Southern Africa Litigation Center.
Opposition to Cop City is a queer liberation issue
Atlanta complex would be largest police training facility in U.S.
By Jacob Clifton Albritton | Queer liberation has always been a movement towards the embodiment of both joy and safety, in response to a dangerous world intent on policing and erasing us.
The recent tragic murder of O’Shae Sibley, who like many LGBTQ+ folks was forced to choose between safety and happiness, was a harrowing reminder of how even everyday people feel compelled to police queer and trans people, and eradicating us if we do not submit. The increased threats and acts of violence against the Queer community are a direct result of the widespread campaign to legislate hatred against the community.
With over 500 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced by right-wing extremists in state legislatures across the country, over 70 of which have been introduced into law, we have transitioned into a new era for the lives of LGBTQ+ people: A renewed era of policing, vigilantism and eradication.
As I write this, many Atlanta organizers are working hard to address one of the major crisis zones of the American policing crisis: Cop City.
Cop City is a $90 million effort led by the Atlanta Police Foundation, corporations and state and local government officials in Georgia to build a militarized training complex for the Atlanta police department.
If built, it will be the largest police training facility in the United States. We know the safest communities — or at least those with the lowest documented crime rates — are safe not because they have high levels of policing, but instead because resources have been thoughtfully allocated for the actual needs of the people. Education, health care including proper mental health interventions, leisure and other community engagement programs, all support the thriving of a society.
Atlantans are now threatened with an unprecedented level of permanent policing and militarization. Cop City is a direct threat against the lives of all Atlantans, but especially Black folks and other Atlantans of color. Cop City is also a direct attack on the LGBTQ+ community.
On Jan. 18 of this year, Tortuguita, a 26-year-old Indigenous queer and nonbinary environmental activist, was shot and killed by Georgia state troopers while protesting at the proposed site of Cop City. As the extremists’ slate of anti-LGBTQ+ bills spread around the country at alarming rates, the training and tactics that will be taught in Cop City will be used directly against the LGBTQ+ community to enforce these outrageous laws aiming to eradicate us out of existence.
We will go back to the days of the extreme police violence against queer people of the past in the name of enforcing a specific view of “morality” — a morality rooted in a patriarchal, white supremacist worldview.
But what morality? This month marks the 9-year anniversary of the state-sanctioned murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The murder of our beloved brother ushered forward a movement known best by the clarion call “Black Lives Matter.” This movement, led primarily by the queer and trans Black community, was met with a vicious militarized police crackdown that has marked a generation of activists, advocates, and community leaders for life. Violence was the state’s response to lament. Brutality was the response of so-called moral governance to the devastation of a community. In the nine years since, we have only seen this intensify.
Policing was never about safety, but about enforcement of conformity. Cop City will be a principal vehicle for the eradication of the Queer community. We must stop Cop City.
Jacob Clifton Albritton (they/them) lives in Midtown Atlanta and is a major gifts officer for the Movement for Black Lives. Jacob Clifton is passionate about fighting for the liberation of Black people, particularly at the intersection of being Black, queer and Christian.
They serve as a co-chair for the LGBTQ+ Commission on Ministry for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and volunteer as an ambassador with the Georgia OUT Business Alliance.
A letter to my younger self: Reflecting on African queer activism for International Youth Day
‘I write to you as a testament to endurance and resilience’
By Dumi Gatsha
I write to you as a testament to endurance and resilience.
I know you are reeling with confusion and grief with little understanding of what happened to you during adolescence. Living in a world that defines you as a victim with much “need” and little to dream for, because who is allowed to dream when criminalized and denied consent to their bodily autonomy and dignity?
You are one of many whose resilience will be celebrated with little regard of what truly defines you because you have “survived.” Survived socioeconomic complexity, sexual assault, stigma and the silence that comes with normalized violence.
Although the journey through your teenage years may be lonely, you are not alone.
Activists that came before you endured to bridge science and community, governance and humanity. As you grow into activism, your peers, colleagues and movements will revitalize the Pan-African dream. Young feminists alike, dreaming and carving out a more queer, green and just future.
Whether in social media, on the streets, through community health, or in spaces where people convene — you will find community among those who organize, protest and create.
They will nourish your own journey, strengthening the healing that activism has afforded you despite the complexities of shrinking civic space and health insecurity.
You are a light of many others, that redefine what it means to be African and in solidarity. The constellation of light that brightens the room in the glory of African queer excellence, hope and joy.
You will carve out new beginnings for those who, just as you, might have not had the words or language when starting out. You will shape conversations and weave in the love, aspirations of those most left behind in regional and global agendas. As we start to create our own tables, where we are not the subjects but where we shape the trajectory of what and how our humanity can be restored without condition or ableism.
You will find joy in resistance and asserting the universality and indivisibility of your rights. You will navigate public participation in community and solidarity, as the garden of joy blooms amidst geopolitical chaos and anti-rights movements.
International Youth Day will be one of the many commemorations when you look back at the gains made in human rights-based approach to HIV, whilst advancing the gaps in sexual and reproductive health rights, mental health and universal health care.
You will recognize that these cannot be fulfilled without ensuring our planet is also healthy enough to accommodate all of us in our diversity. These are the skills of our future; where we can dream and be creative, where intersectionality in thought leadership and advocacy can carve out alternatives for participatory movements.
You are an African child, born of the African soil. This sheer acknowledgement is an intergenerational legacy continuously redefined in song, joy and healing. You will look back with glee as one of many who’ve defined their potential and created the pockets of solidarity and creativity that nourish us in Ubuntu.
I wish you, your peers and community, a generously sustained and enabling liberation that ensures our individual and collective well-being.
Yours in activism and joy,
Dumi Gatsha is a GFAN Speaker, UHC 2030 steering committee alternate member and founder of Success Capital Organization, a sub-sub recipient of the Global Fund providing community health and justice referral services, while working in the nexus of human rights and sustainable development at grassroots, regional and global levels.
Trump must be held accountable for Jan. 6
The insurrection remains one of this country’s darkest days
I will never forget Jan. 6, 2021.
I left my apartment in Dupont Circle shortly after then-President Donald Trump’s speech to his supporters on the Ellipse ended. I rented a Capital Bikeshare bike in Thomas Circle and rode it down 14th Street to Freedom Plaza. I soon began to live stream on my iPhone the thousands of Trump supporters on Pennsylvania Avenue who were making their way towards the U.S. Capitol. I thought to myself that they looked and sounded like a bunch of idiots, but they were peaceful and largely ignored me. I was wearing my press pass around my neck, but it was hidden under my coat. I did not feel unsafe.
I was largely unaware of what was happening at the Capitol when I reached the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 3rd Street, N.W., in part because cell phones were not working due to the overloaded networks. The crowd, however, had grown more ominous.
Kaela Roeder, a wonderful journalist who had just finished her fellowship with the Washington Blade, was somehow able to call me from the east side of the Capitol. Police cars from various law enforcement agencies were racing up Constitution Avenue with their sirens wailing when she told me she no longer felt safe and asked me if it was okay if she left.
“Get the hell out of there,” I said.
We hung up and I rushed to where she had been, which was easier said than done on a Capital Bikeshare bike. I arrived at the east side of the Capitol less than 10 minutes after we spoke. I saw thousands of Trump supporters on the Capitol steps. I saw at least three people with pro-Trump signs standing in a window.
I left the Capitol and rode my bike back to Dupont Circle after I received a text message that indicated a curfew was going into effect in D.C. at 6 p.m. I was sending quick text messages to family and friends in New Hampshire, Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world while on my way home to let them know that I was alright. The insurrection happened on Wednesday — deadline day — and Blade Editor Kevin Naff called me while I was on 17th Street and asked me to write the cover story for that week’s issue. I said yes, and arrived home a few minutes later. I only realized how bad things were at the Capitol when I began to watch MSNBC’s live coverage.
I wrote the cover story in less than half an hour. I then spent the rest of the day trying without much success to understand what had just happened in our city.
Kaela and I met for coffee at the Blade office at 11 a.m. on Aug. 1, more than two and a half years after the insurrection. Special counsel Jack Smith a few hours later announced Trump had been indicted on four charges related to Jan. 6.
My first thought after learning about the indictments was justice is hopefully (and finally) coming to a man responsible for one of this country’s darkest days. It was also another reminder there is rarely a day that I don’t think about Jan. 6.
The insurrection was in the back of my mind last October while I was covering the first-round of Brazil’s presidential election in Brasília, the country’s capital. (Now Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated then-President Jair Bolsonaro in the second round that took place on Oct. 27, but the right-wing demagogue who is known as “Trump of the Tropics” refused to acknowledge his defeat and did not attend Lula’s inauguration. Thousands of Bolsonaristas on Jan. 8, 2023, stormed the country’s Congress, presidential palace and Supreme Court.) I also thought about Jan. 6 last month when a young Belgian couple with whom I was making small talk at the Be Fucking Nice Coffee Shop — a real place with good coffee and even better food — in Punta Allen, a small fishing village near Tulum, Mexico, that I visited while on vacation, said Americans will get what they deserve if Trump once again becomes president.
I know what I saw and heard on Jan. 6. The country knows what it saw and heard on Jan. 6. The world knows what it saw and heard on Jan. 6.
Those aligned with the thrice-indicted former president who continue their pathetic attempts to convince us that something else happened on that horrible day are nothing more than professional assholes who are desperate to remain relevant. Let’s hope their efforts will ultimately fail and history will view Jan. 6 for what it is: One of this country’s darkest days. Let’s also hope Trump will finally be held accountable for what he did.
Botswana religious groups threaten rule of law and refuse LGBTQ+ rights
Country’s Council of Churches applauded 2019 decriminalization ruling
By Bradley Fortuin and Matlhogonolo Samsam | Botswana is considered a secular state and all people have equal access to religious organizations and institutions. There are three Christian umbrella bodies in Botswana — being the Botswana Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana and Organization of African Instituted Churches — all of whom have great influence io public perceptions and attitudes towards various social and rights-based issues.
Faith in action, embracing diversity!
The Botswana Council of Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Lutheran Church and the Methodist Church, in 2019 released a statement applauding the Court of Appeal in decriminalizing consensual same-sex sex in the country. In the statement, the council encouraged its members to abide by the judgment and not discriminate against anyone who identifies as LGBTIQ+. The BCC has been intentional about their views on LGBTIQ+ rights and has continually engaged with queer organizations to get human rights literacy. It is safe to say that they are friends of LGBTIQ+ persons.
Religious discrimination: A barrier to LGBTIQ+ persons‘ rights in Botswana
Recently, there has been a visible increase in anti-LGBTIQ+ rights rhetoric by the EFB and its members, who include politicians. The EFB has been imposing its assumed Christian values on to the nation — a nation that is diverse in beliefs, cultures and identities. Discriminatory behavior towards the LGBTIQ+ community is on the rise, with the EFB being a notable obstacle to progress towards equality. The constitution does provide for freedom of religion and religious practices, but to what extent does religious practices become incitement of violence and hate towards the LGBTIQ+ community?
On Nov. 29, 2021, the Botswana Court of Appeal upheld the decision by the High Court to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts in the country. Beyond this, it affirmed LGBTIQ+ people’s rights to liberty, dignity, privacy, equal protection before the law and body autonomy, as enshrined in the constitution. When the Parliament of Botswana assumed its July/August 2023 session, a bill to amend Sections 164 (a) and (c) of the Penal Code was tabled by the Minister of Defense, Justice and Security, Mr. Ronald Shamukuni. These sections criminalized carnal knowledge against the order of nature and have since been struck down by the High Court and the Court of Appeal in front of a total of eight judges. The procedure to table the bill in Parliament has been said to be standard practice and will in no way go against the orders of the court.
The church threatening Parliament and parliamentarians endanger the rule of law and create an imbalance in the separation of powers by encouraging Parliament to go against the decision of the Court of Appeal. The courts and judges are — and must be — independent of Parliament and the government. The judiciary has already held sections 164 (a) and (c) of the Penal Code to be unconstitutional and ordered it to be repealed. Within the legal framework, Parliament must now adhere to the court’s order and repeal these offences. For the Legislature to attempt or to go against the court’s order shows ignorance of the law, undermining of the Judiciary and disregard for vulnerable and marginalized groups.
The rise of anti-LGBTIQ+ movement in Botswana
Since the motion of intention to table the bill, there has been a stir and public outcry regarding LGBTIQ+ rights and liberties led by the anti-rights movement. The EFB and some politicians have been against the protection of LGBTIQ+ people and increasingly engage in discriminatory behavior against the community. The church, in all its might and power rallied and organized demonstrators to march against the amendment bill by Parliament. There have been three demonstrations in the last four weeks across the country.
Why is the EFB and some politicians opposed to LGBTIQ+ rights? Why are they a barrier to progress towards equality and inclusion of a group that has been vulnerable and marginalized for a long time in Botswana? Why is the EFB vehemently advocating for the recriminalization of LGBTIQ+ rights?
In its messaging, the EFB has been consistent about their message — that LGBTIQ+ rights have no place in Botswana. Amidst this messaging, with the influence that the church has, and the number of followers in the EFB denominations, this card has been used to persuade and manipulate politicians to reject the amendment bill if they want to survive politically.
Botswana goes for its general elections in 2024, and now is the perfect time to start campaigning — or de-campaigning — for politicians. Several politicians are now at the mercy of the EFB and voting for LGBTIQ+ rights is feared to be political suicide. When, however, politicians and the church are willing to rally against the courts, our democracy is at stake.
Avoiding tyranny of the majority
The EFB and some politicians called for the rights of LGBTIQ+ people to be put to a referendum and to have the public decide. By doing so, there is the risk of the majority imposing its will on the people. LGBTIQ+ rights are not a popularity contest and should not be contingent on popular opinion; basic human rights should not be up for debate or subject to the changing whims of the majority as they are not dependent on popular opinion but are inherent to all human beings. LGBTIQ+ individuals have historically faced exclusion, discrimination, prejudice and violence and subjecting their rights to a referendum perpetuates this vulnerability. It undermines the principles of dignity, liberty and equal protection under the law, entrenched in our constitution and upheld by our courts. The views of the EFB are not the views of Batswana at large.
In 2016, the Afrobarometer reported that at least 43 percent of Batswana are not opposed to LGBTIQ+, while in its 2021 report, it reported that 50 percent of Batswana are open-minded and unprejudiced to LGBTIQ+ people. The increased acceptance of LGBTIQ+ persons in Botswana reflects that public opinion is in fact not what the church and politicians are assuming.
To promote fairness and equality, religious organizations must understand that they are separated from governmental structures and should refrain from wielding undue influence on legislative issues that impact members of different faiths, beliefs or those who are not religious. The call to deny LGBTIQ+ people their rights because of fundamentalist religious beliefs perpetuates inequality and discrimination and sends the message that certain groups of people are less deserving of rights and protections in Botswana.
Bradley Fortuin is the LGBTIQ+ Program Officer at the Southern Africa Litigation Center and a social justice activist.
Matlhogonolo Samsam is the Media and Community Liaison Lead at Black Queer DocX and a queer feminist working towards the development of an inclusive LBQ+ society.
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