Sunday, October 14, 2012

Transgender Community Protests Outside Calgary West Conservative MP Rob Anders’ Office Over Inane Comments Made Regarding Opposition To Bill Expanding Legal Protection Based On Gender Identity, Former SNP Leader Suggests Same Sex Marriage “A Step Towards Fascism,” Controversial Campaign Targets Tasmanian MPs Over Failed Same Sex Marriage Measure, Michele Bachmann’s Lesbian Half-Sister “Stunned” By Her Aggressive Homophobia, When Facebook Outs

In Calgary, Alberta, more than a dozen members of Calgary’s transgender community protested Saturday outside the constituency office of Calgary West MP Rob Anders. The Conservative politician is drawing fire for circulating a petition opposing a bill that would extend legal protections to transgender people. Anders’ petition calls Bill C-279 the “bathroom bill” and says it endangers children and aims “to give transgender men access to women’s public washroom facilities.” The Herald reports that Protester Mercedes Allen said the event was organized to clarify the “fear mongering” petition, adding, “The bill he’s protesting is a human rights bill which is not about washrooms at all but refers to employment, housing, access to services and things like that.” Allen said many Canadians do not know people who are transgender and the event served to help people learn about the issues facing a vulnerable population and why human rights protections are needed. “We just want people to realize that we’re real people. They encounter us every day, probably don’t even realize it. (We’re) not any kind of scary menace at all,” Allen said. Anders defended the petition in an e-mail Saturday. “If someone has male plumbing they should use a men’s public washroom,” he wrote. Females deserve to be protected in public washrooms and change rooms, the e-mail said. “Women and girls make up over 50 per cent of the population and should not be put at risk for the sake of less than one per cent of the population. What about the rights of the majority of women and girls?” But Premier Alison Redford characterized Anders’ petition as “ill-informed” and inappropriate. “One of the things that always disappoints me in a dialogue about human rights is when you see people introduce information into the discussion that is incorrect and only designed to get people scared, frightened or to incite emotion,” she said, speaking to reporters after a luncheon Saturday. “It’s unfortunate. It’s a very ill-informed petition.”

In Scotland, former SNP leader Gordon Wilson will accuse party ministers of “intolerance” for pushing ahead with the change in the face of a public consultation that indicated overwhelming opposition. According to the BBC, he will also warn those Nationalist MSPs who intend backing the move when it comes before the Scottish Parliament that voters will get their revenge by ousting them at the next election. Salmond is also facing a rebellion at the Perth conference over reversing the SNP’s long-standing opposition to an independent Scotland joining Nato. The First Minister reiterated yesterday Scotland could join the nuclear alliance while still getting rid of Trident nuclear submarines based on the Clyde, a claim that Liam Fox, the former Defence Secretary, last week described as “Alice in Wonderland.” Wilson, who led the SNP in the 1980s, will make his intervention at a conference fringe meeting on Thursday organised by Scotland For Marriage, a church-led umbrella group that opposes same sex marriage. Nicola Sturgeon announced in July that the Scottish Government is to press ahead with the change despite 64-percent of respondents to a public consultation opposing it. The Deputy First Minister promised “important protections” so clergymen would not be forced to conduct ceremonies against their will but Wilson will call the consultation process a “fraud,” and will add, “What is the point of canvassing the views of the electorate and then cynically discarding them? If you think we are sliding down a road to state fascism and intolerance, you may not be far wrong. Be warned, those MSPs of all parties on a narrow majority who exercise their 'free' vote for same sex marriage. They may find that a free vote has as much validity as a 'free' lunch. If they ignore public opinion, a P45 may await. Do not scorn the electorate." He told BBC Scotland yesterday that political correctness was now occupying a position "to which it has no right" and when the state moves into legislating on same sex marriage it becomes "a step towards fascism.” But a Scottish Government spokesman said SNP ministers are “committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal.”

In Australia, the fallout from Tasmania's failed same sex marriage legislation has turned nasty, with claims of deaths threats against a gay activist and a cyber campaign against some MP's Last month's parliamentary debate on the marriage equality bill was charged with emotion and ended with Tasmanian upper house MPs voting it down, eight to six. Social media pages have been set up to criticize legislative councillors, including Launceston's Rosemary Armitage and Glenorchy's Adriana Taylor for voting against the bill. Windemere MLC Ivan Dean has also been sent e-mails attacking him. "There are also some personal e-mails coming through and personal contact, it's a sort of a hate campaign," he said. The offensive comments posted on social media pages, include labelling the MPs bigots. Armitage says the content is upsetting. "I try not to look at it, I've been told you really shouldn't look at the ones that are less than pleasant," she said. Gay rights activist Rodney Croome says he supports the pages but has condemned the comments. "I've received several pieces of hate mail in the context of this debate and two death threats and so I'm very aware of the importance of conducting this debate in a respectful and mature way," he said. "I condemn unreservedly any bullying, any standover tactics and any threats made in the context of the marriage equality debate. There's nothing hateful about the pages that have been set up they simply highlight that some upper house members have voted against marriage equality, against the wishes of their local constituents. [But] derogatory name calling and bullying has no place in any public debate," he said. The Save Marriage Coalition's Guy Barnett has slammed the cyber campaign. "The accusations against the legislative councillors are simply over the top, derogatory and in some cases defamatory." Greens leader Nick McKim co-sponsored the bill and says while he does not condone the comments, those MLCs are feeling the wrath of voters. "People need to be held accountable for their votes and what they say and I have no doubt that those eight members of the legislative council will be held accountable for their vote to entrench discrimination when they come up for re-election," he said.

There are many people hurt by Michele Bachmann’s divisive brand of politics, but perhaps none in quite the way that Helen LaFave is. According to the New York Times, the two women once shared confidences. They’re family. Some 40 years ago, Michele’s mother married Helen’s father, and when Michele was in college, the house she returned to in the summer was the one where Helen, then finishing high school, lived. Helen craved that time together. “I remember laughing with her a lot,” she said in an interview on Thursday in her home here. She remembers Michele’s charisma and confidence, too. “I looked up to Michele.” As the years passed they saw much less of each other, but when their paths crossed, at large family gatherings, there were always hugs. Helen was at Michele’s wedding to Marcus Bachmann and got to know him. And Michele got to know Nia, the woman who has been Helen’s partner for almost 25 years. Helen never had a conversation about her sexual orientation with Michele and knew that Michele’s evangelical Christianity was deeply felt. Still she couldn’t believe it when, about a decade ago, Michele began to use her position as a state senator in Minnesota to call out gays and lesbians as sick and evil and to push for an amendment to the Minnesota constitution that would prohibit same sex marriage: precisely the kind of amendment that Minnesotans will vote on in a referendum on Election Day. “It felt so divorced from having known me, from having known somebody who’s gay,” said Helen, a soft-spoken woman with a gentle air. “I was just stunned.”

Bobbi Duncan desperately wanted her father not to know she is lesbian. Facebook told him anyway. One evening last fall, the president of the Queer Chorus, a choir group she had recently joined, inadvertently exposed Ms. Duncan's sexuality to her nearly 200 Facebook friends, including her father, by adding her to a Facebook Inc. discussion group. That night, Duncan's father left vitriolic messages on her phone, demanding she renounce same-sex relationships, she says, and threatening to sever family ties. The 22-year-old cried all night on a friend's couch. "I felt like someone had hit me in the stomach with a bat," she says. Soon, she learned that another choir member, Taylor McCormick, had been outed the very same way, upsetting his world as well. The president of the chorus, a student organization at the University of Texas campus here, had added Duncan and McCormick to the choir's Facebook group. The president didn't know the software would automatically tell their Facebook friends that they were now members of the chorus. The two students were casualties of a privacy loophole on Facebook—the fact that anyone can be added to a group by a friend without their approval. As a result, the two lost control over their secrets, even though both were sophisticated users who had attempted to use Facebook's privacy settings to shield some of their activities from their parents. "Our hearts go out to these young people," says Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes. "Their unfortunate experience reminds us that we must continue our work to empower and educate users about our robust privacy controls." According to the Wall Street Journal, closeted gays and lesbians face particular challenges in controlling their images online, given that friends, family and enemies have the ability to expose them. In Austin, Duncan and McCormick, 21, deliberately tried to stay in the closet with their parents, even as they stepped out on campus. Duncan's parents home-schooled her and raised her in Newton, North Carolina, where the family attended a fundamentalist church. Now a linguistics student, she told her best friend in the summer of 2011 that she might be gay. As she struggled with her sexuality, she adjusted her Facebook privacy settings to hide any hint of it from her father, whom she had helped sign up for Facebook. "Once I had my Facebook settings set, I knew—or thought I knew—there wasn't any problem," she says. McCormick, studying to become a pharmacist, came out in July 2011 to his mother in his hometown of Blanco, Texas, but not to his father, whom McCormick describes as a member of a conservative church that teaches homosexuality is sin. He set Facebook controls for what he calls a "privacy lockdown" on posts that his father, in San Antonio, could see. "We have the one big secret when we're young," he says. "I knew not everyone was going to be accepting." UT Austin was more accepting. As many university campuses have for years, it offered a safe space for young people to come out without parents knowing. Last fall, Duncan and McCormick attended the first rehearsal for the Queer Chorus, a group for gay, lesbian and transgender students and their allies. "This is a great place to find yourself as a queer person," says the chorus's then-president, Christopher Acosta. The group is known for renditions of pop songs in which it sometimes changes the gender of pronouns. Duncan agreed to play piano and sing alto. McCormick, who has a slight frame, surprised the chorus with his deep bass. At the rehearsal, on September 8, Acosta asked if any members weren't on the chorus's Facebook group, where rehearsals would be planned. McCormick and Duncan said they weren't. That night, Acosta turned on his MacBook Pro and added the two new members to the chorus Facebook group. Facebook, then and now, offers three options for this sort of group: "secret" (membership and discussions hidden to non-members), "closed" (anybody can see the group and its members, but only members see posts), and "open" (membership and content both public). Acosta had chosen open. "I was so gung-ho about the chorus being unashamedly loud and proud," he says. But there was a trade-off he says he didn't know about. When he added Duncan, which didn't require her prior online consent, Facebook posted a note to her all friends, including her father, telling them that she had joined the Queer Chorus. When Acosta pushed the button, Facebook allowed him to override the intent of the individual privacy settings Duncan and McCormick had used to hide posts from their fathers. Facebook's online help center explains that open groups, as well as closed groups, are visible to the public and will publish notification to users' friends. But Facebook doesn't allow users to approve before a friend adds them to a group, or to hide their addition from friends. After being contacted by the Wall Street Journal, Facebook adjusted the language in its online Help Center to explain situations, like the one that arose with Queer Chorus, in which friends can see that people have joined groups. Facebook also added a link to this new explanation directly from the screen where users create groups. "I was figuring out the rules by trial and error," says Mr. Acosta. A few hours later, Ms. Duncan's father began leaving her angry voice mails, according to Ms. Duncan and a friend who was present. “I remember I was miserable and said, Facebook decided to tell my dad that I was gay.” Duncan recalls telling her friend, "No no no no no no no. I have him hidden from my updates, but he saw this. He saw it." Duncan's father didn't respond to requests for comment for this article. Her father called repeatedly that night, she says, and when they spoke, he threatened to stop paying her car insurance. He told her to go on Facebook and renounce the chorus and gay lifestyles. On his Facebook page, he wrote two days later: "To all you queers. Go back to your holes and wait for GOD," according to text provided by Duncan. "Hell awaits you pervert. Good luck singing there." Duncan says she fell into depression for weeks. "I couldn't function," she says. "I would be in class and not hear a word anyone was saying." McCormick's mother phoned him the night his name joined the Queer Chorus group. "She said, 'Shit has hit the fan…Your dad has found out.' I asked how," McCormick recalled, "and she said it was all over Facebook." His father didn't talk to his son for three weeks, the younger McCormick says. "He just dropped off the face of my earth." McCormick's father declined to participate in this article. Privacy critics including the American Civil Liberties Union say Facebook has slowly shifted the defaults on its software to reveal more information about people to the public and to Facebook's corporate partners. "Users are often unaware of the extent to which their information is available," says Chris Conley, technology and civil-liberties attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. "And if sensitive info is released, it is often impossible to put the cat back in the bag." Facebook executives say that they have added increasingly more privacy controls, because that encourages people to share. "It is all about making it easier to share with exactly who you want and never be surprised about who sees something," said Chris Cox, Facebook's vice president of product, in an interview in August 2011 as the site unveiled new privacy controls. Facebook declined to make Mr. Cox available for this article. Still, privacy advocates say control loopholes remain where friends can disclose information about other users. Facebook users, for example, can't take down photos of them posted by others. A greater concern, they say, is that many people don't know how to use Facebook's privacy controls. A survey conducted in the spring of 2011 for the Pew Research Center found that U.S. social-network users were becoming more active in controlling their online identities by taking steps like deleting comments posted by others. Still, about half reported some difficulty in managing privacy controls. Privacy researchers say that increasing privacy settings may actually produce what they call an "illusion of control" for social-network users. In a series of experiments in 2010, Carnegie Mellon University Associate Professor Alessandro Acquisti found that offering people more privacy settings generated "some form of overconfidence that, paradoxically, makes people overshare more," he says. Allison Palmer, vice president of campaigns and programs at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, says her organization is helping Facebook to develop resources for gay users to help them understand how best to maintain safety and privacy on the site. "Facebook is one of the few tech companies to make this a priority," she says. Acosta, the choir president, says he should have been sensitive to the risk of online outings. His parents learned he was gay when, in high school, he sent an email saying so that accidentally landed in his father's in-box. Today, he says, his parents accept his sexuality. So before creating his Facebook group, he didn't think about the likelihood of less-accepting parents on Facebook. "I didn't put myself in that mind-set," he says. "I do take some responsibility." Some young gay people do, in fact, choose Facebook as a forum for their official comings-out, when they change their Facebook settings to publicly say, "Interested In: Men" or "Interested In: Women." For many young Americans, sexuality can be confidential but no longer a shameful subject. Sites like Facebook give them an opportunity to claim their sexuality and find community. For gays, social media "offers both resources and risks," says C.J. Pascoe, a Colorado College sociology professor who studies the role of new media in teen sexuality. "In a physical space, you can be in charge of the audiences around you. But in an online space, you have to be prepared for the reality that, at any given moment, they could converge without your control." Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has long posited that the capability to share information will change how we groom our identities. "The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly," he said in an interview for David Kirkpatrick's 2010 book, "The Facebook Effect." Facebook users have "one identity," he said. Facebook declined to make Zuckerberg available. Days after their outings, Duncan and McCormick met at the campus gender-and-sexuality center, which provides counseling. On a couch, they swapped tales. "I remember I was miserable and said, 'Facebook decided to tell my dad that I was gay,' " she says."He looked at me and said, 'Oh really, you too?'" McCormick's mother, Monica McCormick, meanwhile, was worried how the Facebook disclosure might affect her business selling insurance. "Every kid in this town now knows," she says. "I am sure that I have lost clients, but they are not going to tell you why. That is living in a small town." McCormick and his father eventually talked about his sexuality over an awkward lunch at a burger joint and haven't discussed it much since. But McCormick feels more open and proud about his sexuality. He changed his Facebook profile to "Interested In: Men." After Duncan's September 8 outing, she went through long periods of not speaking with her father. For a while, Duncan's mother moved into her daughter's apartment with her. "I wanted to be with her," says her mother, who is also named Bobbi. "This was something that I thought her father had crossed the line over, and I could not agree with him." Speaking of Duncan, she says: "The big deal for him was that it was posted and that all his friends and all his family saw it." The younger Duncan says she tried to build bridges with her father around the year-end holidays. But the arguments persisted. "I finally realized I don't need this problem in my life anymore," she says. "I don't think he is evil, he is just incredibly misguided." She stopped returning her dad's calls in May. She and McCormick remain in the chorus. Acosta changed the Facebook group to "secret" and the chorus established online-privacy guidelines. Today, Duncan has her first girlfriend. "I am in a really good place," she says, but wouldn't want anybody to have her experience. "I blame Facebook," she says. "It shouldn't be somebody else's choice what people see of me."

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