U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a co-sponsor of the bipartisan “Kids Online Safety Act” made headlines earlier this month when a video, published by the conservative Family Policy Alliance, emerged of her telling an interviewer, back in March, that “protecting minor children from the transgender in this culture” should be among conservative lawmakers’ top priorities.
In the video, Blackburn quickly shifts to speaking about KOSA as a way to stop children from being “indoctrinated,” blaming social media platforms for “inundating” minors with information that “they are, emotionally, not mature enough to handle.”
The bill, which has been endorsed by President Joe Biden, would allow parents to sue social media companies and online platforms that do not sufficiently shield children from under 13 from “harmful” content.
But Blackburn’s comments in the video, coming so soon after railing against transgender visibility, have led some LGBTQ advocates to fear that Republicans will attempt to hijack the bill to censor all LGBTQ-related information online and block access to LGBTQ resources, from suicide prevention hotlines to LGBTQ resource groups to academic sites with even generic information, by deeming them “harmful,” reports NBC News.
In response to that speculation, Blackburn’s legislative director, Jamie Susskind, claimed in a post on X that opponents were conflating the two issues and spreading misinformation about the bill. Citing an article titled, “U.S. Senator: ‘Kids Online Safety Act’ will target trans content,” Susskind wrote, “This is false. These are two separate issues being taken out of context. KOSA will not — nor was it designed to — target or censor any individual or community.”
A reintroduced version of the bill with amendments has sought to clarify the specific harms that social media platforms are expected to mitigate, such as suicidal behaviors, eating disorders, substance use, sexual exploitation, and ads for tobacco and alcohol. But some parents of transgender children are wary of trusting Blackburn and other Republicans not to use the bill to carry out a right-wing social agenda.
Earlier this week, more than 100 parents of trans and gender-expansive children signed a petition opposing KOSA, on the grounds that the bill would grant new powers to right-wing state attorneys general to censor LGBTQ content, and would incentivize social media platforms to engaged in “intrusive data collection” at a time when conservatives have been seeking to criminalize parents who affirm their children’s gender identities.
The letter calls on lawmakers to drop the “flawed” bill and craft new legislation to “address the harms of Big Tech without throwing trans kids and human rights under the bus.”
According to a recent report from CBS News, Republican Party officials were allegedly made aware of concerns about U.S. Rep. George Santos’s biographical fabrications, as detailed in an internal “vulnerability report” commissioned by Santos’s own campaign.
Santos reportedly hired an outside firm to assess his vulnerabilities, raising various red flags, especially with regard to fabricated or misleading statements that have come to light, including details of his family, professional, and educational background. The report also raised concerns about the Republican’s financial dealings, conflicts of interest, questionable financial practices, and the questionable source of funding — raising questions about transparency.
According to CBS, after some Santos campaign aides discovered those vulnerabilities, they urged Santos to drop out of the race, which he refused to do. In response, those aides quit the campaign.
Had the information contained in that report come to light earlier, it potentially could have affected the outcome of the election for New York’s 3rd Congressional District — leading some to speculate that the GOP kept silent for the sake of electoral gains.
The report’s conclusions ultimately circulated among campaign strategists for top House Republicans, leading the Congressional Leadership Fund, the primary super PAC dedicated to electing House Republicans, to withhold its support from Santos, reports CBS. Even after the GOP was made aware of the report, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the fourth-ranking House Republican and a member of congressional leadership, campaigned with Santos.
A spokesperson for Stefanik claimed she supported many Republicans during last year’s midterm elections, but said she was unaware of the allegations against Santos until after the election. A spokesperson for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reportedly did not respond to a CBS inquiry asking if he had seen the “vulnerability report.”
Santos, the sole LGBTQ Republican currently serving in Congress, was indicted on, and has pleaded not guilty to, 13 charges of wire fraud, money laundering, stealing public funds, and lying on federal campaign finance disclosure forms. He has also publicly denied some of the charges leveled against him.
A recent profile by the North Carolina-based digital magazine The Assembly NC looks at Jennifer Knox, the granddaughter of the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who became infamous for his anti-LGBTQ demagoguery and opposition to federal funding for AIDS research in the 1980s and 1990s.
Speaking publicly for the first time about her grandfather’s rhetoric, Knox, a former North Carolina district court judge who worked on her grandfather’s 1996 reelection campaign, told the magazine: “There really are, for me anyway, two Jesses — the granddad and the senator. The granddad is the bigger influence on my life.”
Even though Knox was reportedly outed as a lesbian by a website during her campaign for the judgeship, and married her now-ex-wife in 2007, she never came out to her grandfather, who at one time claimed to know no LGBTQ people personally, prior to his death in 2008.
“I’m not the kind of person to confront him about his views,” Knox said. “We really didn’t talk about politics as a family. It was almost like it was two separate lives between his political life and his family life.”
She claims that the disconnect between Helms’s political persona and his personal interactions with her kept her closeted for years, and has effectively blocked out her grandfather’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. After being read some of those comments, she cringed, but acknowledged that she probably declined to come out to him because she didn’t know how he would react to the news.
“I was thinking that was probably why I didn’t tell him,” she said. “We did have a pretty strong bond. I didn’t want to risk losing that relationship.”
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