Gigi Sohn testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on February 9, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

Gigi Sohn testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on February 9, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

Senate Urged to 'Stand Up to Homophobic Attacks' on Biden FCC Nominee Gigi Sohn

"Homophobic and sexist fearmongering should have no place in the consideration of Gigi's qualifications," one coalition wrote to Senate leaders. "It's morally corrupt and antithetical to the high virtue of the chamber."

Digital and LGBTQ+ rights groups are condemning homophobic attacks against U.S. President Joe Biden's Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn, whose Senate confirmation has been stalled for over a year largely due to opposition from the powerful telecom industry.

The LGBTQ Victory Institute and 21 other organizations sent a letter Monday to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and the chair and ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), respectively.

Noting that Biden first nominated Sohn to the FCC in October 2021 and has continued to support her—formally renominating the candidate last month—the groups wrote that "we share the administration's view that Gigi is the right leader for this role given her extensive qualifications, superior leadership qualities, and deep technical background."

"Gigi is the right leader for this role given her extensive qualifications, superior leadership qualities, and deep technical background."

"Gigi is one of the nation's leading public advocates for open, affordable, and democratic communications networks. She demonstrated her dedication to ensuring that every American household has affordable and robust broadband internet for 30 years," they pointed out, while also stressing the necessity of a "fully functioning FCC."

The letter highlights that "Gigi's nomination has recently come under attack, not on the basis of qualifications or substance, but because she is openly LGBTQ+. Her barrier-breaking nomination as the first LGBTQ+ nominee to the FCC is being met with homophobic tropes and attacks, against herself and her family, in an attempt to stall her nomination. That cannot stand."

"Homophobic and sexist fearmongering should have no place in the consideration of Gigi's qualifications. It's morally corrupt and antithetical to the high virtue of the chamber," the letter concludes. "We call upon every member of the Senate to condemn homophobia and sexism and consider Gigi's nomination on its merits. We urge members to confirm Ms. Sohn to the seat she is so qualified for without delay."

The letter followed an opinion piece published Thursday by Fast Company, in which Fight for the Future director Evan Greer and National Digital Inclusion Alliance communications director Yvette Scorse called on both Biden and Senate Democrats to "stand up to homophobic attacks" on Sohn.

The pair explained that Sohn first endured the telecommunication industry's smear campaign—and now, "right-wing news outlets, emboldened by the internet service provider-funded smears, have crossed the line: They've launched a new round of blatantly homophobic attacks on Gigi that recycle QAnon and extreme right tropes conflating LGBTQ identity with deviance and predation."

As Greer and Scorse detailed:

Fox News, The Daily Mail, Breitbart, and other outlets have run nearly identical stories claiming that Gigi has "opposed" efforts to combat sex trafficking. Even these news outlets, who play fast and loose with the truth, have a hard time backing up that headline. Their argument is that Gigi sits on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a highly respected digital rights organization known for fighting to defend free speech and privacy online, and EFF opposes SESTA/FOSTA, legislation passed in 2018 that claimed to address sex trafficking. The rest of the articles go to melt down over the fact that EFF once gave an award to a consensual adult dominatrix for her advocacy work around issues of online free speech and human rights, as if that somehow implicates Gigi in some sort of scandal.

Here's the thing: EFF isn't the only group that opposes SESTA/FOSTA. The legislation has been condemned by almost every major human rights organization in the world including the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, and the Wikimedia Foundation, because it has actually made it harder for the government to curtail online sex trafficking, while having devastating effects on online free speech and marginalized communities. A report issued by the U.S. government itself indicated that the law has not been useful in aiding prosecutions, and has almost never been used. Insinuating that opposition to SESTA/FOSTA somehow means support for sex trafficking is absurd on its face. Many anti-trafficking organizations also oppose the law, saying it hurts more than it helps. Even the Trump administration's Department of Justice agreed that the law was undermining their efforts to combat trafficking.

But none of that matters, because the FCC has absolutely no jurisdiction in this area whatsoever. Gigi has never taken a position on SESTA/FOSTA or any similar legislation, and EFF opposed SESTA/FOSTA long before Gigi became a board member. None of this is remotely relevant to Gigi's candidacy for a position at the FCC, the agency that oversees phone and cable companies.

The pair added that "we don't expect any better of Fox News pundits who want to block Gigi's appointment. But we are appalled by the complicit silence of the White House and Senate Democrats."

Their article came a day after Fight for the Future and Demand Progress launched a petition that similarly outlined recent attacks on Sohn, urged Biden and Senate Democrats to stop being "shamefully silent," and warned that "if they don't speak up now and condemn these attacks, this will become a go-to strategy for bigots looking to sink any LGBTQ person's nomination."

In a statement announcing the petition, Demand Progress communications director Maria Langholz said that "we're now closer to the end of President Biden's first term than we are to the beginning. These past two years, Democrats have controlled both the White House and Senate, yet the FCC remains without its fifth and final commissioner. The public is being failed."

Langholz emphasized that "in the absence of action, the FCC will stay deadlocked and the public will suffer the consequences" while "unhinged and discredited attacks on Ms. Sohn will continue to percolate in this vacuum."

“These attacks are as baseless as they are dangerous, and underscore more than ever the time is now for Senate leadership to end this delay," she added. "The Senate must reject the cynical and hate-filled politics the public has grown so tired of, and get to the actual work of governing by finally confirming Gigi Sohn to the FCC."

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