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"Today we said enough is enough of the anti-trans rhetoric and laws," said event co-organizer and ACLU attorney Chase Strangio.
Amid relentlessly rising attacks on the rights and even the very existence of transgender people in the United States, a group of trans students and their supporters on Monday held a prom on the National Mall within sight of the U.S. Capitol.
Around 150 youth from 16 states—along with parents, friends, and other allies—attended the first-ever Trans Prom, according toVice.
As Timereports, the event was organized by activists including students Libby Gonzales, age 13; Daniel Trujillo, 15; Grayson McFerrin, 12 ; and Hobbes Chukumba, 16.
"The Trans Prom is meant to emphasize the pride and joy and happiness that is within the trans community that cannot be broken," Chukumba, who's from New Jersey, told Time. "We're trying to show that trans people can and will continue to be brilliant and great. And really, it's meant to be a space that lets trans kids be kids."
\u201cYeah just hanging out at #transprom in a sea of new friends celebrating #transjoy. I love my job!\u201d— Kierra Johnson (@Kierra Johnson) 1684779367
The teens worked with co-organizers including Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project, whom some attendees called their "trans-fairy godfather."
"These young people are here with the families and trans adults who love and care for them," Strangio was quoted by Democracy Now! "Today we are choosing to build on the legacies of our transcestors, embracing the possibilities of our futures, and refocusing our collective imagination on the freedom, beauty, and joy that we represent."
"Our joy is ours. You may not see it. You may not think it exists. You may try to take it away. But it is ours," he added. "And today, and every day, we celebrate, cultivate, and embrace it."
\u201cToday we said enough is enough of the anti-trans rhetoric and laws. We showed UP at the Capitol for #TransProm. Our joy is OURS.\u201d— Chase Strangio (@Chase Strangio) 1684795323
Guests on Monday entered the prom through a "tunnel of love" replete with the colors of the trans flag before being treated to live music, a drag performance by MC Stormie Daie, and decor inspired by the trans-led 1969 Stonewall revolt that catalyzed the nascent LGBTQ+ rights struggle in the United States and beyond.
Trujillo—who is from Arizona and says he's been an activist since age 9—toldVice that "Trans Prom is a big statement of what schools and public life would be like if trans people were celebrated and protected."
The organizers enjoyed the support of their parents. Stephen Chukumba, Hobbes' father, told Vice that he's trying to empower his son "to understand what's happening and to not feel defeated or not feel afraid."
"Because at the end of the day, the reality is that there have been marginalized people fighting for equality since the inception of this country," he added. "That's just a fact. And so those communities that have achieved any level of equality have done so by fighting tooth-and-nail."
\u201cThe \u2728\u2728vibes\u2728\u2728 at #TransProm at the U.S. Capitol.\n\nWhile state legislatures attack trans rights, young people celebrate being true to yourself.\u201d— Working Families Party \ud83d\udc3a (@Working Families Party \ud83d\udc3a) 1684769970
Lizette Trujillo, Daniel's mother, told Vice that "in a moment where they're trying to strip you of all of your rights and access to care and being able to participate in school sports like your peers, or being able to use your pronouns in the classroom, like it's transgressive to say, 'I'm going to be joyous regardless and I'm going to exist whether you want me to or not.'"
The idea for the prom was born when Daniel Trujillo and Gonzales—who met on a camping trip in 2019—were discussing their angst over the nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that Republicans have introduced in state legislatures so far this year.
"Having to sit through testimonies for people who are saying that I'm mentally ill, it's really hurtful and frustrating," Trujillo told Time. "My GPA dropped from going [to the state capitol] consistently, and it threw all of us into a really stressful space because my parents had to keep working [and then] drop what they were doing to drive to Phoenix."
According to a January survey by the Trevor Project, which focuses on preventing LGBTQ+ youth suicides, 86% of transgender and nonbinary youth said their mental health has been harmed by Republicans' anti-trans legislation and rhetoric.
"Even though I'm not directly struggling, I still feel overwhelmed by it every now and again," Hobbes Chukumba told Vice. "I feel the pain and the struggle that the rest have to go through, because that's what it means to be part of a community. It means [having] that connection."
The White House also announced actions to protect children online, winning praise for the administration's "continued commitment to creating a safer, less exploitative digital media environment for young people."
As U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on Tuesday issued an advisory calling attention to "the growing concerns about the effects of social media on youth mental health," the White House unveiled federal actions to better protect children online.
"The most common question parents ask me is, 'Is social media safe for my kids?'," Murthy said in a statement. "The answer is that we don't have enough evidence to say it's safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people's mental health."
"Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from violent and sexual content to bullying and harassment. And for too many children, social media use is compromising their sleep and valuable in-person time with family and friends," he continued. "We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis—one that we must urgently address."
Up to 95% of youth ages 13-17 use social media, and over a third do so "almost constantly," Murthy's advisory notes. While most platforms require users to be at least 13 years old, nearly 40% of children ages 8-12 also report using social media.
\u201cChildren and Screens applauds @Surgeon_General\u2019s leadership in advocating for a safety-first, evidence-based approach to children and #SocialMedia, and remains committed to urging policymakers and tech to enact better protections for #youth on social platforms.\u201d— Children and Screens (@Children and Screens) 1684846635
"More research is needed to fully understand the impact of social media; however, the current body of evidence indicates that while social media may have benefits for some children and adolescents, there are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents," the advisory warns.
"We must acknowledge the growing body of research about potential harms, increase our collective understanding of the risks associated with social media use, and urgently take action to create safe and healthy digital environments that minimize harm and safeguard children's and adolescents' mental health and well-being during critical stages of development," the document adds.
Along with detailing the benefits and pitfalls of young people using social media as well as the existing scientific research and which "critical questions remain unanswered," the advisory offers recommendations for policymakers, technology companies, researchers, parents and caregivers, and youth.
As The New York Timesreported Tuesday:
The advisory joins a growing number of calls for action around adolescents and social media, as experts probe what role it may play in the ongoing teen mental health crisis. Earlier this month, the American Psychological Association issued its first-ever social media guidance, recommending that parents closely monitor teens' usage and that tech companies reconsider features like endless scrolling and the "like" button.
The American Psychological Association was among top medical organizations that applauded Murthy's release, with Arthur Evans Jr., the group's CEO and executive vice president, saying that "we support the advisory's recommendations and pledge to work with the surgeon general's office to help build the healthy digital environment that our kids need and deserve."
The advisory was also welcomed by leaders at the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Public Health Association, and National Parent Teacher Association.
"Social media use by young people is pervasive," said Susan Polan associate executive director of public affairs and advocacy at the American Public Health Association. "It can help them, and all of us, live more connected lives—if, and only if, the appropriate oversight, regulation, and guardrails are applied."
"Now is the moment for policymakers, companies, and experts to come together and ensure social media is set up safety-first, to help young users grow and thrive," Polan added. "The surgeon general's advisory about the effects of social media on youth mental health issued today lays out a roadmap for us to do so, and it's critical that we undertake this collective effort with care and urgency to help today's youth."
\u201cA notice of public health risk that has, for many decades, been most commonly associated with tobacco use has now been issued for social media. \n\nSocial Media Can Be a \u2018Profound Risk\u2019 to Youth, Surgeon General Warns\nhttps://t.co/GsPrxrdXxs\u201d— Katie Day Good (@Katie Day Good) 1684852258
The White House on Tuesday announced actions at the departments of Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Justice "build upon" Murthy's advisory, including the creation of a task force as well as new regulations and resources.
President Joe Biden "has made tackling the mental health crisis a top priority, and he continues to call on Congress to pass legislation that would strengthen protections for children's privacy, health, and safety online," the White House said, noting that it is Mental Health Awareness Month.
"We applaud President Biden for today's executive actions and his continued commitment to creating a safer, less exploitative digital media environment for young people," said Josh Golin, executive director of the advocacy group Fairplay. "We are particularly excited by the plans to help schools use technology in ways that support students' learning and mental health."
"We urge Congress to follow the president's lead in putting the well-being of children ahead of Big Tech's profits by passing the Kids Online Safety Act and COPPA 2.0," Golin added, referring to bills also called KOSA and the Children and Teens' Online Privacy Protection Act.
Dozens of rights groups have expressed free speech and privacy concerns about KOSA along with three other bills backed by child safety advocates: the Cooper Davis Act, Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act, and Strengthening Transparency and Obligation to Protect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment (STOP CSAM) Act.
When COPPA 2.0 was reintroduced earlier this month, Fight for the Future director Evan Greer—who has sounded the alarm about the other legislation—said that "we think federal data privacy protections should cover EVERYONE, not just kids, but overall this is a bill that would do some good and it does not have the same censorship concerns as bills like KOSA."
"Big Oil interests have contaminated our climate for decades," said Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Markey. "They shouldn't be able to control our climate negotiations for a livable future."
The ongoing campaign to oust Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber from his role as president-designate of COP28 picked up steam Tuesday when more than 130 lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic published a letter calling for the oil boss to be replaced as chair of the annual United Nations climate summit, set to take place this fall in the United Arab Emirates.
The host nation's move "to name as president of COP28 the chief executive of one of the world's largest oil and gas companies—a company that has recently announced plans to add 7.6 billion barrels of oil to its production in the coming years, representing the fifth largest increase in the world—risks undermining the negotiations," says the letter signed by 133 members of the United States Congress and the European Parliament.
"For billions of people, the outcome of COP28 and ensuing international climate negotiations will make the difference between life and death, chaos and solidarity."
"Different leadership is necessary to help ensure that COP28 is a serious and productive climate summit," the transatlantic group of policymakers told U.S. President Joe Biden, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, and Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Notably, Biden's top climate diplomat, John Kerry, has faced criticism for celebrating al-Jaber's selection. More than two dozen progressive members of Congress have pushed Kerry to advocate for the designation of a new COP28 president who doesn't have ties to the industry most responsible for fueling the climate emergency.
In addition to urging the four addressees of the new letter to "engage in diplomatic efforts" to pressure the UAE to withdraw its appointment of al-Jaber—head of the country's Abu Dhabi National Oil Company—as president-designate of COP28, signatories implored the executive leaders of the U.S. and the European Union as well as UNFCCC leadership to "take immediate steps to limit the influence of polluting industries, particularly major fossil fuel industry players whose business strategies lie at clear odds with the central goals of the Paris agreement," at all U.N. climate talks.
"Current rules," the lawmakers wrote, "permit private sector polluters to exert undue influence on UNFCCC processes." They continued:
We request that you institute new policies for corporate participation at COPs and UNFCCC processes more broadly, including requiring participating companies to submit an audited corporate political influencing statement that discloses climate-related lobbying, campaign contributions, and funding of trade associations and organizations active on energy and climate issues. These statements should be reviewed, publicly disclosed, and scrutinized prior to any engagement in UNFCCC climate policymaking processes.
The UNFCCC should also consider additional measures to establish a robust accountability framework to protect against undue influence of corporate actors with proven vested interests that contradict the goals of the Paris Agreement; such a framework was proposed last year with broad-based international support from over 450 organizations around the world and five UNFCCC constituencies representing thousands of organizations and millions of people. These reforms would bring much-needed transparency to corporate climate-related political influencing activities around the world, and would help restore public faith that the COP process is not being abused by companies as an opportunity to greenwash.
The demand to crack down on corporations' open corruption of international climate meetings comes as government representatives prepare to gather in Germany next month for the U.N.'s Bonn Climate Change Conference—a crucial precursor to COP28, which is scheduled to begin in late November in Dubai.
"It is essential that we seize the opportunity to take actionable steps to address and protect climate policy from polluting interference by adopting concrete rules that limit the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its lobbyists in the UNFCCC decision-making process," says the letter. It was endorsed by Kick Big Polluters Out, a global network of more than 450 organizations led by Corporate Accountability and Corporate Europe Observatory, which made a similar appeal to Guterres in January.
"Big Oil interests have contaminated our climate for decades—they shouldn't be able to control our climate negotiations for a livable future," U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. "As leaders from around the world come together to envision a world that promotes clean energy and climate justice, not pollution and profiteering, we must shut the door on the fossil fuel industry and keep COP28 free from their influence." Markey was one of six Senate Democrats to sign the letter. He was joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 27 House Democrats, and 99 European MPs.
The ongoing failure to confront the fossil fuel industry and other highly polluting sectors has yielded life-threatening results so far, as the lawmakers explained in their letter:
Last year, many of us attended or followed COP27 in Sharm-al-Sheikh, Egypt. While we applaud the United Nations for bringing tens of thousands of delegates together, leading to a historic agreement that will help developing countries deal with losses and damages from the impacts of climate change, the conference ultimately failed to secure consensus from Parties to cut greenhouse gases in line with the agreed global goals.
It did not escape our attention that at least 636 lobbyists from the oil and gas industries registered to attend last year's COP—an increase of more than 25% over the previous year. When the number of attendees representing polluting corporate actors, which have a vested financial interest in maintaining the status quo, is larger than the delegations of nearly every country in attendance, it is easy to see how their presence could obstruct climate action.
There is no time to waste in sharply cutting carbon pollution on a global scale. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report states that, to limit warming to 1.5 °C, global emissions must halve by 2030. The planet has already warmed over 1.2°C, and our ability to reach the 1.5 °C goal is moving fast out of reach, with the IPCC pegging the current probability at just 38%. Maintaining the status quo would lead to a catastrophic 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century.
"In this moment of great urgency, we must unblock the barriers that have kept us from advancing strong global collaboration to address climate change," the lawmakers wrote. "One of the largest barriers to strong climate action has been and remains the political influence and obstruction of the fossil fuel industry and other major polluting industries. We have seen their negative influence in our home institutions; oil companies and their industry cheerleaders have spent billions of dollars lobbying both the European Parliament, other European institutions and member states, and the U.S. Congress in order to obstruct or water down climate policy for years."
"Since at least the 1960s, the fossil fuel industry has known about the dangers of climate change posed by its products and, rather than supporting a transition to a clean energy future, has instead chosen to promote climate denial and spend millions of dollars to spread disinformation," they continued. "Over a half-century later, not one of 39 major global oil and gas companies, with collective market capitalization of $3.7 trillion, has adopted a business strategy that would limit warming to safe levels. Several independent analyses agree that the sector is still not taking meaningful action to avoid the worst impacts of the crisis."
"The fossil industry must give way if there is to be any chance of survival for humanity and this planet."
"Even more outrageous, the global oil and gas industry is expanding amid blockbuster profits to the tune of $4 trillion last year," they added. "The sector has poured $160 billion into exploration for new fossil reserves since 2020, even as the IEA has stated that no new fossil fuel projects are compatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C. In short, in the words of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, 'We seem trapped in a world where fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat.' It is time to alter this dangerous course."
E.U. lawmaker Manon Aubrey, who co-organized the letter alongside her U.S. counterpart, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), said that "for billions of people, the outcome of COP28 and ensuing international climate negotiations will make the difference between life and death, chaos and solidarity."
"Corporate greed and lobbyists' lies have led us into this climate crisis," said Aubrey. "We must prevent private commercial interests from interfering in politics and regain ownership of our future."
Aubrey's colleague, Michael Bloss, likewise stressed that "to make progress on climate protection, we need to limit the power of the fossil lobby."
"Instead of letting the fox guard the henhouse, the fossil lobby must be expelled from the conference," said Bloss. "Oil states and fossil industries have always prevented anything that could mean an end to coal, oil, and gas, and put the brakes on global climate protection for destructive profits. The fossil industry must give way if there is to be any chance of survival for humanity and this planet."
Pascoe Sabido, co-coordinator for Kick Big Polluters Out, said that "these upcoming U.N. climate talks are our best chance at tackling the problem head-on, with hundreds of decision-makers on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the aisle backing our call for a conflict-of-interest policy."
"So far, the U.S. and E.U. have proven to be major blockers, siding with the fossil fuel industry," Sabido added. "If they want to walk the talk of being a climate leader, it's time to switch sides and back a policy not just at the U.N. but also at home."