Harassment toward LGBTQ people happens in our backyard: How to combat it

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Harassment toward the LGBTQ community can be far-reaching on social media platforms — but it can also happen in our own backyard.

Following recent scrutiny of Kiwi Farms — a web forum that was a rallying point for the harassment of transgender people, feminists and people of color — community members are reflecting on the ways bigotry crops up at home.

"There's definitely issues within our own community that we need to address," said Tesla Taliaferro, president of the Rainbow Rose Center. "We want to make sure that the people feel safe where they live. No one should feel unsafe inside or outside of their homes."

Kiwi Farms, whose members allegedly engaged in stalking activities linked to the suicides of several trans people, was recently dropped by two of its internet security providers, Cloudflare and DDoS-Guard. Some of its members ganged up on victims, sharing personal details such as addresses and phone numbers in a practice called "doxxing" or made false 911 calls to send armed police to the victims' homes, a tactic called "swatting."

Rainbow Rose Center President Tesla Taliaferro

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Closer to home, Taliaferro said the center is currently helping a community member resolve an issue surrounding their neighbor who has made derogatory comments toward them based on their relationship with a partner.

Taliaferro hasn't heard of any locals who were specifically targeted by Kiwi Farms, however. Many LGBTQ people fear stepping forward to share their stories because of the risk of further harassment.

The reality for LGBTQ folks living in Pennsylvania, Taliaferro said, is that harassment and discriminatory laws come with the territory. Two new anti-LGBTQ bills, for instance, are currently in the pipeline and could strip and censor school resources.

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In June, state senators passed SB1277, which censors educational and library resources by suggesting that the themes of the content is sexual in nature. Taliaferro said the bill would specifically target educational materials describing LGBTQ relationships — much the same way age-appropriate books describe heterosexual relationships.

The bill's sponsor, state Senator Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster County, said in a written statement that parents should know what their children are being exposed to in school.

"They should have the opportunity to opt their child out of exposure to certain explicit curriculum and be provided with alternative options by the school," Aument said. "At the end of the day, parents — not the government — should have final say in how their children are educated.”

Vladik Lucky Falevich Saavedra, on left, with Casper Rohrman, both from York, at York County Pride at Cousler Park in York on Saturday, June 11, 2022.

Aument also co-sponsored another bill, SB1278, that would prohibit classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students and prohibit schools from withholding sensitive information from parents.

"If that student comes out to that teacher, it in turn puts that student at risk of harm," Taliaferro said. "Both of these bills are specifically targeting our LGBTQ youth and our transgender students."

Both bills passed the state Senate during the last session. Gov. Tom Wolf, whose office referred to SB1278 as a "copy-paste version" of Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill, would likely veto the bills if they ever make it to his desk.

With the governorship at stake in November's election, many LGBTQ people are concerned that a new administration could undermine existing protections and promote new discriminatory policies.

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"We want to make sure that the people who we're voting into office are going to continue to protect and serve the LGBTQ community — and not target them," Taliaferro said. "Because we're all human beings in the end, and all we want to do is be able to live our lives freely, openly and authentically — without fear."

In 2018, Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano replied "absolutely not" to a question about whether he thought gay marriage should be legal. In a recent interview with the Chambersburg-based conservative talk radio station 103.7 FM, Mastriano opposed the Wolf's executive order against LGBTQ conversation therapy, describing LGBTQ children as "confused" about their identities.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro said he would push for a statewide LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill.

Taliaferro said he's encouraged those in the LGBTQ community to channel their fears into tangible action. Staying educated, following legislation and getting involved with grassroots organizations are key.

"We don't want to live in fear," Taliaferro said. "We need to live with intention, and part of that intention is participation."

Even in online spaces — like Kiwi Farms — getting loud and advocating for change can do wonders. In the case of Kiwi Farms, online protests on social media led the companies to drop their services.

"It's just important to know that we need to continue to respect human rights, protect minority groups and shut down hate speech when and where it happens," Taliaferro said. "Whether it's online internet forums where people can hide behind a screen or whether in our community — hate speech has no place in our society."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.