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CNN’s Chris Cuomo Apologizes for Gender Pronoun Joke at Equality Town Hall

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  • When Sen. Kamala Harris stated that her pronouns were “she, her, and hers” at the start of CNN’s Equality Town Hall, host Chris Cuomo replied, “me too.” 
  • The comment was met with a ton of backlash online from LGBTQ rights groups and community members who said it showed he did not understand the community’s issues.
  • Cuomo apologized on Twitter after the event and said he was an ally of the community. 

Pronoun Comment 

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo apologized Thursday night for a joke he made about his pronouns when introducing 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris during the network’s LGBTQ focused Equality Town Hall. 

The California senator walked onto the stage to greet Cuomo. “Thank you, guys,” she said to the cheering crowd composed of several LGBTQ members and allies. “And my pronouns are she, her, and hers,” she added.

Her words elicited more cheers from the audience, however, Cuomo’s response was met with harsher criticism online. “She, her, and hers?” he asked before jokingly adding, “Mine too.”

Harris simply replied with “All right.”

Social Media Response 

Although the senator’s line drew mostly praise, she was also hit with accusations of pandering as she does not typically mention her pronouns at public events. But most of the criticism online honed in on Cuomo. 

Within progressive spaces and the LGBTQ community, pronoun introductions are widely viewed as a step towards inclusion and a more nuanced understanding of gender. As most who are familiar with the popular TV host know, “she, her, and hers” are not, in fact, Cuomo’s pronouns. 

The National Center for Lesbian Rights quickly condemned Cuomo’s comment online, saying “people’s pronouns are not a punchline.”  

GLAAD called the moment “disappointing,” while others found it even more inappropriate considering the event, which was organized by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign.

Charlotte Clymer, a trans woman and the Human Right’s Campaign’s press secretary, said Cuomo’s comment “was really not a great look.”

Cuomo Apologizes

Following the event, Cuomo tweeted out an apology, saying he was “an ally of the LGBT community.” 

Some felt the apology wasn’t enough and noted that this incident showed that Cuomo did not understand LGBTQ issues and probably shouldn’t have been a moderator for this event. 

Equality Town Hall

Aside from Harris, eight other Democratic 2020 contenders participated in the event. Many released details about their agendas on LGBTQ issues. All nine promised to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They also said they would work to reverse the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people openly serving in the military. 

A number of transgender activists also used the night as an opportunity to address violence against black trans women. Many interrupted candidates at several points to call out of lack of representation for their perspectives during the event.

When the mother of a trans son asked former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke a question, Blossom C. Brown, an actress and producer, walked up to grab the microphone from her.

“CNN, you have erased black trans women for the last time. Black trans women are dying. Our lives matter,” Brown said. “Not one black trans woman has taken the mic tonight, not one black trans man has taken the mic tonight.”

See what others are saying:(Fox News)  (The Guardian) (The Washington Post)

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UCLA Drops Controversial Facial Recognition Plan

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  • After backlash from students and activist groups, UCLA is dropping its plans to use facial recognition on campus.
  • Critics said the software often fails when recognizing women and people of color, and could lead to racial profiling. 
  • UCLA released a statement, just over a week before a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses is set to be held, saying that the school longer thinks the technology would be effective at the school.
  • The use of facial recognition software on college campuses and on a national level has long been a subject of debate. Several cities have already banned it, and last week, two Senators proposed legislation banning it on a federal level unless Congressional guidelines are enacted. 

UCLA Stops Plans to Use Facial Recognition

After backlash from students and activists, the University of California, Los Angeles has dropped its plans to use facial recognition technology on its campus.

UCLA announced plans to potentially use it in its security systems. Students were concerned that this technology could interfere with students’ privacy and lead to racial profiling on campus. 

“We have determined that the potential benefits are limited and are vastly outweighed by the concerns of the campus community,” Michael Beck, the Administrative Vice-Chancellor of the school said in a statement to Fight for the Future, a group advocating for freedom in the digital age.

Fight for the Future is holding a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses on March 2. The group had been very vocal when encouraging UCLA not to adopt facial recognition. They did a test on how effective it would be at the school and found racial biases in its algorithm.

Inaccuracies in Facial Recognition

Fight for the Future used Rekognition, a software made available by Amazon, and scanned publicly available photos of UCLA athletes and faculty and compared them to a mugshot database. They scanned 400 faces in total and said that 58 were falsely matched. 

“The vast majority of incorrect matches were of people of color,” Fight for the Future said of their findings. “In many cases, the software matched two individuals who had almost nothing in common beyond their race, and claimed they were the same person with ‘100% confidence.’”

They are not the only group to find this. According to a study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in terms of one-to-one matching, there are higher rates of false positives for Asian and African American faces in comparison to white faces. They specifically noticed increased false positives when it came to African American females.

Student Concerns

Students at UCLA expressed their concerns about this. An editorial in the school’s paper, the Daily Bruin, warned against using facial recognition because of the potential inaccuracies and profiling of people of color.

“For students belonging to these groups, facial recognition technology would simply reinforce the biases that are already stacked against them,” the piece said. The editorial listed privacy as a concern as well.

“Facial recognition technology would present a major breach of students’ privacy and make students feel unsafe on a campus they are supposed to call home,” the Daily Bruin editorial staff wrote. “It is one thing to monitor campus activity with security cameras, but it’s another entirely to automatically identify individuals and track their every move on campus.”

Students and advocacy groups like Fight for the Future were pleased with UCLA’s ultimate decision to not use facial recognition.

“Let this be a lesson to other school administrators: if you try to experiment on your campus with racist, invasive surveillance technology, we will come for you. And we don’t lose,” Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, Evan Greer, said in a statement.

Facial Recognition on a National Scale

UCLA is not the only college in the United States having a conversation about facial recognition. Fight for the Future has been keeping a scorecard of schools that have stated their intentions on using facial recognition. While big schools like Harvard, MIT, Michigan State, and NYU have said they do not intend on using it, other major colleges like Ohio State, Princeton, and the University of Georgia have stated that they might. 

Outside of colleges, other localities have already been working on fighting against facial recognition technology. In 2019, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban facial recognition technology. Somerville, MA, Oakland, CA and Berkeley, CA did the same months later. 

Still, this kind of technology is still used on a wide scale. According to Vox, in states like Texas, Florida, and Illinois, the FBI uses it to scan through DMV databases. In many U.S. airports, Customs and Border Protection uses it for screening passengers on international flights. 

Recently Proposed Legislation

The national use of this could be subject to change, though. In February, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-)R) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) proposed legislation that would ban federal use of facial recognition until proper regulations and rules had been established by Congress for it.

“Facial recognition is a technology that is increasingly being used and marketed to law enforcement agencies across the United States without appropriate debate or consideration of its impacts,” the bill said before describing that this technology has been used at protests, rallies, and other events where one’s’ freedom of speech is on display.

“It is critical that facial recognition not be used to suppress First Amendment related activities, violate privacy, or otherwise adversely impact individuals’ civil rights and civil liberties,” the legislation continued. 

This legislation would still allow law enforcement to use it if given a court order.

See what others are saying: (Vice) (USA Today) (TechCrunch)

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Fashion Institute Apologizes for ‘Racist’ Runway Look

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  • In a Feb. 7 Fashion Institute of Technology runway show, models were asked to wear oversized prosthetic lips and ears, along with bushy eyebrows. 
  • Amy Lefévre, a black model, refused to wear the accessories and called them racist for recalling offensive caricatures of black people. 
  • Many agreed with Lefévre and criticized the designer and the showrunners for the display.
  • Multiple leaders at FIT have issued apologies in the wake of the backlash.

Controversial Accessories

Several head figures at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology have issued apologies after a runway show featured designs that many have labeled “racist.”

The show was held on Feb. 7 to debut designs of graduating students. For one look, designed by Junkai Huang, models were asked to wear oversized prosthetic lips and ears, as well as bushy, large eyebrows. Amy Lefévre, a black model, was horrified at the request. 

“As soon as I saw the pieces, I started shaking. I felt it was very racist,” Lefévre told TODAY

Lefévre said she verbally expressed her discomfort with the accessories, which to her were reminiscent of offensive caricatures of black people that emphasize those features. But Richard Thornn, the producer of the show, allegedly brushed off her resistance.

According to TODAY, Lefévre claims that he told her, “it’s only 45 seconds. It’s fine to feel uncomfortable for 45 seconds.”

The 25-year-old refused to don the accessories and walked in the show without them. However, other models in the show wore the additions, and these looks were seen by an audience of about 100 people as well as captured by photographers.

Reactions and Responses

Upon seeing the pictures from the show and catching wind of Lefévre‘s protest, many Internet users supported the model and condemned both the designer and the institution for allowing it.  

“Junkai Huang should go back to school for something other than fashion because his designs are racist and this is unacceptable,” one person tweeted. “FIT how could you allow this?”

In the wake of the backlash, FIT President Joyce Brown issued a public letter on Tuesday. 

“As many of you now know, there was an unfortunate and disturbing reaction to the show that I want to address,” Joyce wrote.

She claimed that no offense was meant.

“Currently, it does not appear that the original intent of the design, the use of accessories or the creative direction of the show was to make a statement about race; however, it is now glaringly obvious that has been the outcome,” Brown added. “For that, we apologize—to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw.”

Brown said the school is taking steps to “ensure that a situation like this will not happen again” by working with groups including their Diversity Council and Student Government.   

Jonathan Kyle Farmer, the chair of the MFA program at FIT who ran the show, posted an apology on Wednesday acknowledging Lefévre directly.

“It was never our intent for the show’s styling to be interpreted as racist or to make people feel uncomfortable but I now fully understand why this has happened,” Farmer said. “I take full responsibility and am committed to learning from this situation and taking steps to do better.”

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This is by no means the first racially-insensitive blunder that the fashion industry has made. Last year, Gucci came under fire for releasing a black turtleneck with lips that could be pulled around the face, resembling blackface. Burberry faced backlash for a sweatshirt featuring a noose-like drawstring around the neck. In 2018, H&M was slammed for an ad featuring a black boy wearing a pullover that read “coolest monkey in the jungle.” 

Many seem to be fed up with these errors. 

“How do people not understand that this isn’t ok and keep doing it again and again and again?” one Instagram user commented on a picture of the show posted by a fashion industry watchdog account. 

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (BBC) (Washington Post)

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George Zimmerman Sues Warren and Buttigieg for Defamation Over Trayvon Martin Commemoration Tweets

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  • George Zimmerman is suing Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren for $265 million in a new defamation suit.
  • The lawsuit centers around tweets the two candidates posted on Trayvon Martin’s birthday commemorating him.
  • Zimmerman alleges that Warren and Buttigieg defamed him in the tweets “to bolster their standings amongst African-American voters.”

Zimmerman Files Lawsuit

George Zimmerman is suing 2020 presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg for $265 million, claiming they defamed him in order to “garner votes in the black community.”

Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, was later acquitted on murder charges after claiming he acted in self-defense when he killed the unarmed black teen.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, alleges that the candidates “defamed Zimmerman for political gain in misguided and malicious attempts to bolster their standings amongst African-American voters, all at Zimmerman’s expense.”

The accusations stem from two tweets posted by the candidates on Feb. 5, which would have been Martin’s 25th birthday.

“How many 25th birthdays have been stolen from us by white supremacy, gun violence, prejudice, and fear? #BlackLivesMatter,” Buttigieg wrote in his post.

In her tweet, Warren expressed her condolences to Martin’s friends and family.

He should still be with us today,” she wrote. “We need to end gun violence and racism. And we need to build a world where all of our children—especially young Black boys—can grow up safe and free.”

Defamation Claims

The lawsuit claims that both Warren and Buttigieg falsely represented Trayvon’s death as being a result of “gun violence” which it claims “is generally understood in the public arena to refer to the reckless and indiscriminate use of illegally owned firearms that causes the death of a random innocent victim.”

Zimmerman, the suit argues, acted in self-defense and had a registered legal weapon.

It also says that the tweets defamed Zimmerman because they implied that he acted out of racism or white supremacy, claiming that Buttigieg’s use of the term “white supremacy” in his tweet, “defamed Zimmerman by claiming without any basis whatsoever that the Hispanic minority advocate and Obama supporter Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in cold blood due to his ‘white supremacy.’”

The same argument was given for Warren’s use of the word “racism” in her tweet.

The lawsuit then goes on to say that Warren and Buttigieg’s tweets implied that Zimmerman was “directly responsible for ‘white supremacy,’ ‘gun violence,’ ‘prejudice,’ ‘fear’ and ‘racism,’ among other defamatory innuendos and statements as explained above; and thus murdered Trayvon Martin as a result.”

The suit against the two candidates is not only defamation claim Zimmerman has filed in the last few months. In December, Zimmerman sued Martin’s family and others for $100 million, claiming that he was the victim of defamation and a conspiracy.

See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Fox News) (The Miami Herald)

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