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Clubhouse says it won't be attending SXSW 2022 because of Texas' trans rights

This photo illustration taken on July 14, 2021, shows the Clubhouse app icon on a mobile phone screen. The social audio app announced Wednesday it will not be attending this year's SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, given the controversies surrounding the state's transgender laws.
Wakil Kohsar
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AFP via Getty Images
This photo illustration taken on July 14, 2021, shows the Clubhouse app icon on a mobile phone screen. The social audio app announced Wednesday it will not be attending this year's SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, given the controversies surrounding the state's transgender laws.

Clubhouse, the popular social audio-only app, announced Wednesday that it will not be attending this year's South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas, because of the state's attempt to limit gender-affirming care for transgender youths.

"We realized we wouldn't feel comfortable asking LGBTQ+ voices from the Clubhouse community to come to Texas...and if we feel that way, we shouldn't be there at all," a Clubhouse spokesperson wrote on Twitter.

The audio-based app launched initially in April 2020, gaining popularity among users in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Users on Clubhouse are able to browse through the app's "hallway" and can enter into virtual "rooms" to listen in as room moderators and guests talk. High-profile names such as Oprah Winfrey, Drake, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Meta's Mark Zuckerberg are users of the app.

The platform hosted up to 10 million active users weekly, according to Think Impact.

In lieu of attending this year's conference, Clubhouse says it will hold its panel "The Power of Voice" on its platform. Additionally, the platform stated it will donate the travel costs associated with the conference instead to local organizations while also holding a series of Clubhouse conversations (known as Clubhouse "rooms") supporting transgender speakers and creators.

"This was an easy decision and welcome and support brands, talents and other panels to house on [Clubhouse]," Maya Watson, head of marketing for Clubhouse, wrote on Twitter.

Along with the support and safe space the platform is giving to its LGBTQ+ speakers and clubs online, Clubhouse's community guidelines outline a strong stance against unruly behavior — emphasizing no tolerance for "hatred, or [discrimination] against based on things like race, religion, national origin, caste, age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability," the platform outlines.

News of the platform's withdrawal from the annual conference and festival comes after organizers for SXSW denounced Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's recent orders to investigate parents and doctors who provide trans children with gender-affirming care.

"SXSW stands against discriminatory legislation and supports the LGBTQ+ community," a spokesperson for SXSW told the Austin American-Statesman. "The governor's latest directive puts trans children in harm's way once again, and we unequivocally condemn this action."

This year's SXSW festival and conference will make its first in-person return after two years of being virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic from March 11 to March 20.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.