Mean Girls’ Jonathan Bennett to star in Hallmark’s first gay Christmas film

Mean Girls star Jonathan Bennett is set to star in Hallmark’s first ever gay Christmas movie, and we are already waiting patiently under the mistletoe in anticipation.

Bennett, who played Cady Heron’s dreamy love interest Aaron Samuels in Mean Girls, will star in The Christmas House, which will debut on the Hallmark channel on Sunday, 22 November.

The actor, who is openly gay, will play Brandon Mitchell, while his husband Jake will be played by Brad Harder.

The Christmas House will follow Mitchell family matriarch Phylis (played by Sharon Lawrence) and father Bill (played by Treat Williams) as they summon their grown-up sons home for the festive season to help recreate the magic of Christmas past.

Bennett plays one of the adult sons, who returns to his family home with his husband for the Christmas season.

Jonathan Bennett said he is ‘so proud’ to be a part of Hallmark’s first gay Christmas film.

The film will follow the couple as they anxiously await a phone call about their plans to become first-time dads by adopting a child together.

Sharing the news on Instagram stories, Jonathan Bennett said he was “so proud” to be part of the “amazing project”.

The Hallmark Channel has a stellar reputation among Christmas lovers for its enormous line-up of original festive films each year.

The films are so widely loved that they have spawned countless memes, as each year, people across the world tune in to watch the predictable but addictive line-up.

However, LGBT+ fans have long been crying out for a queer festive film – and this year, they have finally been granted their grown-up Christmas wish.

Hallmark confirmed details of the film on Wednesday (23 September) following months of speculation that the channel would introduce its first queer Christmas film in 2020.

“For more than a decade, Hallmark holiday movies have represented the gold standard that many aspire to replicate,” said Wonya Lucas, CEO of Hallmark’s parent company Crown Media.

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“What we bring to the table and what truly sets us apart is an immersive holiday experience that has become a pop culture phenomenon for millions of fans.”

The company previously said they would release an LGBT+ themed film this year.

Michelle Vicary of Crown Media added: “Our holiday table is bigger and more welcoming than ever. This year’s movies reflect our most diverse representation of talent, narratives, and families, including The Christmas House, featuring a storyline about a gay couple looking to adopt their first child.

“Our movies are rooted in warmth and positivity, meaningful connections, family gatherings, and seasonal traditions – a winning formula we hope will bring our millions of viewers much needed levity and holiday cheer at the end of a tough year.”

In July, queer Hallmark Christmas fans were sent into a frenzy when the company confirmed that LGBT+ Christmas films were on the way.

The company had initially faced backlash when it announced details of 18 new Christmas films – all of which focused on straight characters.

However, Crown Media spokesperson George Zaralidis later said: “I can confirm that we will include LGBT+ storylines, characters and actors. We are in active negotiations and look forward to announcing more details when we can.”

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LATISM Business and Equity Crowdfunding Twitter Chat with Special Guest Manny Fernandez

LATISM Business and Equity Crowdfunding Twitter Chat

with Special Guest Manny Fernandez

by Melanie Mendez-Gonzales

Due to recent laws and regulations have made equity crowdsourcing an option for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Equity crowdfunding is the process whereby people (i.e. the ‘crowd’) invest in an early-stage unlisted company (a company that is not listed on a stock market) in exchange for shares in that company.

This is big news for small business owners. According to , this form of capital raising is especially attractive to “main street” businesses — which may have a great history and engaged customers, but find that banks aren’t willing, or able to lend to them. This model exists in many other countries, and we see local food-based businesses, bars and pubs, art and creative studios and other product based companies taking advantage of these models and raising on average about $700,000.

That leads us to the question: who is going to fund our Latino-owned businesses? Historically, minority businesses are highly unlikely to be funded by investors.

For our weekly #LATISM Twitter Chat, we will be joined by founder of Dream Funded, an equity crowdfunding platform that allows business owners to raise up to $1M from anyone on social media, Manny Fernandez. Fernandez is also the 1st Hispanic to be featured as an investor on a TV show – Make Me a Millionaire Inventor airing Oct 6th.

Business owners and entrepreneurs (and those aspiring to be)are invited to join us as we discuss equity crowdfunding and what it means for you; challenges of being a business owner and why we don’t see more Latino investors like Fernandez.

Fernandez recently won the Calfifornia Chambers of Commerce Shark of the Year Award. During his acceptance speech, Fernandez said regarding equity crowdfunding, “This is what I am bringing to you, it is for us to win, it is us coming together, organizing for capital. I have seen it, I know how it works I have the knowledge, but I need others who want to use it to raise money from their community.”

LATISM Business Twitter Chat with Special Guest Manny Fernandez

9 p.m. EST – 10 p.m. EST

TWITTER.COM/LATISM

Hashtags to follow: #LATISM #LATISMbiz

Special Guest: @MannyFernandez

Moderator: @LATISM

Manny Fernandez, the co-founder and CEO of DreamFunded, is a Silicon Valley angel investor, angel group founder, serial entrepreneur and keynote speaker. He has been successful leading his owMannyFernandezn ventures as well as advising other startups on their paths to success. Fernandez won the Equity Crowdfunding Leadership Award in 2014 for co-founding DreamFunded. He had previously founded SF Angels Group in San Francisco, and he has been an investor with TiE Angels since 2012. Fernandez was named in Inc. Magazine’s list of the top 33 entrepreneurs to watch in 2016 and was named 2014 SF Angel Investor of the Year. He is the 14th most followed Angel Investor on Twitter, with over 100,000 followers.

An international keynote speaker, frequent judge and panelist for startup demo days, Bay Area corporations, colleges and universities, Fernandez has been a featured guest speaker at: NBC, CNBC Squawk Box (twice), South by Southwest (Texas), SLUSH (Finland), Epicenter Festival (Mexico), Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Harvard University, University of San Francisco (USF), PayPal, Yahoo!, Plug and Play, USAWeek in Europe, Intel Global Challenge, California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s (CHCC) SharkTank, Startup Grind, AngelHack Global Demo, Startup Weekend and many more.

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Massive office landlord Vornado is planning to install face-reading cameras to track tenants in all of its buildings— including one where Facebook just inked a big lease

  • Vornado Realty Trust began installing facial recognition systems in buildings it owns in New York City five years ago. 
  • The company, one of the city’s largest commercial landlords with 19 million square feet across 35 buildings, recently expanded its use of the tech to 11 buildings and plans to roll it out across its entire portfolio.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has prompted landlords to scramble to create seamless and touchless methods for tenants to pass through lobby security and dispatch elevators. 
  • Vornado believes its use of facial recognition could help it encourage tenants to return to the pot-Covid workplace.  
  • Vornado executives say the company uses facial recognition responsibly, allowing tenants to opt in and out voluntarily and securing and anonymizing the data. 

Vornado Realty Trust, among New York City’s largest office landlords, said it uses facial recognition in portions of its expansive portfolio and plans to expand its use of the controversial technology as workers are expected to migrate back to the office in the coming months.

The nearly $7 billion public company, which controls 19 million square feet across 35 properties in Manhattan, is one of the only major commercial landlords to embrace face reading, a technology that has raised public concerns over surveillance and privacy.

In a conversation with Business Insider, Vornado executives described the company’s deployment of facial recognition in detail for the first time, stating that it was part of a push to modernize its buildings technologically in recent years and create more convenient entry systems for tenants.

Read More: Facial-recognition could be coming to your office. Here’s how companies are pitching the tech to landlords and trying to allay privacy concerns.

Touchless methods that allow employees in large office buildings to quickly pass through lobby security and dispatch an elevator have gained importance amid the coronavirus pandemic as tenants have become concerned about the transmission of germs in public spaces and the workplace.

Vornado has used facial-recognition in some office buildings for the past five years

In Vornado’s case, the company has employed face-reading systems in its buildings for the past five years, it said, positioning it as a potential leader in creating the kind of accessibility that landlords hope will encourage a return to the office.

“We are constantly looking to adopt new, cutting-edge technologies that will make our buildings more efficient and life more convenient for our tenants,” said David Greenbaum, Vornado’s vice chairman and one of the company’s senior leaders. 

Greenbaum said that he first began discussing the technology with Vornado’s chairman and CEO, Steve Roth, about six years ago after noticing that some tenants in Vornado properties had to carry with them two entry cards, one to clear through a building’s turnstiles and another to access the doors to their specific space.

Read More: Facebook just reached a blockbuster deal to lease the massive Farley Building in NYC as a tech and engineering hub. Here’s why it’s a huge win for a shaken office market.

Facial recognition offered the promise of creating an entry credential that required no phone, wallet, or access card.

Prior to 2020, the company installed the systems in 5 of its buildings. It later sold one of those office properties, leaving the company with 4 buildings where facial recognition is in operation. This year it accelerated work to install the technology in 7 additional buildings after Covid-19 hit. Those systems are now operational.

The company plans to install face-reading systems in its entire portfolio, but has not laid out a timeline when that work will be complete. Among the buildings where it will soon deploy the technology are One and Two Penn Plaza, large office properties that the company is in the process of extensively renovating. Among the buildings where face reading is already in operation is the large Midtown office tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, and 340 West 34th Street, where Amazon has offices.

Vornado will also have face-reading cameras at the Farley Building, where it just signed a blockbuster lease with Facebook to occupy the over 700,000 square feet of office space at the property, which Vornado is redeveloping.  

How office workers can opt in to facial recognition 

Tenants can opt in and out of the system voluntarily and there is about a 40% participation rate in the 4 properties that had the technology prior to 2020, a total of about 6,000 of the 15,000 office employees who work in those properties. 

“Virtually everyone who has used the technology has liked it,” Greenbaum said. “I never had a preconceived notion of what the adoption rate would be, but as our tenants see others using it, they are becoming increasingly comfortable with the technology.”

It isn’t clear yet what the participation rate will be in the 7 properties where the technology was recently brought online because most tenants haven’t yet returned to the workplace, Vornado said.

Gaston Silva, the company’s New York area chief operating officer, said that tenants who participate have their photo taken and that their biometric data is stored anonymously in onsite systems.

“Every face is assigned a number that is disassociated from someone’s identity,” Silva said. “The information is encrypted and stored on systems that cannot be accessed from the internet.”

Many landlords have shied away from using facial recognition technology, especially as controversies have erupted over its use.

China uses it to surveil its citizens and oppress the Uyghurs, a minority population of Muslim citizens along its western border, actions that have drawn worldwide condemnation.

Clearview AI created an algorithm that pulled billions of faces from pictures posted on the internet, creating a database that could be used to identify nearly anyone.

“Based on my conversations with tenants, many find the concept of facial recognition to be creepy and they are opposed to the idea,” said Craig Deitelzweig, CEO of Marx Realty, which has a portfolio of 4.6 million square feet of commercial space.

Facial-recognition proponents insist there are ethical ways to use the technology, including by taking the key steps of receiving consent from participants, securely storing their data, being transparent how it is used, and giving participants the right to opt out.

Vornado has used third-party facial reading technology and outside vendors to help it deploy the systems in its buildings, partners it declined to name. On its website, Vornado states that it uses the security company GMSC, which is owned by Vornado and has its headquarters in the Vornado-owned office building Eleven Penn Plaza, to help it manage tenants and visitor access to its buildings and “biometric facial recognition installation and enrollment assistance.”

GMSC, on its website, says it handles security work for Amazon, Facebook, and Bloomberg, all three of which are tenants in Vornado’s New York portfolio.

Subsequent to deploying face-reading systems, Vornado developed mobile applications that allow tenants to use their smart phone to pass through lobby security. Some tenants prefer facial recognition, Greenbaum said.

“In fact, facial recognition is easier than using your phone,” Greenbaum said. “If you are on a call when you enter the building, you likely would prefer not to move the phone from your ear in order to bring it closer to the turnstile.”

Have a tip? Contact Daniel Geiger at dgeiger@businessinsider.com or via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 (646) 352-2884, or Twitter DM at @dangeiger79. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

SEE ALSO: Facebook just reached a blockbuster deal to lease the massive Farley Building in NYC as a tech and engineering hub. Here’s why it’s a huge win for a shaken office market.

SEE ALSO: Facial-recognition could be coming to your office. Here’s how companies are pitching the tech to landlords and trying to allay privacy concerns.

SEE ALSO: Mandatory temperature-taking is largely seen as a critical way to return workers to offices. But some big NYC landlords are worried about its effectiveness.

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