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Pressure builds on Obama to address “Don’t Ask” in State of the Union

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President Obama is facing increased pressure from opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to address how he’ll tackle his pledge to overturn the law in his upcoming State of the Union speech.

Those seeking end the 1993 law banning gays from serving openly in the U.S. military are looking to Obama to discuss on Wednesday his plans for overturning the ban this year.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he’s received “strong indications” that Obama will address “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in his speech, but said he doesn’t believe the president “will go as far as some in our community would like.”

“There is some strategic risk involved in mentioning ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in the State of the Union address, but its inclusion will send a strong message that the White House is still serious about taking on the issue this year,” Nicholson said.

The Human Rights Campaign declined to comment on whether the inclusion of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the State of the Union address prior to Obama’s speech.

On Wednesday, two prominent opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili — issued a joint statement through the senator’s office reiterating their belief that now is the time for overturning the law.

Shalikashvili said a country “built on the principle of equality” should embrace “change that will build a stronger, more cohesive military.”

“It is time to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and allow our military leaders to create policy that holds our service members to a single standard of conduct and discipline,” he said.

Gillibrand was similarly critical of the ban and called it “an unjust, outdated and harmful rule that violates the civil rights of some of our bravest, most heroic men and women.”

“I’ve been working with my colleagues in Congress and other leaders to overturn this wasteful and destructive policy,” she said. “I am hopeful that President Obama will make this a top priority.”

Whether or not President Obama will address “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his State of the Union speech remains uncertain, although there are signs he will include it in his address.

On Monday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters he had postponed a hearing on the issue initially set for this month because he was told Obama may talk about the ban in his State of the Union address.

And White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during a press conference on Tuesday that discussions are underway about including plans for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the speech.

The Palm Center, a think-tank for gays in the military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, on Tuesday issued an analysis on several ways that Obama could discuss “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the State of the Union address.

Christopher Neff, deputy executive director for the Palm Center, said in a statement the speech presents Obama with “the opportunity to announce the end of one of the most notorious policies of federal discrimination left standing in the United States.”

In one option outlined by the Palm Center, Obama could offer a legislative strategy to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The president could endorse standalone legislation that would overturn the law or announce he’ll include such language in the defense spending request he’ll send to Congress next month.

“This position would represent significant, but likely incremental, change,” the Palm Center states. “Repeal legislation faces hurdles to passage in 2010, but the President will have taken a major step forward with the base bill inclusion.”

Obama could also announce plans to change the execution of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” administratively without an act from Congress, which would likely involve giving Defense Secretary Robert Gates additional discretion in implementing the policy in a way that would reduce discharges, according to the Palm Center.

“Under this calculus, there will not be any votes in the House or Senate on repeal in 2010,” the Palm Center states. “The judgment is that it is too difficult for many moderates and this likely means that repeal will not be included in the Defense Authorization base bill from the Pentagon.”

The third option for Obama in addressing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to the Palm Center, would be mentioning the law in passing or announcing support from military leaders without putting forward an affirmative strategy.

“This would represent the least embraced of the three potential options,” the Palm Center states.

Neff also suggested in the statement that how Obama addresses “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his State of the Union speech will set for tone for how Congress would handle hearings for the defense budget after the president’s request is made public.

Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen are set to give testimony on the fiscal year 2011 defense budget request on Tuesday in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Bryan Thomas, spokesperson for the committee, said the hearing on the budget request isn’t in lieu of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hearing initially set for January, but said it’s possible senators “will choose to ask” Mullen and Gates about the law.

Also bolstering pressure on Obama to announce his plans for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a new report from the Williams Institute, a think-tank on sexual orientation at the University of California. The brief details the number of gays in the military and the cost of replacing them after they’ve been discharged under the ban.

Gary Gates, senior research fellow at the Williams Institute and study author, said in a statement that statistical information from the U.S. government shows gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans have a presence in the military.

“Despite official policy requiring that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals remain silent about their sexual orientation, data from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that an estimated 66,000 LGB men and women are serving in the U.S. military,” he said.

These 66,000 service members account for about 2.2 percent of military personnel, according to the Williams Institute. Of these troops, about 13,000 serve on active duty, constituting 0.9 percent of all active duty personnel, and nearly 53,000 serve in the National Guard and reserve forces, the study found.

The Williams Institute also found “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has cost the federal government between $290 million and more than a half a billion dollars since its inception and that replacing discharged service members under the ban costs between $22,000 to $43,000 for each person.

Gates said ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will “save a substantial amount of taxpayer dollars since estimates suggest that the policy has cost more than half a billion dollars.”

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Pennsylvania

Pa. House passes bill to repeal state’s same-sex marriage ban

Measure now goes to Republican-controlled state Senate

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Pennsylvania Capitol Building (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania House of Representatives on July 2 passed a bill that would repeal the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The marriage bill passed by a 133-68 vote margin, with all but one Democrat voting for it. Thirty-two Republicans backed the measure.

The bill’s next hurdle is to pass in the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), a gay man who is running for state auditor, noted to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the bill would eliminate a clause in Pennsylvania’s marriage law that defines marriage as “between one man and one woman.” The measure would also change the legal definition of marriage in the state to “a civil contract between two individuals.”

Kenyatta did not return the Washington Blade’s requests for comment.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country. 

Justice Clarence Thomas in the 2022 decision that struck down Roe v. Wade said the Supreme Court should reconsider the Obergefell decision and the Lawrence v. Texas ruling that said laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations are unconstitutional. President Joe Biden at the end of that year signed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government and all U.S. states and territories to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages.

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin earlier this year signed a bill that codified marriage rights for same-sex couples in state law. Pennsylvania lawmakers say the marriage codification bill is necessary in case the Supreme Court overturns marriage rights for same-sex couples in their state and across the country.

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Pennsylvania

Western Pa. transgender girl killed, dismembered

Pauly Likens, 14, brutally murdered last month

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(Photo courtesy of the LGBTQIA+ Alliance Shenango Valley)

Editor’s note: The Philadelphia Gay News originally published this story.

BY TIM CWIEK | Prosecutors are pledging justice for Pauly Likens, a 14-year-old transgender girl from Sharon, Pa., who was brutally killed last month. Her remains were scattered in and around a park lake in western Pennsylvania.

“The bottom line is that we have a 14-year-old, brutally murdered and dismembered,” said Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker in an email. “Pauly Likens deserves justice, her family deserves justice, and we seek to deliver that justice.”

On June 23, DaShawn Watkins allegedly met Likens in the vicinity of Budd Street Public Park and Canoe Launch in Sharon, Pa., and killed her. Watkins subsequently dismembered Likens’s corpse with a saw and scattered her remains in and around Shenango River Lake in Clark Borough.

On July 2, Watkins was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, aggravated assault, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. He’s being held without bail in the Mercer County jail.

The coroner’s office said the cause of death was sharp force trauma to the head and ruled the manner of death as homicide.

Cell phone records, social media and surveillance video link Watkins to the crime. Additionally, traces of Likens’s blood were found in and around Watkins’s apartment in Sharon, Pa., authorities say.

A candlelight vigil is being held Saturday, July 13, in remembrance of Likens. It’s being hosted by LGBTQIA+ Alliance Shenango Valley. The vigil begins at 7 p.m. at 87 Stambaugh Ave. in Sharon, Pa.

Pamela Ladner, president of the Alliance, mourned Likens’s death. 

“Pauly’s aunt described her as a sweet soul, inside and out,” Ladner said in an email. “She was a selfless child who loved nature and wanted to be a park ranger like her aunt.”

Acker, the prosecutor, said Likens’s death is one of the worst crimes he’s seen in 46 years as an attorney. But he cautioned against calling it a hate crime. “PSP [Pennsylvania State Police] does not believe it in fact is one [hate crime] because the defendant admitted to being a homosexual and the victim was reportedly a trans girl,” Acker asserted.

Acker praised the criminal justice agencies who worked on the case, including the Pennsylvania State Police, the Hermitage Police Department, the Sharon Police Department, park rangers from the Shenango Reservoir, Mercer County Coroner John Libonati, and cadaver dog search units.

“The amount of hours dedicated to the identification of the victim and the filing of charges against the defendant is a huge number,” Acker added. “We take the murder of any individual very seriously, expressly when they are young and brutally killed and dismembered.”

Acker also noted that all criminal defendants are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

This is a developing story.

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TransTech Social removing barriers to trans success

‘Technology was the key to my freedom’

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From left, TransTech members B Hawk Snipes, E.C. Pizarro III, Ang R Bennett, and Adrian Elim. (Photo by Lexi Webster Photography)

It is common knowledge that women earn 84% of the average worker. Less common knowledge? Trans women earn 60% of the average worker. Trans men and non-binary people come in at around 70%, while 16% of all trans people make less than $10,000 annually. 

E.C. Pizarro was lucky, and he knew it. He had a BFA in graphic design and had taught himself how to code. As a stealth trans man in a corporate job, he had access to a stable wage and good benefits. “People that do not have experiences in corporate America or with equitable employment don’t realize [these things] are privileges that a lot of people don’t have access to.” 

He wanted to give back and was gearing up to bring more volunteer work into his life by participating in a fraternity for trans men. When he went to a TransTech event and learned about the educational and career resources for trans people who face barriers to entering the workforce, he knew he had found his place. 

At the event he met, Angelica Ross. Yes, that Angelica Ross, of “Pose” and “American Horror Story.”

Before she was Candy, Ross was a self-taught coder. She went from posing for an adult website to doing its back-end coding to teaching her trans siblings how to succeed in tech. 

“Technology was the key to my freedom,” Ross said in an interview with The Plug. “Technology took me from being exploited on someone’s website to building my own websites and to building websites for other people and getting paid to do so.”

Pizarro was impressed and wanted to help. “I went up to Angelica and I was like ‘Hey, I’m a trans man. These are my skills. I’m down to volunteer and do any type of work—the one caveat is that I’m stealth. You can’t tell anybody that I’m trans.’”

For four years, Pizarro helped from mostly behind the scenes, sometimes getting side-eyed since people thought he was a cis man in trans spaces. “I was still stealth as the Director of Social Media and Communications for the National Trans Visibility March in 2019,” Pizarro says, chuckling a little.

But by that point, Ross — who headlined the 2019 march — was overextended trying to balance being a world-famous actress, advocate, and businesswoman. 

She needed someone to step in as executive director of TransTech and looked to the group of dedicated volunteers. Pizarro was elected by his peers to take the reins of the organization. 

This was a turning point for Pizarro. “I’m very passionate about tech and for me a small sacrifice of being open with my trans experience to liberate other trans people,” he said. “I felt like if that’s something I got to do, then I’m gonna do it.”

And he did it. The infrastructure Ross put together worked: with mentorship, education, community, and networking with trans-accepting employers, trans people were gaining financial security and independence. 

So, Pizarro focused on expanding TransTech as widely as possible. “We have grown exponentially over the last three years,” he says. “When I took over in 2021, we had about 800 members based in the United States. Now we support over 6,700 members across 50 countries.”

TransTech is filling a demonstrated need within specifically the trans community. New research from LGBT Tech found that 68% of transgender adults use the internet to find LGBTQ-friendly employment (compared to 38% of cisgender LGBTQ+ adults). More than 70% of all LGBTQ adults use the Internet to access educational content.

Accessibility is central to the TransTech programming. Despite the growth, everything remains free. “There’s no membership fee. All of our programming is free. All of the certifications and educational resources are free,” Pizarro says. 

They know the financial burden the trans community faces — 29% of trans adults live in poverty. “If we’re asking anyone to up-skill [for a cost] and these are the things they are going through, we are asking them to invest in their future versus their meal today.” 

Pizarro believes that accessibility is more than just making the training free. He wants the community to understand that tech work is something they are innately capable of doing. 

“TransTech was built on the foundation of nontraditional tech. It’s not always coding. It’s graphic design. It’s social media. It’s video editing. It’s anything that uses a piece of technology and nowadays almost everything uses a piece of technology,” says Pizarro.

He emphasizes to participants: “You’re in tech and you don’t even know it,” pointing out how many already utilize tech skills like marketing and monetization with their social media accounts.

Some people involved in the programming are nervous about entering the “tech world” because of headlines about tech layoffs. He makes sure to emphasize that unlike in some other jobs, tech companies often pay generous severance packages, which gives employees “breathing room.” Pizzaro explains that “once you have experience with one tech company, you can go someplace else and make a substantial amount of money as well.” 

While TransTech is designed for the gender-diverse community, the programming is open to everyone Pizarro explains. “We just ask that you don’t be transphobic.” (Or any of the other -phobics too, he says, listing them off.) He also emphasizes that this allows trans members who are not out to comfortably participate. 

Pizarro wants everyone to understand that they don’t just belong in tech, but they make tech better. “Tech is most profitable when you have diverse people building the tech and using the tech,” Pizarro says. “There is an intentional funding as well as support to diversity tech because they understand how that impacts the product.”

He also reminds participants that they have developed transferrable skills in every part of their lives. “I like to tell people if you can manage your life as a trans person in the United States or anywhere you can manage a project.”

Angelica Ross was a self-taught coder before she hit it big with ‘Pose.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Linus Berggren)
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