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Adoption bill aims to protect LGBT parents, kids

A tearful moment interrupted a congressional panel discussion on LGBT adoption

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Martin Gill (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

A tearful moment interrupted a congressional panel discussion on LGBT adoption Thursday when a gay foster parent described how state officials in Florida were threatening to take away his two children.

Martin Gill of Miami and his partner are seeking to adopt two young brothers — referred to John and James Doe in court papers — for whom they’ve cared for six years. Because a 1977 Florida statute prohibits gays from adopting, Gill has filed a lawsuit against the state in attempt to overturn the law and adopt the two children.

After showing slides of his children decorating a Christmas tree and dressed as Batman for Halloween, Gill recalled how during an intermediary court hearing the state attorney “made it all too clear” that he couldn’t remain the caregiver should the lawsuit fail.

“They answered that if the court allows the ban to stand, the state would immediately get a court order to remove these kids from our home, and they would be made available for adoption,” Gill said.

Holding back tears, Gill said the judge pressed further on whether some other kind of permanent guardianship could be available, but the response from the counsel was, “No, I don’t think it is.”

“To that, there was an audible gasp in the court room,” he said. “I felt my own heart drop.”

The intermediary court considering the case could make its decision public at any time. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed the lawsuit, is expecting the case to continue to the Florida Supreme Court.

Knowing that at age 4 the older child had to care for the younger one because they had no parents, Gill said his biggest fear is that the state would send the two children to separate homes.

“The lives of these two young boys would be completely devastated,” he said. “What is ironic under the current law is that how in the state of Florida, they would fulfill the goal of permanency for these two young children by splitting them up.”

To address the situation and others like it, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) has introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. The bill would restrict federal funds for states — including Florida — if they have laws or practices that discriminate in adoption on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

During the panel discussion intended to highlight the bill, Stark said discrimination shouldn’t take place in states that have statutes prohibiting LGBT people from adopting or where discrimination takes place without guidance from the law.

“Standards in adoption and foster care should only reflect the child’s best interest, nothing else,” Stark said. “Too many children need a loving home and we just should not close any doors.”

On March 8, Stark reintroduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act after having previously introduced the bill last year. The new legislation makes technical changes and is intended to ensure that children won’t face discrimination on the basis of their own sexual orientation and gender identity as they’re placed into homes.

The original legislation has 14 co-sponsors that are expected to carry to the new legislation, H.R. 4806. Proponents are also working on a Senate companion bill that could be introduced before lawmakers break for recess this month.

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, said passing the legislation would enable thousands of children in foster care to find families.

Chrisler said a half million children are living in foster care throughout the U.S. and 120,000 of them are available for adoption. But each year, she noted, around 25,000 children “age out” of the system without finding parents.

“And yet, while there is a shortage of qualified foster and adoptive parents for these children in need, some states categorically exclude thousands of prospective parents simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status,” she said.

Florida is the only state that has a statute explicitly prohibiting adoption by gays and lesbians. Other states, including Utah and Arkansas, have laws prohibiting unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children.

But Chrisler said the majority of states have no laws to speak to whether LGBT people can adopt, which can leaves children in foster care “vulnerable to the individual biases of agencies, case workers and judges.”

As the Every Child Deserves a Family Act builds support, litigation to rectify the situations in certain states is proceeding. Leslie Cooper, an ACLU senior staff attorney, said in addition to the Florida case, another ACLU lawsuit is pending in Arkansas to overturn the law preventing unmarried cohabitating couples from adopting.

But Cooper said lawsuits aren’t “the way to fully resolve this issue,” noting the cost of cases and the difficulty of litigation in states without specific statutes barring LGBT adoption.

“Litigation can be extremely effective and chip away at this problem, and hopefully in some states, resolve the issue,” she said. “But they aren’t the answer and can’t solve this problem in any stretch. A more global solution like this bill is what we need.”

Two panelists during the discussion presented research showing that the sexual orientation of parents has no impact on their children and many LGBT people would consider adoption if it were available to them.

Charlotte Patterson, a lesbian psychology professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in LGBT families, said 36 percent of lesbians are mothers, 16 percent of gay man are fathers and 40 to 50 percent of gays and lesbians say they would consider becoming parents.

“Children really do well in lesbian and gay parented homes as compared to demographically similar homes parented by heterosexual adults,” she said.

Patterson said growing up in LGBT households has no influence on children’s relationships with their parents, siblings and peers, nor does it affect their gender development, such as whether they want to play with traditionally male or female toys.

“The consensus here is extraordinarily clear,” she said. “Kids are well adjusted. There’s really no need to justify any kind of discrimination.”

Following the discussion, Patterson told DC Agenda studies often touted by social conservatives claiming that biological parents are better than same-sex couples at raising children are misleading.

“In general, what they’re referring to is research about kids growing up with single heterosexual parents and kids growing up with heterosexual couples,” she said. “In those studies, there are usually no openly gay or lesbian people, but the results of the studies are often used to make inferences about what kids in gay and lesbian parented families would do. That’s a mistake, of course.”

Gary Gates, a research fellow at the Williams Institute, a think-tank on sexual orientation at the University of California, Los Angeles, had similar data on the number of gays and lesbians with children and those wanting to adopt.

A common misconception, Gates said, is that it’s mostly LGBT people who are white that want to raise children, as opposed to LGBT people who belong to racial minority groups.

“All the data that we know about parenting by LGBT people and same-sex couples shows that, in fact, child-rearing is much more common in people of color,” he said. “So particularly African-Americans and Latinos and Latinas, they’re twice as likely as their white counterparts to say that they’ve raised a child.”

Regarding the full population, Gates said about one million LGBT people in the United States are raising around two million children.

The numbers are different when looking just at same-sex couples. Based on U.S. census data, Gates said about 112,000 same-sex couples throughout the United States are raising around 250,000 children.

But Gates also said the data show more same-sex couples raise children in states other than where LGBT people tend to live — often West or East Coast states with more gay friendly laws.

“What that also tells you is that same-sex couples are raising kids in states that have some of the most restrictive and challenging legal environments for gay and lesbian people raising children,” Gates said. “Many of the states with relatively high fractions of same-sex couples raising kids are very both politically and socially conservative.”

Also speaking at the panel was Nakea Paige, an 18-year-old high school student in D.C. who grew up in the foster care system. Although she’s bound this fall for Michigan State University to study biochemical engineering, Paige said her childhood was difficult because she never found a permanent home.

“I’ve been in one group home and three foster homes within three years, and having lived in three different places in three years has been a very scary experience,” she said.

Paige said one foster mother wouldn’t allow her to stay because she wasn’t receiving the full amount of compensation she thought she would receive. The foster mother had given a 30-day notice to leave, but Paige said she didn’t know about the notice until it was time for her to go.

Following the panel discussion, Paige told DC Agenda she wouldn’t have minded living with LGBT parents.

“It wouldn’t have bothered me, basically because it’s a family,” she said. “As long as I have somebody there to love me as a child, and them as a parent, then I’m fine with it.”

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National

Trans experiences with the internet range from ‘harrowing’ to ‘powerful’

New survey provides insights into the stakes of web use for LGBTQ adults

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(Image courtesy of LGBT Tech)

Alex, 29, would not have met their friends without the internet. While living in a small city surrounded by farmland, finding community was not always easy.

Alex tried out one of those apps for adults seeking to make friends. It turned out to be a remarkable success. “I’ve made my friend group as a direct result of using the internet,” they said, explaining that even though all the friends are trans, due to their diverse interests, “we would have been hard-pressed to have ever really run into each other by happenstance.”

Making friends online is also safer for Alex. Before they pursued HRT and surgery and looked more “visibly queer,” they were in scary situations. “I’ve had pickup trucks chase me while driving, people call out slurs while driving by me, and I’ve been shot at,” they said. 

Having the internet available for appointments, work, and social activities is fundamental to their life.

But the web was not always such a friendly place for Alex. “There’s so much hate and falsehoods out there about trans people,” they said. “It’s why it takes so long for some of us to learn about who we are.”

This dissonance is widespread within the LGBTQ community. A recent report—”ctrl+alt+lgbt: Digital Access, Usage, and Experiences of the LGBTQ+ Community”—by LGBT Tech and Data for Progress provides insight into that phenomenon. 

Shae Gardner, director of policy at LGBT Tech, explained that most of the research about the LGBTQ community’s internet use historically has focused on youth. The project aimed to fill the gap. From surveys with 1,300 people across the country, the report found that while the internet is a foundational space for LGBTQ community building and self-expression, it also comes with a high risk for bullying and harassment.  

These findings intensify when looking specifically at the data for underrepresented groups within the LGBTQ population like the transgender community, who are by far the group that faces the most harassment online, per the Anti-Defamation League. Gardner explained that the survey was over-sampled for transgender individuals intentionally. “We really wanted to understand that specific experience,” Gardner said.

The Blade interviewed five trans people about their experiences to gain insight into how different community members felt while navigating the web and specifically identified sources who do not have public platforms and therefore do not face heightened public scrutiny. Due to concern for backlash, all sources for this story spoke on condition of anonymity with gender-ambiguous names and they/them pronouns.

Four out of five of the people interviewed emphasized that the internet is a vital resource for accessing healthcare. 

Riley, 24, explained, “I have such immense dread about transitioning because I don’t want to have to interact with doctors around my identity. I feel like I don’t have access to providers who are able to understand me.”

The internet, for many, provides a safe location to access health information and care without the judgment of doctors. Kai, 23, and Cameron, 27, both shared that the internet was an important place for them to learn specifics around trans healthcare and seek out trans-friendly providers. Alex agreed and added that they have made it so all of their doctors’ appointments through tele-health.

These experiences are consistent with the larger trans community. LGBT Tech’s survey found that 70% of transgender adults use the internet to find LGBTQ-friendly healthcare. By comparison, only 41% of cisgender LGBTQ adults use the internet to find the same friendly care.

All the sources interviewed said they sought LGBTQ community online with varying degrees of success. 

Jordan, 24, said that not only is social media a good way to stay connected with people they know, but it also helps them find a broader community. “It’s nice to follow other trans and queer people whose experiences can inspire me or make me feel seen.”

Cameron emphasized that the internet provides connections to activities and communities around town. “Social media has facilitated my in-person queer and trans community,” they explained. “I learn a lot about what queer events are happening around town via social media. I have a wonderful community playing queer sports that I wouldn’t have found without the internet.”

Kai shared that it hasn’t been a successful pursuit for them: “I wish it did more than it does.” 

Per LGBT Tech’s survey, transgender adults “often” use social media to connect with existing LGBTQ friends and family 41% of the time (as opposed to “sometimes” “rarely” or “never”). This is 21% more than the LGBTQ community at large. The survey also reveals that transgender adults are 20% more likely to “often” use social media to connect with new LGBTQ community than the LGBTQ community at large.

Everyone but Cameron has experienced some form of direct bullying or harassment for being transgender, either online or in person. The survey found that 83% of transgender adults have faced bullying online. By comparison, 59% of the cisgender LGBTQ community faced bullying online. 

“Technology is only as good as its application. And this is the other side of the dual-edged sword,” said Gardner. 

Gardner explained that the online and in-person harassment was mirrored. “The experiences of anti-LGBTQ bullying were very high, both for LGBTQ+ individuals and especially for trans individuals, but those numbers were nearly equitable to the experiences that that they have in the real world with anti-LGBTQ+ bullying,” she said. The survey found that 82% of transgender adults faced bullying in person.

The survey found despite the comparable levels of harassment and high levels of misinformation (93% of transgender adults saw anti-LGBTQ misinformation online), respondents overwhelmingly felt safe online—67% of trans adults and 76% of cisgender LGBTQ adults. 

When she compared this phenomenon to her life, Gardner wasn’t surprised. “The harassment that I have faced online has certainly felt less immediately threatening than what I’ve faced in person. The mental toll it takes is significant, but I would argue individuals probably have an easier time getting away from it.”

That doesn’t stop Gardner from noting, “We need to be fighting [harassment] in both places.” 

She explained that, “when we are staring down the barrel of record-setting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation yet again, it is so integral to keep fighting for digital spaces to be as safe as possible.”

Regardless of its safety, it is a space that is a constant for many. “I use the internet constantly,” said Alex. “I use the internet a lot at work since I have a desk job,” said Jordan.

When reflecting on the internet, Riley summed up the tensions they experience. “It can be harrowing often but simultaneously it’s where I feel a sense of community and access.”

(This story is part of the Digital Equity Local Voices Fellowship lab through News is Out. The lab initiative is made possible with support from Comcast NBCUniversal.)

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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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