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Gates unveils new ‘Don’t Ask’ regulations

Changes intended to reflect ‘common sense and common decency’



Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen are changing how the Pentagon will implement "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." (DC Agenda photo by Chris Johnson)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Thursday that the Pentagon is changing how it will implement “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” including limiting third-party outings and raising the rank of the officers handling inquiries.

Joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, Gates unveiled the changes to enforcing the ban on gays serving openly during a Pentagon press conference.

“I believe these changes represent an important improvement in the way the current law is put into practice, above all, by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved,” Gates said.

Gates said Mullen, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright and the service chiefs are unanimous in their support for these new regulations.

While unveiling the changes, Gates said in response to a DC Agenda question that he doesn’t recommend legislative action to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law until the Pentagon working group completes its review of the law.

Gates established the working group in February to examine the implications of repealing the 1993 ban on open service. The group’s study is set for completion by Dec. 1.

“I do not recommend a change in the law before we have completed our study,” he said. “There is a great deal we don’t know about this in terms of the views of our service members and trying to get the views of our families.”

Gates said the working group also is necessary to examine changing regulations for benefits and look at other implementation issues.

“I think we need to do this thoroughly and professionally,” he said. “I think we need to do this right, if you will, and I think doing it hastily is very risky and I think does not address some of the concerns that have been expressed by the chiefs of staff of the services and a number of the questions that have been raised associated with this.”

Mullen, who testified in favor of open service for gays, lesbians and bisexuals last month, said he would “echo” Gates’s remarks with regard to legislative action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the working group completes its study.

“It’s very important for us to go through this process — and doing it with haste could easily generate a very bad outcome,” he said. “So understanding where we are — having that information from those it will affect most — is a very important part of this process.”

Asked whether the White House shares this view on the timing of repeal, Gates replied, “You would have to ask them, but I would tell you that my impression is the president is very comfortable with the process that we’ve laid out, and certainly with the changes that I have announced today.”

A senior defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, later clarified for DC Agenda that the Pentagon isn’t taking a position on legislation related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the working group’s review is complete.

“It’s been very consistent out of here that the issue is not whether, it is how,” said the official. “In doing this, because this is the military, they wanted to do this in a way that is professionally thorough. So they are not going to be taking any position on any legislation at all. They’re not going to be supporting any legislation; they’re just not taking any position on legislation.”

The official said that Gates’ remarks during the press conference were consistent with his congressional testimony and other statements.

“This is not taking sides,” said the official. “There is no position on legislation. The position is follow through with this process, and he basically stated that they’d like to see this process be done to inform legislation.”

In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said Congress should undertake repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as the Pentagon continues work on its study.

“Two branches of government can and should work concurrently toward repeal,” he said. “There is no reason for Congress to wait for the details on implementation when Secretary Gates and the president have made it clear that this law should be repealed.”

Also during the press conference, Gates noted that the goal of the working group’s study on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is to determine how to implement repeal.

“The study is about how you implement it — if the law changes, how we deal with it,” Gates said. “This study is not about should we do it; this study is about how we do it.”

Gates added the working group will take into consideration the feelings of service members and their families.

“We need to identify where [there] might be problems and issues — or just issues to be addressed — whether it’s a change in regulations or benefits or something like that, so then when the time comes we have some idea of what we have to do in order to carry forward with the change,” Gates said.

But the new regulations issued Thursday will change implementation of the law until legislative action is taken. Specifically, the new changes will:

• raise the rank of the officer who can start fact-finding inquiries or separation proceedings to a general or admiral;

• raise the rank of the person who can conduct fact-finding inquiries to lieutenant colonel or Navy commander or above;

• raise the level of the officer who can separate an enlisted service member to general or admiral;

• raise the bar for what constitutes credible information to start an inquiry or separation proceeding, by mandating, for example, that information from third parties be given under oath and that use of overheard statements and hearsay are discouraged;

• raise the bar on what constitutes a reliable person upon whose word an inquiry can begin, with special scrutiny of third parties who may want to harm a service member;

• and specify that certain confidential information cannot be used for discharge proceedings, such as information provided to lawyers, clergy or psychotherapists; information provided to medical professionals for medical treatment; information provided in seeking assistance for domestic or physical abuse; or information about sexual orientation discovered during security clearance investigations.

Gates said the new regulations will take effect immediately and would apply to all open and future discharge cases. He noted that the services have 30 days to conform their own regulations to these changes.

Following the briefing by Gates, Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s general counsel who helped draft the new regulations, offered additional details.

In response to one question regarding what would happen in pending cases if a service member was outed by what is now considered unreliable information, and, following the start of an investigation, the service member acknowledged they were gay, Johnson said he didn’t know what would happen in such a situation.

“That’s a good question — and we’ll have to work that through,” he said.

In a statement, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the sponsor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation in the U.S. House, praised the Pentagon for implementing the changes, but said full repeal is still necessary.

“Today’s announcement from Defense Secretary Gates is another step forward in the fight to repeal the discriminatory policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and a signal that momentum for change continues to build,” he said.  “While I am encouraged by the Pentagon’s announcement, I remain committed to working toward full legislative repeal of this law, which hurts our national security and military readiness.”



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

Measure now goes to Republican-controlled state Senate



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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Western Pa. transgender girl killed, dismembered

Pauly Likens, 14, brutally murdered last month



(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’



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 III 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.”

(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.)

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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