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Anti-gay violence, domestic abuse on the rise: report

New study, presented to White House, outlines challenges for LGBT victims

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Anti-gay violence is increasing by staggering percentages each year, domestic violence among same-sex couples is as pervasive as it is among opposite-sex couples and mainstream service providers for victims of violence are woefully undertrained in how to effectively treat LGBT victims who turn to them for help, according to a new study conducted last year and released in late March.

“Why it Matters: Rethinking Victim Assistance for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Victims of Hate Violence & Intimate Partner Violence” is a joint policy report by the National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. The Coalition focuses on LGBT and HIV-affected communities. The Center isn’t LGBT specific but bills itself as the country’s leading resource and advocacy organization dedicated to helping victims of crime rebuild their lives. The groups collaborated to identify and raise awareness about the gaps in LGBT victims’ rights (find the report online at ncvc.org or avp.org).

“The collaboration was very deliberate,” says Sharon Stapel, a lesbian and executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, the group that coordinates the Coalition. “The NCVC membership had access to our LGBT expertise and the Coalition membership had access to the Center’s resources. It really began because we knew a lot of this information anecdotally but we didn’t have numbers or know why.”

The study, in which 648 responders from across the country in a variety of victim assistance programs participated voluntarily, found that their agencies lacked outreach to LGBT victims, lacked staff LGBT-specific cultural competency training, did not implement LGBT-specific victim services policies and practices and did not collaborate with those who had, and were under-resourced to correct the barriers to LGBT-specific services.

But how pressing is the need? According to Coalition numbers for 2008, the most recent year for which numbers are available, hate violence against LGBT people is continually on the rise having increased 26 percent from 2006 to 2008 with a 36 percent climb in crimes committed by strangers, a 48 percent increase in bias-related sexual assault and an all-time high rate of hate violence resulting in murder. Anti-LGBT bias-related physical abuse at the hands of law enforcement personnel increased a whopping 150 percent from 2007 to 2008, the Coalition reports.

It also cites several studies from the ’00s that show intimate partner violence affects LGBT couples at the same rate it occurs in straight relationships — between 25 and 33 percent of all relationships. About 11 percent of women reported being raped by their lesbian partners while another study found 39 percent of gay men reported some form of battery from their same-sex partners over a five-year period.

So even though the rates are about the same gay and straight, heterosexual victims tend to have many more resources at their disposal. Gay men who flee abusive partners often find shelters only admit women. Lesbians who turn to shelters are sometimes harassed by the straight women there or worse, discover there’s no barrier in place to prevent their abusive female partners from joining them at the shelter.

Kelcie Cooke is bi and provides trauma counseling at Boston’s Fenway Community Health Center, one of only 36 LGBT-specific victim assistance providers in the U.S. She says fundamental shifts need to happen before mainstream providers are equipped to help LGBT victims.

“The definition of domestic violence is really rooted in the feminist movement,” Cooke says, “which understood it to be about men’s oppression over women. That doesn’t make sense for an LGBT program and under that paradigm, we don’t even see LGBT examples when it’s all about men and women.”

Many other factors often prevent LGBT domestic violence victims from finding help or even reporting their crimes, the report says. Some fear being outed and perhaps losing their jobs if they’re in the military for instance. Others fear being excluded from their circle of friends if a restraining order is granted. Transgender victims face even further obstacles.

Jeff Dion, executive director for the National Center for Victims of Crime, remembers one case he worked on in Miami that illustrated the problem.

“Sometimes law enforcement and the courts don’t take these issues seriously,” Dion, who’s gay, says. “Miami even has its own special domestic violence court but I remember one lawyer advocate who said, ‘You’re going to have a hard time getting justice if a man goes to court dressed as a woman.’ So there are still major barriers to overcome just to treat people like people.”

Morgan Lynn, a local lesbian attorney who founded an LGBT-specific program at Women Empowered Against Violence, says there are further complications she sees daily in her work.

“The people I see are just going to have different issues,” she says. “We have custody issues that affect us differently, marriage and divorce, outing is a whole issue that’s unique to our community. These are just the kinds of questions that straight folks, straight women, just don’t have to be aware of. Like with divorce. There’s no residency requirement to get married in Massachusetts but there is for divorce. So what are you going to do? Move there with an abusive partner just so you can get divorced?”

Homophobia and heterosexism are also challenges, the study says.

“There’s a lot of heterosexism in domestic violence work in general,” Lynn says. “You think about the images you see. A straight woman, she’s probably white, cowering in the corner. Advocates like us try to work through those cultural stereotypes because we know not all abusers are men, or not all abusers are the more masculine person. People think the butch in a lesbian relationship is the abuser but that’s not always the case. I’ve even had some women leave abusive heterosexual relationships thinking there was no domestic violence among lesbians only to find their girlfriend is abusive.”

But there is good news. Many of the mainstream providers who responded said they’d welcome LGBT-specific training.

“We weren’t surprised to hear that but it was gratifying to see the numbers of mainstream service providers who were so vocal about really wanting to do this work but really needing the technical assistance to do it properly,” Stapel says.

Cooke, though, says it requires more than an afternoon training session.

“We’ve done a lot of training here in the Boston area with many front-line workers,” she says. “They’re very well intentioned, but they often don’t have the institutional buy in to really make the changes necessary to do the work correctly. There’s a lot to it. Forms need to be changed for gender variance, they don’t screen at shelters to keep same-sex perpetrators from finding their victims there … there really has to be structural change. It’s not just about sensitivity training.”

So what’s the answer? The study’s authors included several recommendations based on their findings. They advocate collaborations between LGBT-specific and mainstream victim assistance providers, advocacy for state and federal protections to ensure LGBT victims have equal access to protections, an increase of public awareness of the extent and impact of victimization in the LGBT community and increases of funding to see these objectives through.

The two organizations that performed the study are off to a good start — just last week they presented the report at the White House to several of President Obama’s advisers.

“It might take a year or so for this to get into the next round of grant solicitations and to develop grant programs but there’s an awful lot of buzz about this and people are interested and excited to see the report, particularly in this administration,” Dion says. “It’s really helped us quantify the anecdotal evidence. We can now offer the report to validate that and give us a platform to move forward.”

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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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