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Hawaii governor vetoes civil unions bill

Activists denounce move as a ‘disgrace,’ plan lawsuit



Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have enacted civil unions in the state. (Photo courtesy of Lingle’s office)

The governor of Hawaii on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have instituted civil unions in the Aloha State as LGBT groups announced plans to continue the fight for relationship recognition.

At a press conference announcing her decision, Gov. Linda Lingle (R) equated civil unions to same-sex marriage and said the issue inspired such strong emotions that it should be left for the people to decide.

“It was the depth of emotion felt by those on both sides of the issue that revealed to me how fundamental the institution of marriage is [to] our community,” she said.

Lingle had until Tuesday to sign the civil unions bill, veto it or take no action to allow the bill to become law.

During the press conference, the governor said Hawaii’s residents should decide the issue of civil unions through the referendum process.

“This is a decision that should not be made by one person sitting in her office, or by members of the majority party behind closed doors in a legislative caucus, but by all the people of Hawaii behind the curtain of the voting booth,” she said.

In 1998, Hawaii voters approved an amendment to their state constitution allowing the legislature to prohibit same-sex marriage in Hawaii. The Hawaii Legislature subsequently passed a statute banning same-sex marriage, but left the door open for civil unions.

In a statement, Alan Spector, legislative affairs co-chair for Equality Hawaii, said Lingle’s veto marked a “sad day for the thousands of Hawaii families who remain second-class citizens.”

“We fail to see how the governor’s actions are in the best interest of Hawaii’s future and are nothing more than political maneuvering at the expense of people’s lives,” Spector said. “We’re disappointed and outraged that same-sex families will not be treated equally under Hawaii law, but vow to come back and fight this fight another day.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, also expressed disappointment in a statement that followed Lingle’s decision to veto the civil unions bill.

“Gov. Lingle’s veto of legislation that would protect and strengthen Hawaii’s families is beyond a disappointment — it is a disgrace,” Carey said. “Hawaii’s lawmakers passed this bill because it was about fundamental fairness.”

Carey said the governor’s action “flies in the face of both common sense and common humanity” and urged the legislature to override her veto.

But House Speaker Calvin Say reportedly said last week the State House would not hold a special session to override Lingle’s vetoes.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director for the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization’s affiliates in Hawaii worked hard to influence the Republican governor to at least allow the bill to become law without her signature.

“Since this spring, Log Cabin Republicans on the Hawaiian Islands as well as the mainland United States have made it clear to Gov. Lingle and other Hawaiian lawmakers that we supported the civil union legislation,” he said.

Cooper said individual members of Log Cabin lobbied lawmakers and Lingle to support the civil unions legislation.

Activists in Hawaii are pursuing several options that could institute civil unions in Hawaii despite Lingle’s veto.

In a statement, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii announced they were filing a lawsuit in state court to fight for civil unions in the state.

Laurie Temple, staff attorney for the ACLU, said she’s “disappointed” Lingle didn’t follow through with signing the civil unions bill or allowing the legislation to become law.

“Luckily for the people of Hawaii, however, our constitution prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation,” she said. “If the governor won’t honor her oath to uphold the constitution, the courts will.”

Jennifer Pizer, national marriage project director for Lambda Legal, told the Blade her organization had litigation prepared in the spring when the civil unions legislation appeared to have stalled in the Hawaii Legislature.

“We were hoping that it would not be necessary,” she said. “Now that it is, we will be switching into litigation mode.”

Pizer said Lambda would file the lawsuit, although she didn’t know the exact timing of the case. She noted that Lambda has plaintiff couples lined up for the lawsuit, but declined to offer more information about them.

“I can’t give you the details of who the clients are or exactly what the lawsuit looks like,” she said. “That will be public when we file it, but we have been working on it for quite some time.”

Pizer said that guessing how long the litigation process would take is “very difficult to say” and would depend on how the state decides to defend the case.

“We’re curious to know exactly what the path will be and how long it will take, but it’s impossible to tell until we see how the state decides to answer,” she said.

Other groups — including Equality Hawaii and the Human Rights Campaign — are making plans to elect new lawmakers and a governor who would support enacting civil unions in the state.

Don Bentz, treasurer for Equality Hawaii, said his group is awaiting the election in the fall to determine the best path for civil unions legislation.

“We have a gubernatorial race and a number of allies in the House and the Senate are both up for re-election,” Bentz said. “So depending upon who gets re-elected or does not get re-elected, that would kind of determine whether we want to reintroduce [the bill] or wait for a lawsuit to work its way through the courts.”

One candidate for governor is already capitalizing on Lingle’s veto in the race to succeed her as governor.

In a statement, Democratic candidate Neil Abercrombie said Lingle mistakenly characterized the civil unions legislation as a bill that would enact same-sex marriage.

“The state legislature has already defined marriage as between a man and a woman,” Abercrombie said. “Civil unions respect our diversity, protect people’s privacy and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha.”

Abercrombie said ensuring Hawaii residents receive equal treatment will be up to the next governor and legislature.

“Protecting people’s civil rights cannot be compromised,” Abercrombie said. “I am committed to that most essential of constitutional imperatives.”

Lingle predicted the issue of civil unions would come to the ballot soon.

“I would be surprised if this does not go on the next available ballot,” she said. “I would encourage lawmakers to do it — whether it’s those who are in office or those who are not.”

Bentz said the idea of bringing the issue of civil unions to the ballot has been under discussion for some time, but isn’t something LGBT rights advocates want to see happen.

“When you go to the ballot, the opposition throws out all these lies and misinformation that basically cause people to vote against it,” he said.

Bentz said a voter-initiated ballot initiative isn’t available in Hawaii and that the matter could only come to the ballot following a constitutional convention or direction from the legislature.



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 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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