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Incumbents hope LGBT support boosts chances

Murphy, Gillibrand have advantages in re-election bids

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Is going gay good for your re-election prospects?

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are among the incumbents seeking re-election hoping that their support of LGBT rights will translate to campaign donations and victory in November.

Both lawmakers championed repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as one of their signature issues, and both have promising prospects for their re-election chances even though they’re competing in challenging races.

In the House, Murphy has been outspoken on the issue of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and sponsored repeal legislation. He’s made numerous media appearances to denounce the law and was featured last year on the cover of The Advocate.

Upon taking up repeal legislation last year, the Iraq war veteran took a bill with about 150 co-sponsors and brought a measure to the floor of the House that earned 234 votes.

Similarly, Gillibrand has been a strong proponent of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since her appointment last year to the U.S. Senate.

She last year floated the idea of introducing an amendment that would have instituted an 18-month moratorium on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Additionally, Gillibrand is credited with working with Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin to initiate hearings on the issue.

Matt Canter, a Gillibrand spokesperson, said the senator’s advocacy work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is based on a strong personal conviction.

“My boss has helped champion the issue because she felt that now is the time to right this wrong,” he said. “She felt we needed leadership in the Senate to breathe life into this issue, to begin the debate on this issue.”

Michael Cole, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, called Murphy and Gillibrand “real champions of repeal” and emphasized the importance of Murphy’s status as an Iraq war veteran on the issue.

“Our campaign has been about putting veterans front and center, and when you have someone like the congressman — with a distinguished history of military service — it is profoundly impactful on both his colleagues and public opinion,” Cole said.

As LGBT civil rights advocates have expressed gratitude for Murphy and Gillibrand for tackling “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the lawmakers are facing a more favorable climate as they seek re-election this fall than many other incumbents.

Murphy is running in Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district, which, prior to his election in 2006, had been represented by a Republican since 1993. Murphy is facing in the general election Republican Mike Fitzpatrick, the former U.S. House member whom Murphy unseated by less than 1 percentage point.

Still, many political observers are predicting that the Democratic congressman is likely to achieve victory this fall.

The Cook Report identifies the race as “lean Democratic” and the Rothenberg Political Report calls it “Democrat favored.” Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball identifies the race as a “toss-up.”

Meanwhile, Gillibrand is looking at a relatively smooth race this fall even though she was once considered vulnerable because she had been appointed to her seat last year by New York Gov. David Paterson and has never won statewide election.

One by one, possible serious challengers have decided they wouldn’t throw their hats in the ring — despite earlier speculation that they would do so.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who had earlier sought to challenge Gillibrand for the Democratic nomination, announced late last year that she wouldn’t pursue a run. Earlier this year, Harold Ford Jr., a Democratic former U.S. House member who represented Tennessee, said he was considering running, but later decided against it.

On the Republican side, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New York Gov. George Pataki were once seen as possible Gillibrand challengers, but both announced they wouldn’t pursue the seat.

Rev. Al Sharpton, a black civil rights activist and former Democratic candidate for president, reportedly told the New York Times earlier this year that Gillibrand has seen a remarkable amount of good fortune in her re-election bid.

“I think Gillibrand either has mystical powers or the best luck I have ever seen in politics,” he was quoted as saying in an April article.

But how much impact advocating for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is having on these incumbent lawmakers remains in question.

Canter expressed skepticism about a correlation between Gillibrand’s position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and her lack of serious competition this fall.

“I don’t know why Rudy Giuliani decided not to run for Senate,” Canter said. “I don’t know if ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is the reason.”

Trevor Thomas, a spokesperson for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the impact of supporting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has so far been minimal on incumbents.

“SLDN looked at those [lawmakers] who voted for the Murphy amendment and are also facing tough re-election fights,” Thomas said. “We understand that includes about 25 members, and only two of them have been hit by their opponents for voting for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal.”

Thomas said that attacking an incumbent House member for their “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” stance isn’t “the strongest winning point by Republican opponents in this election season.”

But Dan Pinello, a gay government professor at the City University of New York, said advocating for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal helped put both Murphy and Gillibrand into more favorable positions this fall.

“Taking a highly public leadership role in attacking [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] is likely to reap substantial political reward in the form of campaign contributions from the national LGBT community,” Pinello said.

Pinello noted that Murphy’s advocacy on repeal made him particularly attractive to LGBT donors seeking to advance their cause.

“Murphy has appeared on ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ and other liberal media outlets as this hunky straight knight in shining armor coming to the rescue of lesbian and gay damsels in distress,” Pinello said. “How in the world can they not reward him with anything less than tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions?”

Pinello likewise called Gillibrand a “wily fundraiser” and said he expects that she would use her advocacy against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to “her campaign’s best financial advantage.”

Still, Pinello noted a distinction between taking on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that polls show an overwhelming number of Americans oppose, as opposed to taking on more challenging LGBT issues, such as repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Pinello said he doesn’t believe any member of Congress is taking on DOMA as forcefully as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” even though the federal law prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriage affects more LGBT Americans.

“The principal reason for such [a] legislative leadership vacuum is that attacking DOMA would appear to most constituents to be endorsing same-sex marriage, which only about a third of Americans support outright,” he said. “So only Democratic incumbents in extremely safe districts or states would risk acting so boldly. And there are relatively few of those in this election cycle.”

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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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