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Gibbs dodges question on Obama’s early marriage support

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today dodged a question about whether President Obama has “backtracked” from his earlier support of same-sex marriage.

In 1996, while campaigning for an Illinois Senate seat, Obama indicated his support on a candidate questionnaire for the Windy City Times, writing, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”

Asked today about the questionnaire by the Washington Blade, Gibbs declined to address it directly.

“I think there’s a whole host of issues that I would direct you to the campaign on — on different questionnaires and I would again reiterate what the president has said recently on that issue,” Gibbs said.

Asked whether he questions the accuracy of the 1996 questionnaire response, Gibbs replied, “Again, I’m happy to send you the several thousand clips of which went around during the course of 2008 on a whole host of those issues.”

Following his response to the second Blade question, Gibbs said, “Thanks guys,” seeming to indicate that he would take no more questions. Gibbs stayed at the podium after reporters in the White House press corps pressed him to take more questions.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, clarified that press briefings traditionally wrap up when the AP reporter signals an end to the briefing.

“As the transcript clearly shows, the AP reporter noted the end of the press briefing with the customary ‘thank you.’  Even after that, Gibbs did stay on to take 18 additional questions,” Inouye said. ” To suggest that he would step away from the podium before the briefing is over is not only wrong, it’s offensive.”

In the 1996 questionnaire response, Obama unequivocally stated his support for same-sex marriage, which is different from his current position on the issue. His position since has been that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman. Still, the president has suggested his position could “evolve” on the matter and said last month he’s “wrestling” with the idea of marriage rights for gay couples.

“Like a lot of people, I’m wrestling with this,” Obama said in an interview last month with The Advocate. “I’ve wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples.”

Although he opposes same-sex marriage, Obama as a U.S. senator voted against a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and said he supports full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions.

Later during the conference, Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher asked whether the president has finally reached some new position on same-sex marriage or would address the issue during the State of the Union address on Tuesday.

“As I said earlier, I don’t have an update to what — to reiterating that it’s something that he thinks a lot about,” Gibbs said.

A number of gay rights supporters have called on Obama to declare support for same-sex marriage during the State of the Union address. On Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial from gay political pundit and sex columnist Dan Savage, who urged the president to address marriage rights for gay couples during the speech.

A partial transcript of the exchange with Gibbs over the marriage issue follows:

Washington Blade: Back in 1996, when the president was running to become an Illinois state senator, he stated in questionnaire response to what is now the Windy City Times that he supports same-sex marriage. He wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” That’s not the president’s current position. He has backtracked on a earlier commitment he made to gay and lesbian Americans?

Robert Gibbs: I think there’s a whole host of issues that I would direct you to the campaign on — on different questionnaires and I would again reiterate what the president has said recently on that issue.

Blade: But do you dispute the accuracy of this questionnaire response?

Gibbs: Again, I’m happy to send you the several thousand clips of which went around during the course of 2008 on a whole host of those issues.

Thanks guys.

Mediaite: I asked you last week if the president was going to talk about repealing DOMA or about same-sex marriage in the [State of the Union] speech. And you know, if you want to volunteer an answer on that you can, but I also asked you  —

Gibbs: I’ll volunteer that as I told, Keith, it’s around 9:05 tomorrow —

Mediaite: My follow-up is —

Gibbs: Your follow-up to my non-answer?

Mediaite: I also asked you if the president — he said his personal view on same-sex marriage is evolving and so I wanted to follow-up and see has he come to a new personal view —

Gibbs: As I said earlier, I don’t have an update to what — to reiterating that it’s something that he thinks a lot about.

Mediaite: Do you know when he might speak about that if he’s not going to speak about it —

Gibbs: I don’t.

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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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National

TransTech Social removing barriers to trans success

‘Technology was the key to my freedom’

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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.”

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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