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UPDATED: GLAAD’s communication breakdown; Barrios voted out

Media watchdog group dogged by allegations of dishonesty, incompetence

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UPDATE: According to Politico, the Executive committee of GLAAD’s Board of Directors has voted to remove Jarrett Barrios as President of the organization.

UPDATE 2: According to both Michelangelo Signorile and the Bilerico Project, Rich Ferraro is confirming that Jarrett Barrios has stepped down as GLAAD’s President.

Jarrett Barrios

A former GLAAD board chair has called for the resignation of its president, Jarrett Barrios. (Photo courtesy GLAAD)

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation raised eyebrows last week when the media watchdog group released a statement supporting the merger of telecom giants AT&T and T-Mobile. It marked the second time the organization, which was founded in 1985 as a grassroots action network, had weighed in on major business news. The prior statement had been released a year earlier objecting to the NBC-Comcast merger, due to concerns about negative portrayals of LGBT characters in the media.

The AT&T statement was curious, but attracted little media attention.

That changed on Tuesday, when former GLAAD board of directors co-chair Laurie Perper appeared on Michelangelo Signorile’s Sirius-XM OutQ show to sound the alarm on other alleged improprieties at the organization and questions facing its leader, Jarrett Barrios.

Since then, Barrios — who has been at the helm of GLAAD for 23 months — has granted a flurry of interviews to counter Perper’s claims. His responses, however, have only served to attract more scrutiny of the organization.

While speaking with Perper, Signorile pressed about why she left her position as board chair early. “You stepped down because you just thought he was not qualified. Obviously, as the months went on, others agreed with that assessment,” Signorile summarized. “I believe that over 14 board members have left, [since Barrios took over],” Perper relayed to the radio host.

Signorile continued, “Is it fair to say that most of these people stepped down because of the direction the organization was going, because of Jarrett Barrios?”

“Absolutely,” Perper said.

Reached by phone last week along with GLAAD director of communications Richard Ferraro and GLAAD board member and Florida PR consultant Gary Bitner, Barrios insisted that his short time working with Perper — only five weeks — was marked by a positive working relationship, and was focused on solving the organization’s financial problems.

“It’s perplexing and disappointing, considering that she worked for many years to help build this organization, but this happens sometimes,” Barrios told the Blade. “We form in our movement a circular firing squad, and we for whatever reason feel it’s necessary to hurt somebody else in the movement. [Laurie Perper and I] worked well together. Frankly the time we interacted was the time I was getting my feet wet, learning that the org at the time was running a rather large deficit.”

After booking Perper on the Signorile show, the producers reached out and arranged to have Barrios on the following day to respond to the statements that had been made. However, when GLAAD later attempted to arrange to have Bitner join him on the Signorile show, the show’s producers refused and the GLAAD team pulled out of the arrangement, opting to contact other media outlets and bloggers instead.

Barrios insists that the financial figures that Perper presented on the Signorile show were inaccurate and misleading, including a quote about a $14 million discrepancy after 2008, which Barrios says is the result of an IRS reporting requirement of a major multi-million dollar bequest by the late Ric Weiland of Microsoft that was dispersed over seven years. GLAAD insists that it has righted its financial footing thanks to cuts made early in Barrios’ term, though Ferraro also disputes Perper’s claim that six senior staff members left the organization since Jarrett’s start. GLAAD insists it was only three, with another just having left a few months ago.

“In 2009, there was a substantial deficit — I think it was like $1.2 million,” Barrios said.  “Last year, we cut the operating deficit to $300,000 — shrunk it by about $900,000 — and this year, I’m happy to say, we’re running ahead of budget … most notably, our national presenting sponsor has already renewed for next year. That typically doesn’t happen until January. It’s already happened for next year. We’re very pleased. Our corporate revenues this year are substantially higher than last year, which were higher than the year before.”

Perper’s main purpose for appearing on Signorile’s show, however, was to question the reasoning behind GLAAD’s unexpected statement voicing support for the AT&T/T-Mobile merger. GLAAD joined unions, advocacy organizations and other LGBT-specific organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and Out At Work in supporting the merger. These three organizations joined the NAACP, and the National Education Association in pushing the FCC for the merger.

Perper points to this as evidence that AT&T may have “bought influence with these” non-profits to advocate for the merger with the FCC.

Hours after his conversation with the Blade, Barrios appeared on Chicago’s “Feast of Fun” podcast with Marc Felion and Fausto Fernos. The issue of GLAAD’s curious support of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger and Perper’s statements regarding that merger soon came up, and Barrios seemed to change his story on a long-forgotten episode from more than a year ago when GLAAD released two letters regarding the principles of “net-neutrality” and expressed support for expanding Internet access. The second letter was later retracted.

At the time, Barrios wrote the FCC asking the letter to be removed from the public record, stating that he’d not given his permission for the letter to be submitted and that the signature is “not in my hand.” However, while speaking with “Feast of Fun,” his story seemed to change.

“It was like January of 2010. And it, it sort of supported the telecom industry’s position on net neutrality, which was not GLAAD’s position,” Barrios said. “In fact, GLAAD, at the time and still, doesn’t endorse bills and doesn’t endorse regulatory actions. So, it would have been impossible for us to do that.”

When reached by phone last week, Richard Ferraro explained why GLAAD cannot take a position on net neutrality.

“As a 501(c)3 there’s a question about whether or not we can,” Ferraro told the Blade. “It’s obvious where we stand [on universal access] … mergers are different.”

On “Feast of Fun,” Barrios shifted his story about the letter’s submission, after taking the position a year earlier that the organization had no knowledge of the letter prior to its submission.

“After an investigation, we determined that it was an administrative error, internally at GLAAD, and I’ll own that, and we withdrew the letter. At the time we withdrew the letter, we didn’t know that, so I was — you can imagine reading a letter in a public submission with your name on it that you had never seen, and it wasn’t your signature — after we did an internal investigation, we realized it was an internal error, an administrative error.”

“[The letter] was pulled, one, because it’s an anti-net-neutrality letter,” Ferraro clarified for the Blade. “Two, because at that point and currently, GLAAD does not take positions on legislation or regulation.”

In January, when the letter had been submitted and subsequently retracted, the narrative that emerged was that the letter had been forged. However, after the Feast of Fun statements, Bil Browning of Bilerico Project sought a clearer explanation about the letter.

In an interview last week with Browning, Barrios revealed his personal assistant — a woman Bilerico identified as Jeanne Christiano who has worked for Barrios consistently for seven years, and goes back to his days as a Massachusetts state senator — had called him while he was on the road, and in a hurry, he gave the letter his approval thinking that the two were discussing the previous letter with language Barrios had approved.

“We made a mistake. I authorized my assistant over the phone to sign and submit a letter that I understood to be a re-filing of the October letter in support of broadband proliferation,” Barrios told Browning. “When I realized she had inadvertently submitted an anti-net neutrality letter, I withdrew it … at the time, I had never seen the letter that was filed, and did not recognize the signature.”

Last week, after the story broke of the retracted letter to the FCC supporting the telecom’s position on net-neutrality, the Blade again spoke with Ferraro, this time about the new information emerging about the FCC letter.

“There’s an October letter that Jarrett wrote to the FCC that’s on the FCC site,” Ferraro told the Blade, “that very broadly talks about broadband proliferation, and speaks to our statement Friday about net-neutrality, which is that we don’t currently have a position, but we support universal access … we support the ideas behind, the principles behind net-neutrality – that we can do.”

According to Ferraro, GLAAD board member and communications law professor at American University, Anthony Varona, noticed the subtle pro-telecom messages in the letter after having served as a lawyer at the FCC in the past and immediately contacted the organization’s leadership asking why GLAAD was supporting the telecom industry’s anti-net-neutrality stance.

“When Tony Verona — who speaks FCC language — read this,” Ferraro explained, “he said ‘Why the heck did you send in a letter anti-net-neutrality?’ Jarrett of course said, ‘I never read that letter, I never said I’m against net-neutrality.’”

According to Ferraro, the suggested language is believed to have come directly from AT&T, and was copied verbatim by Barrios’ assistant, Jeanne Christiano.

Ferraro explained, “He was traveling, as he still does [a lot] … she’s more than an assistant — they’ve worked together for seven years. … I was not on the call, so can’t speak with certainty, but he said she called him and said something along the lines of ‘so I have the letter on broadband. They want the letter, do you want me to go forward with it?’ and he said, ‘yeah yeah,’ thinking it was the October letter.”

Ferraro agreed there must have been a major communication breakdown at GLAAD.

“He never saw the letter, and he said, ‘yeah, send it in.’ And obviously he didn’t mean to send it in, because as soon as the board member [questioned the letter], he said, ‘huh? I never saw that letter. I didn’t sign that letter. That’s not my signature.’ and he didn’t authorize it. The thing that he’s been trying to do is he doesn’t want to throw her under the bus. This was his mistake. He should have read the letter — he didn’t.”

The controversy raises the question: will GLAAD start weighting in on other FCC-related matters if a business has any ties to the LGBT community?

“One thing that has happened since Jarrett came on board, is that we’ve been more engaged with the FCC, which is a government agency that needs to hear more from the LGBT community … since then, you did hear us weigh in on the NBC merger, you did hear us weigh in on AT&T and we did file an FCC complaint about ‘Jose Luis Sin Censura,’ which is the most anti-gay program on television today,” Ferraro said.

Some activists argue there are larger issues at play than GLAAD’s support of the AT&T merger, or whether or not GLAAD can take a position on net-neutrality. Some leaders in the community are wondering if GLAAD is ready to unravel. Laurie Perper herself called for the dissolution of GLAAD, and discussed it with Signorile when she appeared on his show.

When the Blade asked Perper if GLAAD could survive this controversy, she said it would require a massive change in personnel and makeup of the board.

“One of the things that has come forward is GLAAD’s brand name has been heavily tied to the media awards and people feel that GLAAD is owned by the broadcasters,” Perper said. “The word transparency gets thrown around a lot and unfortunately I found in trying to manage Jarrett that he was far from transparent. So I was actually there for five months with him, and that was long enough for me to see that he was going to make decisions against the board, without consulting the board, the co-chairs and against their will.”

Perper also believes a narrower focus would help GLAAD recover.

“I think that they’ve expanded their programmatic work too much and therefore don’t have a solid impact in any one area, so I think they need to retract a little bit in this difficult economy, decide where they want to make an impact, and truly come out with thoughtful statements, rather than the flip-flopping I’ve seen them do with Adam Lambert, with the AT&T situation. … So they just need a consistent message and vision that they can put forth, that people can understand, and then they need to act on it as hard as they can.”

She continued, “I’ve had a lot of discussions with people who happen to be aware of a lot of the situation that’s going on with GLAAD and a lot of the controversy,” she continued, “and they all feel very strongly about the GLAAD brand name and that it still has tremendous value in the marketplace. So when I talk about the dissolution of it, I do it with a really heavy heart, not ‘how do you ever rebuild a brand name like that,’ but thinking ‘how do you get rid of a president and half of the board members who have helped enable him to bring such tarnish to the name?’”

Barrios, however, sees the organization heading in the right direction.

“We’ve enjoyed some of our highest profile victories ever in the last 18 months,” said Barrios. “So where we’re going is down that path … we’ve had some major victories with the ‘Today’ show, the marriage contest last year. A number of victories with our ‘no two sides’ campaign last year … Mostly that work is happening behind the scenes.”

When members of the media continued to pursue answers to the questions left unanswered at the onset of last weekend, GLAAD tried to shift attention to the Tracy Morgan scandal on Friday. GLAAD backed off from a promise to have Barrios chat on the phone with the Blade in regard to the new confusion brought about by the Friday morning Bilerico report and the Thursday morning Feast of Fun interview.

What’s still unclear is how the suggested language ended up in an official letter on GLAAD letterhead. GLAAD would not comment on whom from AT&T delivered the suggested language, noting only that “AT&T is the source.” However, with a former AT&T lobbyist on the board of directors, who now consults for telecom companies including AT&T, some wonder if Troupe Coronado was the conduit for this “suggested language” that turned GLAAD into an anti-net-neutrality advocate for the telecom industry.

Also unanswered is how unauthorized language was allowed to be submitted by an assistant to a government agency. If this specific language was not approved, why was there no protocol in place to prevent a scenario where an employee of the organization can sign the president’s name to an official document and send it as an agent of the entire group?

There are also nagging questions about Troupe Coronado’s influence and role in the controversy. In January 2006, the Washington Post’s Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Thomas B. Edsall investigated Coronado for allegedly exceeding the gift-giving limits on lobbyists when schmoozing lawmakers. He was still with BellSouth at the time. BellSouth is now part of AT&T. In addition, OpenSecrets.org lists him as a “revolving door personnel,” someone who has bounced from industry lobbying jobs, to government jobs and back again.

Coronado’s connections to the telecom industry and GLAAD’s subsequent misfires in the field of telecom regulation and corporate dealings is troubling for many activists, even if those connections are tenuous and possibly only coincidental.

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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.”

(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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