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Expensive year for gay donors

Baldwin Senate race, Obama re-election, ballot measures to compete for funds

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An expected race for the U.S. Senate next year by lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) will likely intensify an unprecedented demand for fundraising within the LGBT community for the 2012 elections on the national, state and local levels, according to LGBT advocacy groups.

Political observers in Wisconsin say Baldwin has emerged as the leading Democratic contender to compete for a Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, who announced that he won’t run for another term next year.

With Baldwin said to have a decent chance of becoming the nation’s first openly gay senator, LGBT rights groups from throughout the country are gearing up to raise funds for her campaign, even though she isn’t expected to officially announce her candidacy until later this summer.

Fundraising among LGBT donors for a Baldwin Senate campaign will come at a time when those same donors are being called on to give money to the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama and to the campaigns of LGBT and LGBT-supportive candidates running for Congress, state legislatures, and city and town government posts.

LGBT donors are also expected to be tapped for contributions to campaigns opposing state ballot measures seeking to ban same-sex marriage or to legalize the right of gay couples to marry in as many as five states in 2012.

Chuck Wolfe, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which raises money for LGBT candidates, said the cost of a Baldwin Senate race would likely rise to between $15 million and $20 million.

“So if our community can be a significant player in that race, and we hope it will be, that will mean a significant investment,” he said. “And I would expect to see the LGBT community play an important role in that race.”

Campaign finance records show that Baldwin has already amassed more than $1 million for her House re-election race, which she’s expected to use for a Senate race. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), who reportedly is considering challenging Baldwin for the Senate nomination in a Democratic primary, has raised far less money than Baldwin, and reported $478,000 cash on hand last week.

Nearly all observers say Baldwin would only back down from a Senate race if former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold enters the race. Feingold, a champion of progressive causes for Wisconsin Democrats, lost his re-election bid last year to Republican Ron Johnson. He has hinted that he’s not likely to run for the seat being vacated by Kohl.

Wolfe said he expects nearly 200 qualified LGBT candidates will be running in the 2012 election on the federal, state and local levels, a development that will prompt the Victory Fund to activate its network of LGBT donors nationwide.

“We’ll continue to see more candidates running for higher levels of office, which, of course, means higher levels of investment,” he said.

Andy Tobias, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, said the DNC and Obama for America, the president’s re-election campaign, will be doing all of their fundraising – including fundraising within the LGBT community – through a joint committee called Obama Victory Fund 2012.

Tobias, who’s gay, said all of the other races seeking support from the LGBT community are important and he hopes others capable of making contributions will try to support them all.

But he said only the race for president “will determine who gets to shape the Supreme Court going forward, which will be the final word on our equality.”

Added Tobias, “And only one race will determine whether the entire federal government sees us basically as allies deserving of support or citizens who’ve already gained too much equality that needs to be rolled back. We simply have to keep the White House.”

According to Tobias, the Obama Victory Fund effort is aimed at registering and turning out “a huge number of progressive-leaning donors” through 60 field offices and more such offices to come. Thus he said this effort would help all of the other LGBT-related races by bringing supportive voters to the polls.

“So in my view, all of us should support the national effort in a very big way, even as we support other races,” he said.

Among those agreeing with Tobias’s assessment is gay philanthropist Bruce Bastian of Utah, who has made large contributions to Democratic candidates and LGBT advocacy groups and causes for nearly a decade.

“I am not well versed on all of the races or ballot measures,” Bastian told the Blade this week. “That said, I believe the most important goal for the LGBT community in 2012 should be to re-elect President Obama. Why? Just look at the alternatives!”

The Human Rights Campaign has already endorsed Obama’s re-election bid and is expected to continue its past practice of contributing campaign funds to LGBT-supportive candidates through its political action committee.

The HRC PAC contributed just over $800,000 to candidates in 2010 and just under $1.1 million to candidates in 2008, according to HRC’s vice president for communications, Fred Sainz.

“The 2012 election year provides our community with a number of opportunities, including the successful re-election of our president, and a number of vulnerabilities,” Sainz said. “Unfortunately, the one ingredient that all of them share is the need for financial resources to be successful,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the landscape, work closely with our partners on these various contents and will make smart and realistic investments at the appropriate time.”

Evan Wolfson, executive director of the marriage equality advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said the appropriate time to address the expected marriage-related ballot measures is now.

He is calling on LGBT contributors to help raise money for the defeat of a ballot measure in Minnesota, where marriage equality opponents are asking voters to approve a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union only between and man and a woman.

In Oregon and Maine, LGBT rights groups are taking steps to place on the ballot initiatives calling for overturning existing same-sex marriage bans. The proposed ballot measure would also put in place laws to give same-sex couples the legal right to marry.

Ballot measures seeking to ban same-sex marriage are also a possibility in Maryland and North Carolina in 2012. A ballot measure in Maryland is only expected to take place if the state legislature votes to legalize same-sex marriage, a development that LGBT advocacy groups and supportive lawmakers say is a possibility.

“It’s unfortunately too early to be sure if we’re going to have enough money but it’s not too early to be doing the work,” said Wolfson, in discussing the effort for winning marriage equality rights in Maine and Oregon and defeat marriage bans in the other states.

“So we really need to step up and invest in the early persuasion and organizing that are the key to winning,” Wolfson said. “I strongly encourage funders, large and small, to make the best use of the money and time — the most crucial element beginning now so we can move hearts and minds in advance of the end game. That’s how we win.”

The two co-founders of eQualityGiving.org, an LGBT political donors group, said they plan to follow the same process for advising and guiding LGBT donors in 2012 as they have in past election years.

Juan and Ken Ahonen-Jover, a Miami-based couple, said their organization sets specific criteria related to the level of support a candidate must express on LGBT issues before the group places that candidate on its list as a possible recipient for contributions from LGBT donors.

“We want them to support all of the criteria,” said Juan Ahonen-Jover. “We base our recommendations on their positions on our issues,” he said.

He said the group doesn’t keep track of how much money its members give to candidates but he believes donors affiliated with the group contribute a sizable amount of money to congressional and state legislative candidates throughout the country.

 

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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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