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Mikulski pressured to co-sponsor DOMA repeal

Petition of more than 3,000 names to be delivered Friday

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Sen. Barbara Mikulski (photo courtesy wikimedia)

The senior U.S. senator from Maryland is facing increasing pressure to sign on as a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act amid plans to win marriage equality in her state in 2012.

A coalition of LGBT rights advocates — made up of Courage Campaign, Freedom to Marry and Equality Maryland — are building pressure on Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act by circulating a petition among Maryland residents asking her to support the bill.

MORE IN THE BLADE: SENATE PANEL APPROVES DOMA REPEAL LEGISLATION

As of Tuesday, organizers had collected more than 3,000 names for the petition encouraging Mikulski to voice support for the Respect for Marriage Act. LGBT rights advocates were set to deliver the petition to Mikulski’s Baltimore, Md., office on Friday.

LGBT rights advocates said Mikulski’s lack of co-sponsorship of the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is particularly striking because other elected officials in her states have voiced support for same-sex marriage and because plans are in motion to legalize same-sex marriage in the state next year.

Rick Jacobs, chair of the Courage Campaign, said Mikulski’s support would be significant because she’s a leader of the Democratic Party and because it would align her with the movement toward marriage equality in Maryland.

“I think with Sen. [Benjamin] Cardin on board, and the governor on board and her state moving, I think it’s really important that she joins in,” Jacobs said. “I’m going to assume that her staff and she simply need education. I’m going to assume that. If several thousand of her constituents can help her provide that education, then that’s great. But beyond that it’s really time for Sen. Mikulski to join us.”

MORE IN THE BLADE: WHY DOES NOM BELIEVE DOMA WILL BE IN THE DEFENSE BILL?

Last month, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced he would push for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland as part of his legislative package in 2012. The Maryland governor had been criticized for not taking a leadership role in the effort to legalize gay nuptials in his state this year.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said O’Malley’s support indicates that Maryland is in the midst of a debate on same-sex marriage and said Mikulski’s co-sponsorship of the Respect for Marriage Act would show where she stands in the discussion.

“It’s important that Sen. Mikulski be on the right side of this deeply important matter of justice for families and the right side of history as well,” Wolfson said.

Additionally, Wolfson said Mikulski’s co-sponsorship would put her in a position to back same-sex couples in her state who are married or are seeking the right to marry. While Maryland doesn’t offer same-sex marriage under state law, it recognizes such unions that are performed in other jurisdictions.

“As we’ve seen from the release on Census data and the snapshots provided by the Williams Institute and others, there are families in Maryland across the state who are harmed by the denial of marriage, and by federal discrimination against the marriages that they manage to celebrate right across the border in the District of Columbia as well as other states,” Wolfson said.

According to recent numbers published by the Williams Institute at the University of California in Los Angeles based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, 16,987 same-sex couples live in Maryland and make up 7.88 couples in every 1,000 households.

Rachel MacKnight, a Mikulski spokesperson, said the senator is “very closely” looking at Feinstein’s legislation.

As long as the Senate is out of session for August recess, Mikulski is unable to sign on as a co-sponsor to the legislation. An informed source said the senator would make an announcement regarding her support for the Respect for Marriage Act in September.

Other members of the congressional delegation from Maryland have already signed on in support of the legislation. Cardin, the junior senator from Maryland, joined on as a co-sponsor in May. The legislation has a total of 28 co-sponsors in the Senate — all Democrats.

In the House, where Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) sponsors companion legislation, Reps. John Sarbanes, Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen as well as House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer have become co-sponsors. The House legislation has 120 co-sponsors in total.

Lisa Polyak, acting board chair for Equality Maryland, said support from Mikulski would “round out the complement” of statewide elected officials in Maryland who’ve voiced support for same-sex marriage.

“She’s the only one at this time who doesn’t, both at the state and federal level,” Polyak said. “I think there’s really no reason for her not to support it. Public opinion polls are there. She’s shown herself to be a progressive senator on other issues, and I think this fits easily within the types of issues that she’s supported in the past for women and family and children.”

Other members of the congressional delegation from Maryland have yet to sign on in support of the Respect for Marriage Act. They include Democratic Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Elijah Cummings. Republican House members Roscoe Bartlett and Andrew Harris also aren’t DOMA repeal co-sponsors. Bartlett has voiced opposition to same-sex marriage and has voted for a U.S. constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man, one woman.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Rep. Andrew Harris (R-Md.) as a Democrat. The Blade regrets the error.

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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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