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Baldwin announces bid for U.S. Senate

Wisconsin lawmaker would be first openly gay senator

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Tammy Baldwin

Tammy Baldwin announced Tuesday she would run for U.S. Senate. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The only out lesbian in Congress officially threw her hat in the ring to become the next U.S. senator from Wisconsin — and the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate — in an announcement Tuesday.

“I can’t wait to take my fight to the Senate: a fight to grow our economy, protect seniors, force Wall Street to clean up its act, and bring our troops home from Afghanistan,” Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) wrote in an email to supporters. “And I can’t wait to see you on the trail as we bring our campaign to every corner of Wisconsin.”

Baldwin has served in the U.S. House since 1999. A win for Baldwin would mean she would replace Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), who announced earlier this year he would retire from the Senate upon the completion of his term next year.

“I know that, in this campaign, we’ll be up against some powerful special interests,” she said in her announcement. “But I’ve beaten the odds before. All my life, the naysayers have told me that I can’t win because I’m a progressive…because I’m a woman…even because I’m a lesbian. And I’ve proven them wrong because I’ve had rock-solid supporters like you standing with me.”

MORE IN THE BLADE: GAY WIS. LAWMAKER HOPES TO WIN BALDWIN’S SEAT

Baldwin is no stranger to achieving victories for the LGBT community. Her election to the U.S. House in 1998 marked the first time a non-incumbent openly gay person was elected to Congress.

Gay advocates — particularly the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund — have been pushing Baldwin to make history again by seeking to become the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Victory Fund, praised Baldwin in a statement and said his organization would work hard to help her win in 2012.

“We are enormously proud that Tammy has taken this courageous step, and we will be strong supporters of her campaign,” Wolfe said. “Tammy’s record in Congress proves she’ll be a fighter in the Senate for expanding fairness and freedom for all Americans, and Wisconsin families will have no better advocate in Washington.”

The Victory Fund also announced the launch of a website, VictoryForTammy.com, which is dedicated to providing information to LGBT people about the Baldwin campaign. In addition to featuring news about the race and event information, the site will allow people to donate directly to her campaign.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, announced on the same day as Baldwin’s announcement that his organization has endorsed the lesbian lawmaker in her bid for a Senate seat.

“Tammy Baldwin’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate is monumental for both the state of Wisconsin and the country’s LGBT community,” Solmonese said. “Tammy has proven herself as an effective legislator over the course of her 13 years in Congress and this campaign will be a top priority for the Human Rights Campaign.”

Katie Belanger, executive director of the state equality group Fair Wisconsin, said the possibility of electing the first openly gay senator is “inspiring” and the Badger State “could not hope for stronger advocate for fairness and equality.”

“Tammy Baldwin has proven in the second congressional district that she can represent a diverse constituency, from farm families to college students to seniors,” Belanger said. “She is well-prepared to represent all of Wisconsin’s diverse communities and will have the vigorous statewide campaign necessary to win the state.”

Baldwin is likely to face primary opponents who are also seeking to carry the Democratic banner in the general election next year. A primary would take place in the first half of September 2012. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), an eight-term member of the U.S. House, and Steve Kagen (D-Wisc.), a former House member, have been named as possible competitors.

Russ Feingold, a former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, was also seen as a possible opponent — and likely frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination — but announced last month that he wouldn’t seek elected office in 2012.

But Baldwin appears ahead other Democratic contenders in a hypothetical primary matchup. According to data published last week from Public Policy Polling, Baldwin leads in a three-way race with 37 percent compared to 21 percent for Kind and 15 percent for Kagen.

Additionally, Baldwin has raised significant money compared to her possible opponents. In the most recent Federal Election Commission reports, Baldwin posted $1.1 million in cash on hand after raising more than $600,000 thus far this election cycle. Comparatively, Kind has $478,000 in cash on hand after raising $592,000 this cycle. Kagen has no cash on hand and has only raised $18,000 this cycle.

But in the general election, Baldwin could face more of a challenge. The data from Public Policy Polling found that potential Republican opponents — like former Gov. Tommy Thompson or former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann — are marginally ahead of her in the polls.

The data from PPP shows that in a match between Neumann and Baldwin, Neumann would win 44-40, although 15 percent said they were undecided. In a contest between Thompson and Baldwin, Thompson would win 50-42, although eight percent of voters identified as undecided.

Last week, Neumann officially threw his hat into ring for the Republican nomination and asserted that he believes his opponent will be Baldwin in the general election.

While announcing his candidacy Monday morning, Neumann said, “I believe our opponent is Tammy Baldwin and I believe it is essential that we bring Tammy Baldwin’s record to the forefront.”

A Tea Party Republican, Neumann is more conservative than Thompson. During the 1990s, Neumann made headlines for anti-gay remarks made during his career as a U.S. House member.

According to the New York Times, Neumann said in 1996, “If I was elected God for a day, homosexuality wouldn’t be permitted, but nobody’s electing me God.”

Additionally, Neumann in 1997 suggested he wouldn’t hire an openly gay person as an office staffer during a speech to the Christian Coalition.

“If somebody walks in to me and says, ‘I’m a gay person, I want a job in your office,’ I would say that’s inappropriate, and they wouldn’t be hired because that would mean they are promoting their agenda,” he said. “The gay and lesbian lifestyle [is] unacceptable, lest there be any question about that.”

Watch the video of Baldwin announcing her Senate campaign here:

NOTE: This article has been updated.

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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 Trans 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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