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Tempers flare over negative messages in Va., S.F.

Victory Fund defends ‘attack’ mailings amid criticism from Cleve Jones, other Dems

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Negative campaign messages were unleashed on behalf of openly gay candidates in Virginia and San Francisco during the past two weeks, raising the ire of LGBT activists and their straight allies.

In both cases, the messages were issued by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a non-partisan group that raises money and campaigns to help elect openly LGBT candidates across the country.

One of the group’s messages, issued in the form of an email sent to the Victory Fund’s members and donors, targeted Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston), who is being challenged by gay Republican Patrick Forrest, an attorney and former senior official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The other message came in the form of a mailing that targeted San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who is being challenged in his race for San Francisco mayor by gay former San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty. Both are Democrats and the two are among 16 candidates running in the hotly contested mayoral race.

Victory Fund spokesperson Denis Dison said the email in Virginia and the mailing in San Francisco were aimed at informing Victory Fund supporters in Virginia and mostly LGBT voters in San Francisco of the gay candidates’ qualifications and their opponents’ shortcomings as part of a widely used campaign practice in American politics.

But the messages angered some gay Democratic activists in Virginia as well as LGBT Democrats and independents in San Francisco who are backing Herrera. The messages were signed by Victory Fund president and CEO Chuck Wolfe.

In the Virginia email, Wolfe cited a Washington Blade story last month that reported Forrest and his supporters had accused the Howell campaign of using “gay baiting” tactics against Forrest. The Blade story reported that Forrest and his supporters learned that a Democratic Party volunteer approached voters and asked them if they knew that Forrest was gay and allegedly told them he would promote a “homosexual agenda” in the state’s public schools.

Without mentioning Howell by name, Wolfe stated in his email, “That kind of divisive campaigning has no place in politics, and it’s wrong no matter which party does it.

“We’re standing up for Patrick because openly gay voices in politics are far too rare in places like Virginia, and because he’ll be the only openly LGBT Republican state legislator in America if he wins his campaign,” Wolfe said in his email.

Howell told the Blade the Democratic campaign worker was not part of her campaign and acted without authorization and was quickly dismissed from any role in the party dealing with the Howell campaign.

Leaders of LGBT Democrats of Virginia, a statewide group, called Howell one of the LGBT community’s strongest straight allies in the Virginia Legislature. The group notes that Democrats are clinging to a razor-thin majority in the State Senate and a defeat for Howell and just one other Democrat would flip the Senate into the control of Republicans, opening the way for passage of anti-gay bills next year and the certain defeat of LGBT-supportive legislation.

“I get their interest in wanting to endorse a gay candidate,” said Terry Mansberger, chair of the Virginia Democratic Party’s LGBT Caucus. “But I don’t think it was necessary to attack Janet Howell, a very supportive LGBT ally.”

Mansberger said Forrest’s support for LGBT equality, including same-sex marriage, would make him a welcome addition to the State Senate. But he called Forrest’s candidacy ill timed and the Victory Fund’s support for him irresponsible, saying the ouster of Howell and a GOP takeover of the Senate would be devastating to LGBT equality in Virginia for at least the next two years.

David Lampo, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Virginia, a gay group that has endorsed Forrest, disputes that assessment, saying Democrats would likely retain control of the Senate through wins in other races. He said Forrest would be a strong advocate for LGBT rights in the Senate and within the Senate’s GOP caucus regardless of whether Republicans gain control of the body.

Dison of the Victory Fund disputed claims by Howell and her gay supporters that the Victory Fund had attacked Howell or issued an “attack” ad, as some Howell backers have described it.

“Based on information published by the Washington Blade, the Fund asked its own supporters via email to donate to Patrick’s campaign in the face of gay-baiting reportedly employed by Democratic Party operatives,” Dison said. ”That email never mentioned the name of Patrick’s opponent, so charges that we have somehow “targeted” or “attacked” her are baseless.”

In a separate race, Democrat Adam Ebbin, a gay member of the Virginia House of Delegates, is considered the strong favorite to win a seat in the State Senate representing parts of Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax counties.

The Victory Fund has also endorsed Ebbin. Lampo said his group chose not to endorse Ebbin’s Republican opponent, political newcomer Tim McGhee. Lampo said McGhee declined to endorse proposed legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for state employees.

McGhee created a stir last month when he appeared before an election forum sponsored by the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance and recited biblical passages to stress his personal beliefs as a Christian and questioned whether most gays are comfortable reconciling their sexual orientation and religious upbringing.

Similar to Ebbin, Forrest has expressed strong support for legislation banning employment discrimination for Virginia state employees as well as other LGBT-supportive measures, including marriage equality for same-sex couples and the repeal of a state constitutional amendment approved by Virginia voters in 2006 that bans same-sex marriage in the state.

In a development that LGBT activists see as a positive sign, a third openly gay candidate in Virginia will be on the ballot in the Nov. 8 election. Michael Sutphin, 27, a public affairs coordinator at Virginia Tech University, is running for a seat on the Blacksburg, Va., Town Council.

Sutphin is a graduate of Virginia Tech University, which is located in Blacksburg, and served as president of the college’s LGBT Alliance. He currently serves on the board of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT group.

He’s among five candidates running for three seats up for election on the Blacksburg Council. Under the town’s election rules, the three candidates receiving the highest number of votes win election to the seats. Sutphin received the endorsement of the Roanoke Times, the region’s most prominent daily newspaper.

In San Francisco, the Victory Fund mailing outraged some LGBT activists who are supporting Herrera, a City Attorney who is considered one of the strongest LGBT-supportive politicians in California.

Both Herrera and Dufty, along with most of the other 14 candidates in the mayoral race, are Democrats.

Dufty is vying to become the first openly gay mayor in a city considered to be the nation’s epicenter of LGBT rights and equality. The Victory Fund, which endorsed him earlier this year, released its campaign mailing against Herrera last month at a time when Herrera was considered Dufty’s strongest competitor for LGBT votes.

The ad includes a brightly colored depiction of a fish impaled on a hook described as a fishing “lure,” which the ad says illustrates how powerful law firms in the city landed lucrative city contracts from the Office of the City Attorney, which Herrera headed. The ad, citing news media sources, says at least five law firms that donated to Herrera’s campaign for mayor have received a combined total of more than $1.2 million in city contracts.

“The donors are fishing and Dennis Herrera is taking the bait,” the ad says.

Victory Fund spokesperson Dison said his group produced the ad independently from the Dufty campaign without the approval of — or any interaction with — Dufty’s campaign. Dison noted that the practice is used widely by Democrats and Republicans in election campaigns as a means of informing voters of the shortcomings and potential problems of an opponent.

“There’s some criticism there, but it’s all coming from people who are involved in local politics and who have their own candidates and old rivalries,” Dison said. “It gets extremely complicated, but they’re essentially asking us to back off from our support for Bevan Dufty, and we’re not going to,” he said.

“He is an obviously viable and an experienced candidate,” Dison said of Dufty “He has been in government for more than 20 years. He has been elected twice to the Board of Supervisors. And the Bay Area Reporter, when they endorsed him, said he is as qualified as anybody in the field of candidates and it’s time we elected a gay person as mayor.”

The Bay Area Reporter is San Francisco’s LGBT community newspaper. The city’s two LGBT Democratic Clubs, the Harvey Milk and Alice P. Toklas clubs, endorsed Herrera over Dufty.

However, the Toklas Club endorsed Dufty for “second choice” in a first-of-its-kind mayoral voting system for San Francisco that allows every voter to select three candidates and designate them as their first, second and third choice for mayor.

San Francisco gay activist Cleve Jones, a collaborator with San Francisco’s famed gay leader Harvey Milk in the 1970s and the lead organizer of the 2009 LGBT Equality March on Washington, is supporting Herrera. He said he’s outraged over the Victory Fund’s attack ad targeting Herrera in an effort to boost Dufty’s candidacy.

Jones points to Dufty’s role as a lead supporter of the appointment of then San Francisco City Administrator Ed Lee as interim mayor in January of this year. At the time, Lee, who became the city’s first Asian-American mayor, promised he would not seek election for a full term. The Board of Supervisors appointed him mayor to fill the unexpired term of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who resigned after winning election as lieutenant governor.

Lee upset many of his fellow politicians and city officials when he announced he had changed his mind and would enter the mayoral race this year. Many in the Asian-American community along with other supporters urged him to run, saying, among other things, that his role as the city’s first Chinese mayor was historic and he should stay on as mayor beyond his interim appointment.

Jones told the Blade that he and other LGBT activists believe Dufty entered the race as Lee’s stalking horse, with the aim of taking gay votes away from Herrera, who has been viewed as a longstanding champion among gay voters.

“All of the polls show that Bevan is not placing at all,” Jones said.

Dufty, in a telephone interview with the Blade on Tuesday, called Jones’ claims “ridiculous.” He said that under the new voting system for mayor that gives voters three choices, he believes he has a strong chance of winning the race in the second round of “virtual” vote counting.

Under the new system, if no candidate receives at least 51 percent of the “first choice” vote, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the city counts the second choice votes of that candidate. The process is repeated until a candidate obtains a 51 percent majority.

Dufty, who said he’s convinced the vote count will go to at least one additional round, points out that he has raised $1.3 million for his campaign, the second highest amount raised after Lee, who raised just under $1.5 million. He said polls showing Lee far ahead of all the other candidates are wrong because the polls can’t accurately predict the outcome in the “ranked choice” voting system.

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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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