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NAACP president: Marriage is ‘civil rights issue of our times’

Benjamin Todd Jealous described marriage as the “civil rights issue of our times.”

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NAACP, Benjamin Jealous, gay news, Washington Blade
NAACP, Ben Jealous, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous speaks at his organization's national headquarters in Baltimore on Monday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BALTIMORE – The leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stressed on Monday that his organization’s support of marriage for gays and lesbians is consistent with its broader mission to fight discrimination.

“We make this statement today because it is the legacy and responsibility of the NAACP to speak up on the civil rights issue of our times,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous during a press conference at the organization’s national headquarters. “We are both proud of our history and challenged by it—challenged to never allow threats to equality for all people under the law to go uncontested.”

Jealous’ comments came two days after the NAACP Board of Directors endorsed extending marriage rights to same-sex couples during their quarterly meeting in Miami. Jealous became emotional as he discussed his parents who had to get married in the District of Columbia in 1966 because Maryland did not allow interracial marriage—the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this ban in Loving v. Virginia the following year. He noted that Mildred Loving herself spoke out in support of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples before she passed away.

NAACP, Roslyn Brock, same sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

NAACP Board of Directors Chair Roslyn M. Brock defends her organization's support of marriage equality in Baltimore on Monday (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“We want to be on the record that the NAACP now firmly opposes all efforts to restrict marriage equality,” said Jealous. “We will oppose threats to the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal rights under the law in any state where this issue is raised.

Jealous dismissed reports that several board members voted against the marriage resolution. Roslyn Brock, chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors, said members had an “open, honest and candid conversation” about the issue during executive sessions.

“The conversation was dispassionate, it was respectful and it embraced and respected the views of all the members who sat around the table,” she said. “This is not a religious issue or a moral issue for the NAACP. That is not the role of the NAACP. On the constitutionality of the issue, the NAACP’s National Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly to support this issue.”

In spite of this support, Brock conceded that there are board members and other NAACP members whose positions on marriage continue to evolve.

“This conversation is one, as President Jealous has stated, is taking place or has taken place across the nation,” she said. “We will work together with our units and with our board to have the courageous conversations that are necessary around this issue.”

The NAACP’s endorsement of marriage rights to same-sex couples comes less than two weeks after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Doctor William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, was among those who spoke out against the ballot measure before it passed by a 61-39 percent margin.

President Barack Obama on May 9 publicly backed the issue for the first time during a White House interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts.

“For the black community, the president of the United States is as close to Martin Luther King in terms of moral leadership,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, in response to a question about whether Obama’s support of marriage rights for same-sex couples prompted the NAACP’s position. “It’s not just amazing that we have a black president but that he exemplifies exceptional leadership. From a space of cultural connection more than anything else, the president stood up beyond popularity, beyond the norm, beyond status quo and took the courageous step on behalf of the LGBT community that many would have seen as a political risk. I see it as nothing less than courageous leadership.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in March signed a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry, but state voters will likely face a November ballot referendum that would overturn the law that is slated to take effect on Jan. 1.

Fifty-two percent of respondents who participated in a Marylanders for Marriage Equality poll in March said they would vote for the same-sex marriage bill in the likely ballot measure.

Jealous stressed during the press conference that civil rights organizations remain united against the Maryland referendum and other similar measures across the country.

“Ballot measures like that on the ballot here in Maryland are intended to encode discrimination, codify discrimination into law and therefore stand apart from our nation’s recent decades and decades and decades and decades of using its constitution… to expand rights to people,” he said. “This is a cynical attempt to use a state constitution to restrict rights and we will oppose it as we have said in our statement.”

Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference NAACP, told the Blade after the press conference that his affiliate has not “had much discussion” yet on the likely referendum. He suggested, however, that the civil rights organization’s endorsement of marriage rights for same-sex couples will help black voters better understand ballot measure and its potential impact on LGBT Marylanders.

“We’re hoping that Maryland will understand that any person has a right to be protected under the law,” said Stansbury. “This is basically where we’re coming from. We’re supporting the national office and the national NAACP and taking the position that they have this weekend.”

Maryland Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) also welcomed the NAACP’s position.

“As a life long member, I am encouraged by this historic decision of national NAACP to transform their position which opposed efforts to ban civil recognition of same-sex unions to one which honors and is inclusive of our black LGBT community by supporting the struggle for full marriage equality for same gender loving couples,” she told the Blade. “For those African American people who were on the fence about the issue, the support of the NAACP and our president will help move the conversation forward.

Washington categorized the endorsement as an “important step” that bolsters the efforts of those fighting against the likely referendum. Lettman-Hicks stressed that the NAACP could play a crucial role in organizing opposition to the ballot measure much like it did in North Carolina.

“The same energy that we saw in North Carolina would be monumental to the state of Maryland,” she said. “I hope that the leadership the NAACP showed on the national level will manifest at the same magnitude in Maryland especially since they’re headquartered there.”

Washington conceded these efforts would not have much of an impact among white protestants and Roman Catholics who oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Our work in those communities should continue more vigorously now than ever before,” she said.

 

 

 

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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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