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State advocates pleased with White House meeting

Obama administration briefs visitors on federal initiatives



The White House (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Representatives from statewide LGBT equality groups expressed satisfaction with a White House briefing that took place last week in which Obama administration officials informed them about federal initiatives to benefit the LGBT community.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said attendees at the June 8 briefing were informed about recent administration policy changes that have affected LGBT people.

“We wanted to know what the administration accomplished recently, and what it’s planning on doing in the very near term, so we can relay the information back to educate the LGBT people in our communities,” Cherkasov said. “The second thing that was important to Equality Illinois is to take some of our priorities and our community’s priorities back to the administration, and say, ‘Here are concrete steps that we’re looking for you to take in the coming months and the coming year.'”

Among the federal accomplishments that officials discussed were coverage of LGBT individuals under the health care reform law, including non-discrimination protections, prosecutorial discretion initiatives aimed at keeping bi-national same-sex couples in the United States and a change enabling same-sex couples to file a joint declaration at customs upon returning to United States after being abroad.

The Equality Federation, a national San Francisco-based organization that works to support state LGBT groups, arranged the four-hour plus briefing amid Pride celebrations that are taking place in D.C. at around the same time.

An estimated 100 people from more than 20 state LGBT groups participated in the briefing, with some groups having as many as three representatives. Among the groups were Equality California, MassEquality, Fair Wisconsin, Equality Alabama, Equality Illinois, Equality North Carolina, Georgia Equality, Equality Texas, Equality Maryland and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition.

Rebecca Isaacs, the Equality Federation’s president, said the intent of the briefing was to ensure state LGBT groups were aware of the initiatives happening at the federal level.

One of the goals that Isaacs had prior to the meeting was examining which federal administrative policy changes could be replicated at the state level in places where legislators may be unwilling to enact pro-LGBT policies. Isaacs said movement toward this goal happened at the briefing.

“The first stage is people need to understand the changes that have happened,” Isaacs said. “I can be more specific when we figure out what policies, for what states. Some places may already have things very clearly laid out, but other places may not. Because we have so many states that have a long way to go in terms of LGBT equality, these are places that they can really look to.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on the briefing after it took place. Prior to the event, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, confirmed the event was taking place but offered limited details. The briefing wasn’t open to the press or the public. An informed source said the administration told attendees it was confidential and advised them not to speak with the media after the event.

According to a schedule obtained by the Washington Blade, a number of Obama administration officials spoke before conference attendees on LGBT issues. At a welcome session, White House LGBT liaison Gautam Raghavan spoke in addition to Issacs. The initial session was set to last 15 minutes.

A subsequent series of briefings under the heading “Updates” had three sessions and three different speakers: “Bullying Prevention” with Deborah Temkin of the Education Department’s Office of Safe & Healthy Students; “International LGBT Human Rights” with Liz Drew, director of human rights and gender on the National Security Staff; and “LGBT Inclusion in the Violence Against Women Act” with Tonya Robinson, special assistant to the president for justice and regulatory affairs for the White House Policy Council.

Five sessions took place at the next series of briefings under the heading, “Implementing Policies on the Ground.” These were “Equal Access to Housing” with Kenneth Carroll, director of the Fair Housing Assistance Program Division for the Department of Housing & Urban Development; “Hospital Visitation, the Affordable Care Act and Spousal Impoverishment” with A.J. Pearlman from Office of the Secretary at the Department of Health & Human Services; “Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act” with Matt Nosanchuk, who’s gay and senior counselor at the Justice Department; “Customs Declaration Regulation, Immigration Prosecutorial Discretion Review” with Phil McNamara, executive secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; and “Family & Medical Leave Act” with Helen Applewhite, a senior adviser at the Labor Department.

After a break, the final briefing, titled “Update on Congressional ‘To-Do’ List,” was delivered by Jon Carlson, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

On the Thursday prior to the briefing proper, Isaac said a reception took place at the D.C. Jewish Community Center where Chai Feldblum, who’s a lesbian and serves on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, informed state advocates about the new interpretation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covering transgender workers in cases of workplace discrimination.

Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California’s board president, was among the attendees at the event and said she was taken aback by the level of engagement the Obama administration was prepared to offer LGBT advocates — something she felt wouldn’t be seen under a President Romney administration. Filigioun was the sole representative of her organization.

“I stepped into the meeting, and I really realized what the stakes are for the upcoming election,” Filgioun said. “Frankly, I feel we desperately need four more years of this administration to keep all this work going because I shudder to think what a Romney administration would mean for the LGBT community. I really sat there and I thought, my goodness, there’s no way that there would be this level of engagement with a Romney administration.”



Trans experiences with the internet range from ‘harrowing’ to ‘powerful’

New survey provides insights into the stakes of web use for LGBTQ adults



(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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Pa. House passes bill to repeal state’s same-sex marriage ban

Measure now goes to Republican-controlled state Senate



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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Western Pa. transgender girl killed, dismembered

Pauly Likens, 14, brutally murdered last month



(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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