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Would President Romney undo pro-LGBT advances?

Array of regulatory changes could be in jeopardy under GOP administration

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Mitt Romney speaking before attendees at the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

As President Obama and Mitt Romney articulate competing visions for the future in their presidential campaigns, most LGBT rights advocates agree the choice couldn’t be more stark given the advances the community has seen over the past three-and-a-half years and the anti-gay positions espoused by the Republican candidate.

On one hand, President Obama has endorsed marriage equality, capping off a first term of efforts at the legislative and regulatory levels aimed at benefitting the LGBT community. On the other, Romney signed a pledge with the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage to back a Federal Marriage Amendment and defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Last month, he backed off his earlier stated belief that adoption by same-sex couples is a right by saying he simply “acknowledges” the legality of such adoptions in many states.

Obama has made “forward” the theme for his 2012 campaign. The extent to which Romney has adopted anti-gay views and aligned himself with anti-gay groups raises a key question for LGBT voters: Under a Romney administration, how far “backward” could the LGBT community go?

Many of the pro-LGBT advances that have happened under the Obama administration occurred through changes made by the executive branch rather than through legislation. Changes that were made without the consent of Congress could be reversed under an administration that wanted to cozy up to the religious right.

The Washington Blade has identified five regulatory changes and 16 sub-regulatory changes enacted by the Obama administration that could be reversed if Romney were elected to the White House. These changes include giving greater recognition to same-sex couples, protecting federal LGBT workers against discrimination and ensuring the federal government recognizes the correct gender of transgender people.

Major changes that were made under the Obama administration at the regulatory level include a memorandum requiring all hospitals receiving Medicaid and Medicare funds to allow visitation rights for same-sex couples; lifting the HIV travel ban; and a Department of Housing & Urban Development rule prohibiting discrimination in federal public housing programs and federally insured mortgage loans.

Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, predicted Romney would aim to roll back these policies if he takes the oath of office in January 2013.

“If Mitt Romney were to accede to the presidency, he would have no choice but to deliver on the regressive, ultra-conservative agenda he’s been promising the radical GOP machine,” Davis said. “It is without question that rolling back advances in LGBT equality would be at the top of the list.”

Romney has never pledged during the campaign to rescind any pro-LGBT regulatory changes made under the Obama administration. Although he said he doesn’t support same-sex marriage or civil unions with the same benefits as marriage, Romney said he favors some kind of domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples as well as hospital visitation rights. Rescinding this hospital visitation memorandum would appear to break a campaign promise.

Moreover, the Administrative Procedures Act — a law enacted by Congress in 1946 governing the way in which administrative agencies may propose and establish rules — prohibits a quick change in regulation if a hostile administration takes over. Instituting new final regulations repealing these policies would be a multi-year process and require a justification for overturning them other than for political reasons.

Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doubts that Romney would take away this progress based on the candidate’s tenure as Massachusetts governor and as a business executive.

“As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney sustained executive orders providing for domestic partnership benefits including hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian state employees,” Berle said. “This action directly builds upon his record in leading companies like Bain Capital and Staples, which had strong nondiscrimination policies and partner benefits. This history both as a chief executive in the business sector and as governor of Massachusetts give precedence for sustaining President Obama’s positions on matters including hospital visitation.”

But Romney did rescind some pro-LGBT changes as governor. According to MassEquality, Romney abolished the Governor’s Commission on GLBT Youth and rescinded an executive order prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the state workforce. Another Republican, former Gov. William Weld, had instituted those measures.

It’s the sub-regulatory initiatives where the most sweeping changes could be made. The time needed to change these would be shorter than the time needed to change more formal regulations, although it would vary from agency to agency and issue to issue. For many, an agency could rescind guidance issued by the Obama administration, issue a superseding directive or discontinue a certain program.

Among these sub-regulatory changes are revising standards to allow transgender people to change a gender marker on a passport; the Education Department’s guidance clarifying that student bullying may violate sex discrimination protections under federal law; the reinterpretation of the Family & Medical Leave Act to allow employees to care for their same-sex partner’s child; and the Census Bureau’s decision to release data on married same-sex couples along with other demographic information in the 2010 Census.

Davis said all the administrative changes — ranging from the regulatory to sub-regulatory level — would be in jeopardy if Romney wins the election.

“The bigoted wing of the GOP, which Romney has embraced with gusto, cannot stand the idea that same-sex relationships have been afforded near equal status in so many federal rules and regulations,” Davis said. “It grates against their very being that transgender Americans can get passports with the appropriate gender marker and there are more than a few who want to see the HIV travel ban put back into place.”

The Romney campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether these changes would remain in place under a Romney administration. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee declined to comment for this article.

Are there steps the Obama administration could take now to ensure the changes become more permanent?

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said the sub-regulatory changes could be, in a sense, upgraded to regulatory changes, but that process would be lengthy and cumbersome.

“Of course, advances made through regulations are more difficult to undo, but it is also more challenging to move new regulations through the process of review, public comment and approval,” Cole-Schwartz said. “Making LGBT inclusion part of the culture of federal government across departments and agencies is a big part of making these changes more difficult to roll back — and the administration has done a great deal to foster that inclusiveness.”

These changes don’t include the anti-gay promises that Romney has made. Romney has campaigned on resuming defense of DOMA, which would be a stark change from the Obama administration’s practice of filing legal briefs against the anti-gay law in court and sending Justice Department attorneys to litigate against the statute. Romney also pledged to set up a presidential commission on religious liberty to investigate the alleged harassment of opponents of same-sex marriage.

Cole-Schwartz said the array of ways in which a Romney administration could reverse the progress made on LGBT rights undescores the significance of the upcoming election.

“It further emphasizes the importance of re-electing a fair-minded president whose administration will continue to seek out ways to further LGBT equality,” Cole-Schwartz said.

Pro-LGBT policy changes under Obama

Regulations

The Administrative Procedures Act provides safeguards against politically motivated policy switches. Thus repealing the policies below would involve a multi-year process.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted a regulation ending the ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants.
  • President Obama issued Presidential Memorandum in April 2010 directing HHS to issue regulations requiring all hospitals receiving Medicaid and Medicare to prohibit discrimination in visitation against LGBT people. HHS issued a final regulation that went into effect in early 2011.
  • HUD issued final regulations in January 2012 prohibiting discrimination in federal public housing programs and federally insured mortgage loans.  HUD also requires its grantees to comply with LGBT-inclusive state and local housing discrimination protections.
  • The Office of Personnel Management published final regulations in the Federal Register expanding the eligibility for long-term care coverage to same-sex partners and sick leave to care for a same-sex partner.
  •  The federal Prison Rape Elimination Commission proposed national standards to reduce sexual abuse in correctional facilities, including standards regarding LGBT and intersex inmates. They were later instituted as a rule finalized by the Justice Department last month.

Sub-Regulatory Guidance/Policy Announcements

These are policy advances instituted by — and subject to the will of — the administration.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services revised its funding guidance around abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs, requiring that recipient programs are inclusive of and non-stigmatizing toward LGBT youth.
  • HHS, in partnership with the Department of Education and Department of Justice, launched stopbullyingnow.com.
  • The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency recently released new 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards.  These new standards provide guidance that aims to improve treatment of LGBT and HIV-positive people in detention facilities.
  • In summer 2011, ICE published a memo and clarifying guidance providing that an individual’s family relationships, including a same-sex relationship, would be considered as a factor in labeling certain deportations as low-priority deportations.
  • The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced a proposed regulatory change expanding the meaning of “members of a family residing in one household” for the purposes of the customs declaration form, which must be completed prior to re-entry to the United States.
  • The DOJ issued an opinion clarifying that the criminal provisions of the Violence Against Women Act related to stalking and abuse apply equally to same-sex partners.
  • The State Department revised the standards for changing a gender marker on a passport, making the process less burdensome for transgender people.
  • In September 2011, the Social Security Administration confirmed that it ended the practice of allowing gender to be matched in its Social Security Number Verification System (SSNVS). This resulted in the immediate cessation of SSA sending notifications that alert employers when the gender marker on an employee’s W-2 does not match Social Security records.
  • The State Department extended numerous benefits to the partners of Foreign Service officers, including diplomatic passports and access to emergency evacuation.
  • The State Department reversed a Bush administration policy that refused to use a same-sex marriage license as evidence of a name change for passports.
  • The Department of Education issued guidance clarifying when student bullying may violate federal law, distributed a memo outlining key components of strong state anti-bullying laws and policies and made clear to public schools that gay-straight alliances have a right to form and meet.
  • The Department of Education published guidance and, in coordination with the Department of Justice, has pursued Title IX complaints filed by LGBT students experiencing harassment based on sex or sex stereotyping.
  • OPM added gender identity to the equal employment opportunity policy governing all federal jobs.
  • The Department of Labor issued guidance clarifying that an employee can take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a same-sex partner’s child.
  • The IRS clarified that domestic partners (and their children) can be designated beneficiaries for VEBA funding/payment purposes.
  • The Census Bureau overturned the Bush administration’s interpretation of the Defense of Marriage Act and agreed to release data on married same-sex couples along with other demographic information from the 2010 Census.

SOURCE: HRC

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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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