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HRC scorecard shows drop in support for LGBT rights in Congress

Support for same-sex marriage measured for first time

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HRC’s troubling statistics show Congress is less supportive of LGBT issues than in 2010. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Support for LGBT equality declined significantly in Congress during the past two years compared to the previous two-year period, according to a Congressional Scorecard for the 112th Congress released on Thursday by the Human Rights Campaign.

The scorecard, which HRC has compiled for each two-year session of Congress since 1989, shows that the average score for members of the House of Representatives on LGBT issues dropped from 50.8 percent in the 111th Congress to 40 percent in the current Congress.

For the Senate, the HRC Scorecard shows a drop in support from 57.3 percent in the 111th Congress to 35 percent in the current 112th Congress.

“While we continue to make advancements towards equality in Washington, the 112th Congress has more anti-equality members set on halting our progress,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

“Still, we continued pushing the envelope and made history with the first ever hearing and Senate Judiciary Committee approval of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation repealing the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act,” Griffin said.

The HRC Scorecard evaluates all 435 House members and 100 senators based on a rating scale of 0 to 100 on a wide range of LGBT issues, including members’ co-sponsorship of pro-LGBT bills and their votes on bills or amendments deemed LGBT supportive or hostile to LGBT rights.

Similar to its Scorecard ratings of past years, the latest HRC Scorecard shows a breakdown of its ratings along party lines, with a majority of Democrats receiving the highest scores and most Republicans receiving low scores.

In the House, 115 members– all Democrats — received a perfect score of 100. Of the House members that received a “0” score, 211 are Republicans and four are Democrats.

In the Senate, 22 members received a 100 percent score – all Democrats. Of the Senators receiving a “0” score, 14 are Republicans and none are Democrats.

In a statement released Thursday, HRC said the Scorecard for the 112th Congress for the first time asked members of Congress whether they support the legal recognition of civil marriage for same-sex couples.

According to the Scorecard, 144 House members and 26 senators said they support civil marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. Of the House members expressing support for marriage equality, 143 are Democrats. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) was the only Republican House member to express support for same-sex marriage equality.

Of the 26 senators stating they support same-sex marriage equality, all are Democrats.

“While marriage-related issues can arise in Congress, the baseline question about where a senator or representative stands on this issue is of great importance to all fair-minded Americans,” HRC said in its statement accompanying the Scorecard.

However, HRC spokesperson Paul Guequierre told the Washington Blade that the answers lawmakers gave to the question on whether they support legalizing same-sex civil marriage was not included in the calculation of the scores assigned to House and Senate members.

Among House members representing D.C. area districts, Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) received a score of 100.

Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, all Democrats from Maryland, each received a 100 rating and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) received a 95 rating. Maryland Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, both Democrats, each received a 100 rating.

In Virginia, Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb each received a 76 rating. Among Virginia’s D.C. area House members, Democrats Jim Moran and Gerald Connolly received a 100. Republican Frank Wolf received a rating of 15.

“LGBT equality was prominent in the 112th Congress, giving us great cause for optimism despite the fact that opponents of equality gained seats halting our progress,” said Allison Herwitt, HRC’s legislative director. “Yet while the American people move forward on these issues, the majority of Congress – particularly the House –continues to be out of touch.”

Among the legislation and votes HRC used to rate Senators and House members on its Congressional Scorecard were the following:

  • The Senate votes to confirm openly gay U.S. District Court judge nominee J. Paul Oetken and lesbian U.S. District Court judge nominee Alison Nathan.
  • Co-sponsorship of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would ban private sector employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Co-sponsorship of the Respect for Marriage Act, which calls for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
  • Co-sponsorship of the Uniting American Families Act, which would provide equal immigration rights to foreign born same-sex partners of American citizens.
  • Co-sponsorship of the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligation Act, which would provide spousal health care and other benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.
  • Senate vote on the Hutchinson Amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which eliminated provisions from the bill that would have given domestic violence related protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
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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 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.”

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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