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State marriage campaigns make final election push

Voters in Maine, Md., Minn. and Washington to consider measures next week

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A Mainers United for Marriage volunteer speaks with a likely voter (Photo courtesy of Mainers United for Marriage)

With less than a week before Election Day, the four statewide same-sex marriage campaigns remain optimistic voters will support ballot measures that will allow gay men and lesbians to tie the knot.

“We feel as confident as I’ve ever felt going into a campaign,” said Matt McTighe, campaign director of Mainers United for Marriage.

Maine voters in 2009 approved a referendum that overturned the same-sex marriage law then-Gov. John Baldacci signed earlier that year. A Portland Press Herald poll conducted between Sept. 12-16 indicated Question 1 led by a 57-36 percent margin. A Public Policy Polling survey earlier in September found 52 percent of likely Maine voters support Question 1, compared to 44 percent who oppose it.

State campaign finance reports indicate Mainers United for Marriage has raised nearly four times as much money as Protect Marriage Maine, but the anti-Question 1 group continues to air television ads across the state that same-sex marriage supporters maintain mislead voters.

Protect Marriage Maine’s latest television ad features David and Tania Parker who unsuccessfully sued their son’s suburban Boston school after he brought home a book that features two men who get married. The Maryland Marriage Alliance, the group that prompted a Nov. 6 referendum on the Free State’s same-sex marriage law Gov. Martin O’Malley signed this year, earlier this month debuted a similar ad that features the Lexington, Mass., couple.

“What we do in a school is no substitute for what happens at home. That’s where family values come in — that’s where core values come in,” said teacher Amy Boungard who appears in a Mainers United for Marriage ad that counters the Protect Marriage Maine spot that features the Parkers. “No law is going to change the core values we teach here at home.”

A number of politicians, celebrities and other high-profile figures have either backed same-sex marriage referenda in Maine, Minnesota and Washington or opposed a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban nuptials for gays and lesbians in Minnesota.

President Obama on Oct. 26 issued statements in support of the three same-sex marriage ballot measures and against Minnesota’s proposed state constitutional amendment.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg earlier this month donated $500,000 to the Maine, Minnesota and Washington same-sex marriage campaigns. The Johns Hopkins University graduate on Oct. 12 gave $250,000 to Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the group defending Question 6.

Actor Brad Pitt on Wednesday announced he will donate $100,000 to the Human Rights Campaign’s National Marriage Fund that supports the four statewide campaigns — HRC will have invested $5 million in these ballot measures by Election Day. Bill and Melinda Gates on Oct. 23 made a $500,000 donation to Washington United for Marriage, the group supporting the referendum on the state’s same-sex marriage law Gov. Chris Gregoire signed in February.

“These amazing gifts, from two visionary leaders, demonstrate their confidence in our campaign, which families across Washington State are counting on us to win,” said Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, who also applauded Bloomberg. “They join tens of thousands of individual donors and their call to action, coming as it does in these final days, is an inspiration to every supporter of the freedom to marry.”

Vikings punter Chris Kluwe joined U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and hundreds of others at a Minneapolis rally on Oct. 29 against Minnesota’s proposed ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

Minnesotans United for All Families reported on Oct. 30 it has raised more than $3 million in cash and in-kind contributions since September.

A Star-Tribune Minnesota Poll published on Oct. 28 found 48 percent of likely voters support the proposed amendment, compared to 47 percent who oppose it. Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Marriage, conceded to the Washington Blade he expects the election results to be close. He stressed, however, he remains confident state voters will reject the proposed amendment.

“It’s an incredible force right now and we’re really proud of Minnesota standing up and uniting behind this idea that we can fight back this amendment,” he said, referring to the group’s latest campaign finance report that indicates 63,000 people have contributed to Minnesotans United for All Families. Carlbom said the campaign also has 10,000 volunteers who will work with potential voters in the days leading up to Election Day. “We know every vote will count.”

McTighe was quick to point out he does not want to become overconfident going into Election Day. He remains cautiously optimistic, however, about his group’s prospects in Maine and other same-sex marriage campaigns across the country.

“We’ve never won one of these ballot measures,” said McTighe. “I feel as good as I can possibly feel.”

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A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Michael Bloomberg donated $250,000 to Marylanders for Marriage Equality. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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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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