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5 takeaways from Election Day

Obama’s marriage support was a good political move and other observations

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HRC, Human Rights Campaign, election 2012, Washington Blade, gay news
election 2012, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the community celebrated President Obama’s reelection at the Human Rights Campaign election watch party at Eatonville on 14th Street. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Hailed as a watershed moment for the LGBT movement, Election Day yielded several milestones that political observers say will have a profound impact on the advancement of LGBT rights and marriage equality going forward.

Here are five takeaways from an evening that saw wins for marriage equality at the ballot and the election for the first time of an openly gay U.S. Senate candidate — not to mention the re-election of a U.S. president who endorsed marriage equality.

1. The sky’s the limit for gay candidates seeking political office

Lesbian U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin made history when she became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate in a highly contested race against former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. She’ll be part of a record number of as many as seven openly gay, lesbian and bisexual candidates elected to Congress and 121 candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund elected to various offices throughout the country.

Baldwin’s sexual orientation was virtually a non-issue during the campaign. The only time it came up was when Brian Nemoir, a Thompson campaign official, circulated a video of her dancing at a gay Pride festival and told media outlets, “Clearly, there’s no one better positioned to talk ‘heartland values’ than Tammy.” The incident resulted in negative press for Thompson, who apologized for his aide’s action.

The glass ceiling broken by Baldwin could be a hopeful sign for other LGBT officials seeking office — such as lesbian New York City Council Chair Christine Quinn, who’s likely to run for mayor of the nation’s largest city in 2013 — that sexual orientation needn’t be a factor even when pursuing the highest offices in the nation.

Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a political scientist at the City University of New York, said Baldwin’s election “was a remarkable achievement” as was the the election of additional openly gay people to the House.

“An LGBT candidate no longer has to worry about facing his or her sexual orientation in terms of it being an impediment in running for public office,” Pinello said. “Tammy Baldwin most clearly demonstrates that, her being elected the first openly gay or lesbian senator.”

Some barriers have yet to fall. Gay Republican Richard Tisei failed in his bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Rep. John Tierney from a House seat in Massachusetts, which means the LGBT contingent in Congress will be entirely Democratic and an openly gay non-incumbent Republican has yet to win election to Congress. No transgender candidate has won election to Congress, although Stacie Laughton, a Democrat, was elected in New Hampshire as the first openly transgender person to a state legislature in the country.

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, noted that 40 state legislatures will now have LGBT representation and said the priority for his organization over the next 10 years is to elect an openly LGBT person to each state throughout the country.

“That matters greatly at the state level; it matters greatly at the municipal level,” Dison said. “There are some states out there where there’s one out elected official, and that’s kind of a very tenuous position, and we want to make sure that we are building capacity — and that’s states that people don’t talk about very much: the Nebraskas and Kansas.”

2. Obama’s support of marriage equality was a good political move

At the time President Obama completed his 19-month “evolution” in May and announced his personal support for marriage rights for gay couples, many political observers feared a backlash against him at the polls.

Many predicted — as it turns out, correctly — that states once considered battlegrounds —Missouri, North Carolina and Indiana — would fall in the Republican column because of their large evangelical populations. Whether Obama would be able to make the difference in the Electoral College to reach 270 votes was unclear.

But the result was positive — most initially in terms of financing for the Obama campaign. According to an analysis from National Public Radio, donations to Obama nearly tripled in the immediate period after the announcement. The campaign took in nearly $9 million over three days, compared to $3.4 million in the three previous days. The Washington Blade reported anecdotally that while many major donors had already maxed out their contributions, Obama’s new support for marriage equality resulted in his supporters making more small donations to the campaign.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York advocate who pushed Obama to support same-sex marriage, said coming out for marriage equality helped Obama not only in terms of donations before the election, but energized LGBT voters to come to the polls.

“I think it excited Democrats and young voters and gay and lesbian voters,” Socarides said. “His margin of victory in the popular vote was less than his vote among gays and lesbians, so I think gays and lesbians turned out for him.”

Socarides pointed to exit polling showing gay voters made up 5 percent of the electorate and 77 percent of them voted for Obama — an increase from the 2008 election — as evidence the gay vote is significant and helped Obama claim victory.

The youth vote was also significant in the election. According to the early National Exit Poll conducted by Edison Research, Obama won 60 percent of the youth vote, compared to 36 percent for Romney. Voters from ages 18 to 29 represented 19 percent of the electorate, which is an increase of one percentage point from 2008.

Pinello said Obama’s support for marriage equality helped drive to the polls younger voters, who are generally more supportive of same-sex marriage.

“The Obama campaign used marriage equality as a means to target younger voters to turn out in greater numbers as has been the case in the past,” Pinello said. “I think that was probably fairly wise of the Obama campaign. I think they succeeded in strengthening and increasing the size of their base in doing so.”

3. LGBT support alone won’t save Republicans in moderate districts

Despite the apparent support that Obama won as a result of coming out for marriage equality, Republicans in office who were supportive of LGBT issues didn’t fare as well in the 2012 election.

In Massachusetts, Tisei was notable among those Republicans. Also of note is freshman Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, who lost to gay Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney; Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal even before the Pentagon report came out in favor of open service; and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who during her five terms in Congress voted against a Federal Marriage Amendment and in favor of ENDA and hate crimes legislation. U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon in Connecticut was also defeated; she supported Defense of Marriage Act repeal.

These Republicans were supported by gay GOP groups. The American Unity PAC, which was working to support pro-LGBT Republicans, notably spent a total of $420,000 in advertising to protect Bono Mack; $260,000 in Connecticut for McMahon; $540,000 in Biggert’s campaign; $530,000 in the Tisei race and $260,000 in ad buys on behalf of Hayworth. But each of these investments ended in losses.

Jeff Cook, senior adviser to the American Unity PAC, blamed the losses on the general poor showing by the Republican Party during the 2012 election and said the party as a whole needs to adapt to survive.

“It was a tough night for Republicans in most of the country,” Cook added. “The impact was particularly felt in moderate, swing districts where our party’s brand too often has limited our candidates’ appeal. It’s increasingly clear that there is a need to modernize the Republican Party, not only to win full inclusion for gay and lesbian Americans, but to ensure that the GOP can compete and win in the 21st century.”

Cook noted that Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), pro-LGBT Republicans who were also recipients of funds from the American Unity PAC, won re-election. These candidates weren’t in as highly contested races.

4. The national trend in favor of marriage equality is real

Four states yielded good news for supporters of same-sex marriage on Tuesday night: Maine approved a voter-initiated referendum legalizing same-sex marriage; voters in Maryland and Washington upheld same-sex marriage laws passed by the legislatures put up for referenda; and Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have restricted marriage to one man, one woman.

The wins were a remarkable turnaround after loses in years past, breaking a losing streak in 32 states where same-sex marriage lost at the ballot. Moreover, the wins also validate national polls showing a gradual rise in support for same-sex marriage, which has led to a bare majority supporting marriage rights for gay couples.

Lanae Erickson, a lesbian and director of social policy and politics for the moderate group Third Way, said the election demonstrated marriage equality is coming into the mainstream after having been a hot-button issue for many years.

“I think this election showed that marriage and LGBT issues are no longer going to be a divisive social issue in the way they have been in the past,” Erickson said. “It definitely shows that the losing season that we had is relegated to history and now we’re in a new season where we can win frequently if not most of the time, especially on marriage.”

The victories have spurred talk about which states will be next to legalize same-sex marriage as Illinois and Minnesota are in position to take action in 2013. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has said he would favor allowing a referendum on same-sex marriage, but LGBT advocates in the state have dismissed that option.

Pinello warned that the marriage equality side won by a slim margin in these states — in Washington State, for example, the marriage law was approved by 52 percent as votes continued to trickle in — and said LGBT advocates shouldn’t attempt to place the issue on the ballot in a year other than a presidential election when the youth and progressive turnout isn’t high.

“If activists were to decide then to try it again in other states like Oregon, for example, in 2014, an off-year election, I think it might be a mistake because, again, the part of the population who are LGBT friendly tend not to turn out as much in off-year elections,” Pinello said.

5. The influence of anti-gay groups is waning

The Election Day results were a disaster for social conservative groups trying to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage and elect Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The day after the election, the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown issued a statement saying the American public still favors marriage between one man, one woman, but his organization was up against “a huge financial advantage” from marriage equality supporters.

In an email message to supporters on Wednesday, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins dismissed the results at the ballot, saying, “And while homosexuals may be celebrating an end to our movement’s perfect record, they still have a long way to go to match the 32 states where Americans voted overwhelmingly to protect the union of a man and woman.”

Erickson said although NOM is a one-issue group and unlikely to change its tune even in the wake of its losses, social conservative groups may seek to veer away from demonizing LGBT people.

“I think a lot of the other social conservative groups will turn their attention toward other issues because they realize that the momentum on this one just is not in their favor,” Erickson said. “They’re pushing a lot, for example, to say, ‘Yeah, younger people are trending better on LGBT issues, but they’re more pro-life than their older counterparts and we can still get them on immigration and we can still get them on abortion.”

One question is whether heads will roll at these organizations as a result of their failures on Election Day. Will Brown and Perkins be forced to step down? The Huffington Post reported on Wednesday that a Republican operative said billionaire donors who contributed to the Republican Party are “livid” about the election results. Similar heat may be coming down on social conservative groups.

Pinello said conservative organizations will likely have more difficulty finding funds as donations dry up in the wake of their defeats.

“I think their momentum has been taken away; they’ve been deflated,” Pinello said. “They’re no longer guaranteed a win, so, donors, I think would be much more circumspect about whether this is the best place to put their money.”

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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 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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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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