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Despite apology, LGBT concerns persist over Hagel

Advocates seek plan on partner benefits for gay troops, openly trans service

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New LGBT concerns are emerging over the potential nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary (public domain photo by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones)

New LGBT concerns are emerging over the potential nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary (public domain photo by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones)

Concerns are emerging in some circles of the LGBT community — now most notably from gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) — over the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, despite the apology he issued days ago regarding anti-gay remarks made in 1998.

A handful of advocates who spoke to the Washington Blade are seeking more details over how Hagel would address remaining issues for LGBT service members — such as additional partner benefits for gay troops and the implementation of openly transgender service — beyond what was offered in the statement in which Hagel apologized and said he would be “committed to LGBT military families.”

Richard Socarides, a gay New York-based Democratic advocate, is among those saying Hagel should lay out more specific plan for addressing outstanding LGBT issues at the Pentagon.

“I think that if he is nominated as Defense Secretary, before we as a community agreed to support him, as some groups have already done, it would be important to hear from him what his plan is on implementing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal and on issues like transgender service,” Socarides said. “These kinds of questions would be appropriate for any defense secretary nominee, but they would be particularly appropriate were the nominee Sen. Hagel, who because of his comments would have some convincing to do.”

Hagel is having his name floated for the role at a time when LGBT rights supporters are pushing the Pentagon to grant additional partner benefits to gay service members — such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing — through administrative changes as well as the implementation of open service by transgender people. Since the time “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011, the Pentagon has said that it was looking into the benefits issue, but no action so far has been taken.

Jim Burroway, editor of Tucson, Ariz., based blog Box Turtle Bulletin, also said on Sunday the LGBT community should know more about Hagel’s evolution on these issues “before rushing to embrace him.”

“I do think there has been an unseemly rush to accept his apology, considering he apologized for being ‘insensitive’ but not quite for being wrong,” Burroway said. “A lot of other Republicans who changed their minds have found opportunities to articulate their new positions. I’m still waiting for Hagel to do the same.”

Prior to his apology, the concern over Hagel among LGBT advocates was largely over a 1998 quote attributed to him in the Omaha World-Herald where he called then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, Jim Hormel, “openly aggressively gay.”

On Dec. 14, Hagel issued an apology to media outlets saying the remarks were insensitive and he’s “fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.” At the time, LGBT groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and OutServe-SLDN accepted Hagel’s apology.

But Hagel also has an anti-gay record while serving in Congress. From 2001 to 2006, Hagel consistently scored a “0″ on the Human Rights Campaign’s scorecards. Hagel voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote on the measure in 2006.

On Monday, gay Rep. Barney Frank announced he was outright opposed to the Hagel nomination on the grounds that the former senator’s 1998 anti-gay remarks and his congressional record on LGBT issues demonstrated “aggressively bigoted opposition” and that Hagel “voted consistently against fairness for LGBT people.”

Speaking to the Blade, Frank said he waited to put out the statement on Monday because he had been on vacation during the previous week, but had been meaning to make known his opposition to the nomination for some time.

“It is important that gay liberals and Democrats not appear to be giving our side a pass,” Frank said. “There’s no doubt Obama’s been very good on LGBT issues. It’s also the case that I don’t think he knew of this statement. A lot of people didn’t; it came out later. But now that it’s out there, I think we have to hold firm. That really was an awful statement.”

Frank said he though the Hormel apology was “very unpersuasive” and he was “surprised” groups like HRC would have accepted the apology on the day it was issued.

“The fact that he would call Jim Hormel ‘aggressively gay’ seems to me an indication of the depth of his dislike of us,” Frank said. “If he said I was ‘aggressively gay,’ I would have said, “‘Well maybe.’ But HRC, I was surprised. I don’t know why they would do that.”

Socarides, an adviser to former President Clinton on LGBT issues at the time Hormel was seeking confirmation, also took issue with the apology and is skeptical of the regret Hagel intended to convey in his statement.

“He did not call Ambassador Hormel or even try to communicate directly with him by email or letter,” Socarides said. “The apology did not address in any specific way why he made the original comments. As I recall, it was fairly clear to us at the time that the Hagel statement was as a result of pressure on him by right-wing groups who were demanding that Republican Senators oppose the nomination. Had he provided some context in the apology it might have been more persuasive.”

Socarides added the apology was “clearly written by someone else, probably by a White House staffer” and “seemed contrived and lacked the kind of context it would need to connote genuine regret.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request to comment on whether it had a role in crafting the Hagel apology or to provide any assurances that the next secretary will address the outstanding issues for LGBT service members in the wake of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Over the weekend, President Obama addressed the potential nomination of Hagel during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying that nothing in Hagel’s record — including his anti-gay remarks — disqualify from the role of defense secretary and that his apology reflects “positive change” in the way the country sees LGBT issues.

“And I think it’s a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country,” the President said. “That’s something that I’m very proud to have led, and I think the anybody who’s serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues.”

The LGBT community itself is divided on Hagel as defense secretary. Opposition is largely coming from commentators — or in Frank’s case, a lawmaker who soon to leaves Congress — as most LGBT groups have accepted the apology from Hagel.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, is among those saying that the LGBT community shouldn’t view Hagel so harshly considering his apology.

“It was two years after Bill Clinton signed DOMA,” Keisling said. “We’ve forgiven Bill Clinton for something worse than name-calling. The point, largely, of the social justice movement is educating people, and then embracing them when they come over to your side.”

Asked whether LGBT groups should demand a commitment to openly transgender service in exchange for supporting the Hagel nomination, Keisling said those demands are underway and talks have already started at the Pentagon.

“I think we’d like that issue to get raised in confirmation hearings for whomever it is — whether it’s Chuck Hagel or somebody else,” Keisling said. “But the conversations are already starting over at the Pentagon and the next secretary of defense is going to have to be answering to that, regardless of who it is.”

John Aravosis, the gay editor of AMERICAblog often critical of HRC and the Obama administration, was also unprepared to criticize either entity over the Hagel apology or his potential nomination as defense secretary.

Aravosis was critical of the 1998 anti-gay remarks — saying they are along the lines of something the late anti-gay Sen. Jesse Helms would say — but added criticizing LGBT groups like HRC for accepting the apology is tough because what kind of commitments they’ve received offline is unknown.

“Maybe they got massive promises from Hagel directly, saying, ‘I promise I’m going to bend over backwards to work with you on the policy,'” Aravosis said. “Who knows? But that’s also part of the downside of having private conservation, is the rest of us look at it and say, ‘We have no idea why you changed your mind. We’re still uncomfortable.’ That’s the sort of the dynamic we’re in.”

The Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond to a request to comment on whether it had received any private promises in exchange for accepting the Hagel nomination or if they had a role in crafting the apology.

Frank said he thinks the opposition to Hagel is so strong now from both progressive and conservatives that the chances of Obama naming him to the post are nil.

But in the unlikely event Hagel was confirmed as Pentagon chief, Frank said he has no doubt Hagel would implement pro-LGBT policy change if ordered to do so by the White House.

“I believe that he will do whatever the president tells him,” Frank said. “I’m pretty sure if he were appointed, which I don’t think he’s going to be, he would be directed to do the right thing.”

Other high-profile opposition to Hagel has come from Hormel himself, who initially questioned the sincerity of the apology in interviews with the Washington Post and the Blade. However, the former ambassador  appeared to reverse himself in a Facebook posting hours later.

Also noteworthy was a full-page ad in the New York Times taken out by the gay Republican group Log Cabin Republicans in opposition to Hagel on the basis of his anti-gay remarks and his earlier stated views on Israel and Iran. Outgoing Log Cabin executive director, R. Clarke Cooper has said they were paid for by Log Cabin members, but has declined to state how much the ad cost or identify these donors.

Socarides was careful to distance his concern about the Hagel nomination from the outright opposition that Log Cabin expressed in its full-page advertisement.

“I would not automatically oppose him, like the Log Cabin Group seems to have done, and certainly would not endorse using someone else’s money to run an advertisement against him based on his foreign policy view,” Socarides said.

Frank said he was unaware Log Cabin put out an advertisement and utterly rejected the notion his opposition against Hagel was along the same lines as the gay GOP group.

“I was hoping I could to talk to you about substance and not stupid things,” Frank responded to the Blade. “I mean, you sound like Joe McCarthy, saying ‘You’re siding with the Communists.’ I didn’t know that Log Cabin had taken that ad until I wrote my statement. … Do you ever write about substance and never about a lot of political bullshit? Why did I do it? Because I don’t think the man should be secretary of defense. I was on vacation, came back and wrote my statement.”

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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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