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Second gay couple alleges discrimination at Colombia airport

Spouses separated by American Airlines staff

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César Zapata, Hunter Carter, gay news, Washington Blade
César Zapata, Hunter Carter, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, César Zapata and Hunter Carter. (Photo courtesy of César Zapata)

A prominent same-sex marriage advocate and his husband are the second gay couple in less than a month to accuse American Airlines personnel at a Colombian airport of wrongfully separating them before boarding a flight to the U.S.

Hunter Carter, who represents three Chilean couples in a same-sex marriage lawsuit before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and spearheads other efforts in support of gay nuptials throughout Latin America, and César Zapata told the Washington Blade on Monday an American Airlines ticket agent at the airport in the Colombian city of Medellín, where the couple has a home, asked them why they were traveling together as they tried to check in to their Miami-bound flight on Jan. 18. The men, who married in Connecticut in 2008 and again in New York in 2012, said they told the agent they were “a family traveling together.”

“She had this look on her face,” Carter told the Blade from New York. “She looked over to the manager and she said, ‘well I need to speak to the manager.’ We sort of knew something was funny.”

Carter said the manager whom he identified as Héctor Carmona told them they needed to separate because airline policy states only “male-female couples can be treated as legally married” and can go through pre-flight security screenings together. Carter told the Blade that American Airlines had never treated him and Zapata separately.

“We buy tickets together; we travel together,” said Carter.

Carter told the Blade that Carmona said to “do what you have to do” when he said he was going to file a complaint. Carter said Carmona then told Zapata to stand back.

“By now everybody was watching,” said Carter. “That was humiliating.”

Carter told the Blade he was given a luggage tag on which to write Carmona’s name.

He said Carmona approached him “intimidatingly close to me, face-to-face” after he took his picture and said he needed his permission to take it. Carter posted it to his Twitter page with a caption that read “Carmona separated us like strangers. Only MF=married. Homophobe or AA policy?” before he and Zapata flew to Miami.

“I said, ‘no, in fact I do not,’” Carter told the Blade as he recalled the exchange he said he had with Carmona. “This is a public place and you just humiliated me and I’m taking the picture for proof.”

Héctor Carmona, American Airlines, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

Hunter Carter and César Zapata say Héctor Carmona, an American Airlines manager at the Medellín, Colombia, airport, unfairly separated them during a pre-flight security screening before boarding their flight to Miami on Jan. 18. (Photo by Hunter Carter)

The alleged incident took place less than five weeks after Ana Elisa Leiderman said an American Airlines ticket agent at the Medellín airport separated her from her wife, Verónica Botero, and their two small children as they tried to check in to their Miami-bound flight.

An American Airlines spokesperson told the Blade the company regrets “the circumstances” that Leiderman, Botero and their family faced before their Dec. 13 flight to the U.S.

The spokesperson said airport personnel in Medellín “followed existing security screening rules mandated” by the Transportation Security Administration.”

American Airlines stressed to the Blade it had “flagged for TSA” prior to the incident with Leiderman and Botero that “same-sex and opposite sex married couples faced different screening procedures.” The spokesperson added the company has recommended that TSA officials “revisit and update the process so that all married couples can be treated equally in the future.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees TSA, told the Blade it does not conduct airport security screenings outside the United States.

The two alleged incidents took place against the ongoing debate over marriage rights for same-sex couples in Colombia.

The country’s highest court in 2011 ruled lawmakers had two years to extend the same benefits to same-sex couples that heterosexuals receive through marriage. The deadline passed last June amid lingering confusion as to whether gays and lesbians could actually tie the knot in the South American country because the ruling did not explicitly contain the word “marriage.”

Colombian Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado has spearheaded efforts to challenge the handful of same-sex marriages that have taken place in the country since last July.

“The procurador (general inspector in Colombian Spanish) has become… for a certain segment of the population, a kind of hero,” Zapata told the Blade as he discussed the way he said Carmona treated him and Hunter. “I guess this guy felt like he was some kind of procurador trying to defend the morals of the country.”

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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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