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LGBT Catholics reflect on first year of Francis papacy

Despite moderation, church remains ‘natural enemy of LGBT movements’

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Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

LGBT Catholics continue to welcome Pope Francis’ more moderate approach to gays in the church since his election as pontiff last March.

Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke noted to the Washington Blade last week that Francis uses the word “gay” as opposed to “homosexual or same-sex attraction disorder or any of the sort of distancing and clinical kind of terms” his predecessors – Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II – used. She added the pontiff also raises LGBT-specific people “in conversation and in daily life.”

“There’s a tone of comfort and sort of acceptance of reality,” said Duddy-Burke. “It’s a small place, obviously, but it is a marked difference.”

Dignity Washington Treasurer Bob Miailovich told the Blade that Francis continues to focus more on the marginalized, even though official church doctrine has not changed.

“That’s kind of like we’re going to be more gentle,” said Miailovich. “The point is to remember we’re all included in God’s love, not walking around trying to find out what’s wrong with people.”

Francis last summer said during an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit magazine that the church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception. The Argentine-born pontiff less than two months earlier told reporters who asked him about the reported homosexuality of the man whom he appointed to oversee the Vatican bank during a flight back to Rome after attending World Youth Day in Brazil that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized.

Francis has yet to meet with LGBT Catholic organizations since his election, but Duddy-Burke pointed out the pontiff reached out to a young gay man who wrote to him.

The pope, who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, in 2001 visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 people with AIDS. Francis told La Civiltà Cattolica he used to receive letters from gay people who said they were “socially wounded” because they felt as though the church “has always condemned them.”

“The pope has really taken a giant step toward greater acceptance of LGBT people in the Catholic Church,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., told the Blade. “His non-judgmental example, his humble demeanor, his seeming willingness to listen – all these things have had a great influence on Catholic culture and sensibility.”

The College of Cardinals last March elected Francis to succeed Benedict who abruptly resigned in February 2013.

The LGBT Catholics with whom the Blade spoke all noted church teaching on homosexuality, marriage and other issues has not changed in spite of Francis’ more conciliatory tone.

Francis last July criticized what he described as the “gay lobby” during his press conference with reporters while returning to Rome from World Youth Day.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone on Feb. 19 wrote to U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage to indicate its support of his proposal that would amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay nuptials. The Vatican later this year is scheduled to hold what Duddy-Burke described as “this extraordinary synod” on strengthening the family.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child last month sharply criticized the Vatican over its opposition to homosexuality and other declarations that “contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against” LGBT adolescents and children raised by same-sex couples.” LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón in a March 13 statement that marked Francis’ first anniversary as pope noted he described the South American country’s same-sex marriage bill as a “demonic plan.”

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who signed the measure into law in 2010, sharply criticized then-Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio’s rhetoric that included calls for a “holy war” against it.

“A year after assuming the papacy, Bergoglio has demonstrated that, aside from the gestures and simulations, he continues maintaining a line of contempt and denial of rights toward lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people,” said Paulón. “He has not moved a single step of his conception, as clearly expressed during the debate over Argentina’s same-sex marriage law.”

Paulón further criticized Francis over the Vatican’s “complicit silence” over laws in more than 70 countries that criminalize homosexuality with prison time or even death – Duddy-Burke expressed a similar opinion to the Blade. Paulón also blasted the pontiff over what he described as the Vatican’s continued cover-up of priests accused of pedophilia.

“The Vatican has demonstrated that in reality, nothing has changed in spite of some ‘friendly’ and ‘conciliatory’ declarations,” he said.

LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade spoke earlier this month in the Dominican Republic largely echoed Paulón.

Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo last June referred to now-U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster as a “maricón” or “faggot” in Spanish during a press conference. Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Vatican’s envoy to the Caribbean country, earlier this year declined to invite Brewster’s husband to a diplomatic reception with Dominican President Danilo Medina because the country’s Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The event was cancelled after a number of ambassadors said they would not attend because Okolo did not invite Brewster’s husband.

“It is unfortunately a personal posture,” Stephanía Hernández, a trans woman who is a member of Gente Activa y Participativa, a Dominican LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade as she discussed López. “The declarations of Francis, the pope, have been very diplomatic and very sensible.”

“The church has a political agenda,” added Deivis Ventura of the Amigos Siempre Amigos Network of Volunteers. “The church is the natural enemy of LGBT movements around the world and here. Francis saying that he treats gays with compassion is not going to change this posture.”

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay Cuban blogger who writes under the pen name Paquito el de Cuba, told the Blade that advocates in the Communist country have also closely followed Francis during the first year of his papacy.

Rodríguez said he personally feels there have not been “substantial changes” in the church’s position on LGBT-specific issues since the Argentine-born pontiff’s election. He added the Catholic hierarchy’s “evolution” towards “the understanding of diversity” could have a positive impact on LGBT Cubans and efforts to extend additional rights to them in the Caribbean 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 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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