News Briefing: Jan. 15- 21, 2016

News Briefing: Jan. 15- 21, 2016

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Instagram campaign to help LGBT asylum seekers

AsylumConnect, an online catalogue of resources for LGBT asylum seekers coming to the United States, is running an awareness campaign this month on Instagram with the hashtag #ShadowsSpeakUp.


During the two-week campaign that runs through Jan. 29, AsylumConnect asks people to post a picture of their shadow on the photo-sharing app. The caption should include a description of why people should care about those who must flee their countries to avoid persecution for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

There are about 300,000 LGBT asylum seekers in the world, according to Sayid Abdullaev, co-founder of AsylumConnect.

“The shadows concept recognizes that even when they reach the U.S., it is unfortunately still dangerous for many LGBTQ asylum seekers to disclose their identities,” Katie Sgarro, AsylumConnect co-founder, said in a statement. “The shadows concept allows for asylum seekers to participate fully in the campaign and to be heard without compromising their confidentiality.”

An upgraded AsylumConnect catalogue with new search functions and improved visuals will launch for the Seattle area in mid-February.

For more information, visit People can follow the awareness campaign @asylumconnect on Instagram.

PGN to cover Creating Change in Chicago

PGN will attend the Creating Change Conference, hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force, this month in Chicago.

The conference takes place Jan. 20-24 and includes panels covering racial justice, black feminism, the state of the LGBT movement and HIV/AIDS.

Reporter Paige Cooperstein will be at the conference providing daily updates on Twitter @paige_coop, on Instagram @phillygaynews and online at

Feel free to contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. both before and during the conference to let her know what information you’re interested in. Also get in touch if you plan to attend the conference and would like to meet in Chicago.

For more information, visit

Lib City hosts forum on public safety

The annual meeting of the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club will include a community forum on public safety, with four speakers from Philadelphia law enforcement.

The event takes place 6-9 p.m. Jan. 20 at William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St. Pizza will be served. It’s free to attend.

The regular meeting will include election of members to the Liberty City board of directors and announcements regarding the schedule of candidate nights and endorsement meetings. Board nominees include Marion Leary and Ali Perelman, who would be new members, and Angela Giampolo and Lauren Vidas, who would be returning members.

The forum on public safety will address violence against LGBT people in the city, specifically transgender people. Speakers include: Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams; Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, appointed this month by Mayor Jim Kenney; Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry, who prosecuted the high-profile gay-bashing case against Kathryn Knott, Philip Williams and Kevin Harrigan; and Special Advisor to the District Attorney Michael Weiss.

People can register to attend by visiting 

— Paige Cooperstein

Deadline extended in Milano case

Despite opposition from Bucks County prosecutors, a federal judge has granted a 30-day extension for Richard R. Laird to file a pleading supporting his request for a new trial in the Anthony Milano murder case.

Laird’s pleading was due Jan. 13. But this week, U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois extended the deadline

Laird’s attorneys said they’re very busy with other cases, and a 30-day extension was required so they could meet their ethical obligation of effectively representing their client.

But prosecutors noted the Milano case has dragged on for 28 years, yet Laird still hasn’t been executed.

“[Laird’s] counsel has repeatedly sought and been granted extensions of time to file petitions, memorandums, and briefs, all of which has created significant delay,” states a prosecutorial brief.

In 1987, Laird and Frank R. Chester escorted Milano from a Tullytown tavern and kidnapped him to a nearby wooded area, where his throat was hacked out with a box cutter.

Both men were sentenced to death by a Bucks County jury.

Laird received a second jury trial in 2007, and he was re-sentenced to death. He’s seeking a third trial, citing numerous errors during his retrial.

Laird, 52, and Chester, 47, remain on death row in state prisons. 

Voyeur seeks partial dismissal of suit

Voyeur seeks the partial dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Nicholas D. Forte, who was seriously injured outside the popular LGBT nightclub in 2013.

In a 19-page filing, Voyeur’s attorneys requested the dismissal of major portions of Forte’s suit alleging recklessness on the part of Voyeur, on the basis that the allegations weren’t pleaded with sufficient specificity.

Additionally, the Dec. 23 filing maintains that Voyeur shouldn’t be held liable for any punitive damages stemming from the incident.

Around 2 a.m. Nov. 10, 2013, Forte was assaulted by Miguel Maldonado and Matthew Morris outside Voyeur, located at 1221 St. James St. in Center City. 

Maldonado worked at Voyeur at the time of the incident. Both men are currently incarcerated in state prisons.

Forte’s injuries include a broken eye socket, a broken nose, a broken rib and multiple facial fractures.

As of presstime, Common Pleas Judge John M. Younge hadn’t issued a ruling on Voyeur’s request.

Deadline set in Shephard case 

Delaware County prosecutors have until Feb. 22 to reply to William F. Smithson’s appeal for a new trial in the Jason Shephard murder case.

The deadline was set last week by U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lloret, who is handling the matter.

Smithson is convicted of strangling to death Shephard in 2006 inside Smithson’s home. The two men were coworkers. But Smithson maintains his innocence, and claims authorities didn’t adequately investigate F. Bruce Covington, who was also inside Smithson’s home when Shephard died.

According to Lloret’s order, Delaware County officials must provide copies of all records pertaining to the case, including notes of testimony, petitions, pleadings, briefs and judicial opinions.

Delaware County Assistant District Attorney William R. Toal 3d declined to comment for this update, noting that he hadn’t seen Lloret’s order. 

Smithson, 50, remains incarcerated at a state prison in Huntingdon.

— Timothy Cwiek

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