40 Ways Being Named to Pgh’s “40 Under 40” Impacted My Life

In 2004, I was among the honorees recognized for our contributions to the community via the 40 Under 40 awards sponsored by Pittsburgh Magazine and the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP)  I was 34 years old and working FT as a social worker with Family Services of Western Pennsylvania. I was involved with Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ Community Center as a board member and through several committees. I was one of three openly LGBTQ persons honored that year. I posed for my official portrait wearing jeans and holding a rainbow Kerry for President button.

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I have tried to determine if openly LGBTQ persons were honored in previous years, but I haven’t been able to do so yet. One of the current editors at Pittsburgh Magazine has promised me she would review the previous years articles to see if we can nail that down. There have been several folks since then, but not to my knowledge any openly trans or queer identified folks. Yet.

There are 3 more weeks to nominate for this year. In honor of my 10th anniversary, I put together a list. Note – this is lighthearted & not inclusive of all the awesome. And, yes, it is a brag list because I’ve had some incredibly great things happen, most of which started after this honor. But the point is to show that in the end, the awesome comes down to appreciating what matters the most in the world – the people who love you.

1. My brand new employer received free publicity because my job was listed in my profile. Always good to bring free, positive PR to an employer.

2. My grandmother learned that I was a lesbian by reading the magazine, shunned me for an hour and then came around when she realized there would be a fancy awards ceremony and I would probably wear a skirt.

3. I met Heather Arnet for the first time.

4. I threatened to boycott the event because the venue wasn’t handicapped accessible and one of the people who nominated me wouldn’t be able to attend. We figured out a compromise, they swore to always be accessible in the future and I felt good for putting my values ahead of a personal moment of glory. And I was totally going to picket the event with signage. Totally. Ledcat laughed that I might miss my award for being an advocate because I was advocating!

5. I met Yarone Zober for the first time. He was a fellow honoree. We never did have lunch.

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6. I found a suit to wear at a thrift store for $9.00, but told my grandmother that I bought it at Macy’s.

7. John McIntire invited me to make a guest appearance on his radio program to talk about Pittsburgh’s 40 Under 40, but that was really a guise to talk about LGBTQ issues.

8. McIntire used the term “Official Lesbian Correspondent” which I eventually used to title this blog.

9. I followed John to two other radio stations and had the chance to be one of the first openly lesbian Pittsburgher talking about politics in front of a huge audiences.

10. I met Chris Potter for the first time.

11. John hung up on me when I was yelling at Mary Cheney while she promoting her dud of a book.

12. I started blogging a year later. I was not the first LGBTQ blog in the region (that was Jason Cable.)

13.  I put my BA in Political Science to work channeling that aggressive political analysis into my assessment of pretty much everything.

14. I met Maria Lupinacci and David DeAngelo.

15. My 1991 internship with Rick Santorum became advocacy gold because I was a recognized young leader who had turned into a left-wing liberal. Bonus – if he does run in 2016, it will be the 25th anniversary of my internship.

My official internship photo from 1991, Capitol Hill.
My official internship photo from 1991, Capitol Hill.

16. My Santorum blogging led me to “Blog Active” where I met Mike Rogers.

17. In 2009, I helped organize an LGBTQ reception at the Warhol with Mike Rogers for the folks attending NetRoots Nation.

18. I met Franco Harris.

Franco Harris
Sue and Franco at the Warhol Museum

19. I organized some rallies. I thought Kevin Acklin was an undercover right wing spy but he was simply the best dressed ally at the event.

20. I received some other awards for blogging & social media which also helped me keep talking LGBTQ in front of new audiences.

If you’ve read this far and like it, please consider a donation to a cause that’s very important to me – launching a personal care pantry at Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ Community Center. There are a lot of folks in this region who don’t receive awards but their lives still matter simply because they are our neighbors. And they deserve our support.

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21. I met Eli Kuti.

22. Ledcat is so fetch.

23. I cofounded The Pittsburgh Women’s Blogging Society (now defunct)

Pittsburgh Women

24. I did a lot of “first” in terms of live blogging local things. I won’t list them all because that would be dull.

25. I “unfriended” Bill Peduto. We made up, but I’m not so sure where we are right now in our relationship. I think we’re on a break?

Sue Kerr Bill Peduto
Bill posed with me for a photo in April 2013.

26. I was invited to attend an LGBTQ blogger summit in DC in 2008. Ledcat went with me.

Sue Kerr
Ledcat and Me at the 2008 National LGBT Blogger and Citizen Journalist Initiative

27. I met Pam Spaulding and Autumn Sandeen.

28. I was invited to join The Bilerico Project as a contributing blogger and I was also accepted to The Huffington Post as a contributor. I joined BlogHer, too. None of these paid, but they did raise my exposure. Fortunately, I had a FT job. Sigh.

29. I joined a union – the National Writer’s Union.

30. I was published in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which would also please my grandmother but she wasn’t alive to see it. Nor would she have approved of the topic.

31. I joined Facebook in 2007 and Twitter in 2008 making me a relatively early adopter.

32. I have never had dinner or social plans with a single person in my “class” – I had one lunch with one person. So it didn’t really create much in the way of networking opportunities. That’s probably because I haven’t actually tried.

33. I nominated my friend Crystal Collins for the award and she was selected.

34. I met Trish Mifflin.

35. I worked with the Pirates on their “It Gets Better” video which was a deeply rewarding experience.

36. It might be fun to do a “where are they ten years later” feature from “my class.”

37. I have no idea where my actual award or the Nov 2004 issue of Pittsburgh Magazine ended up. Probably my mum’s buffet.

38. I sometimes wonder if they’ll run out of nominees.

39. I have never played the “but I was a 40 under 40” card to get out of a jam. Or a ticket. I do list on all my bios.

40. Ledcat was there that night and she still is. And that’s the best honor I’ve ever received.

The thing is – if you want to see more diversity in these awards, you have to nominate people. And as I’ve illustrated, this can open the door to all sorts of other opportunities to advocate and have an impact. Sometimes I’d like to go back to that time when the whole world was before me. Maybe just for a visit? 🙂

To be honest, I don’t remember anything about the award ceremony itself. We had to walk down a somewhat steep staircase and I was concentrating on not falling so I have no idea what was said or projected on the giant screen. I just congratulated myself for not falling and went to find a seat.

I guess that pretty much sums it up.

Sue Kerr
Looking expectantly at the next ten years of my life …
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