Anger & Disappointment: Statements From People Who Attended the Meeting with Turahn Jenkins

The compiled public statements from multiple LGBTQ folks and allies who attended the meeting Friday afternoon with candidate for District Attorney Turahn Jenkins. You can read my summary of the meeting in this post. Here I am simply signal boosting the words of the individuals who were part of the meeting. I do not have a list of who attended so there was no way for me to ask each individual to share their statement. I will update upon request.

Everyone listed below agreed to my sharing of their comments in collective form. This is not about whom we believe; it is about a robust description of a critical moment in local progressive politics. Some were there in person, others on the phone. Some arrived early, some left early. I hope together these eight statements help you better understand what transpired in this meeting and the impact is has on the LGBTQ community.

You can read a post-meeting statement from Jenkins here.

Please note that all of these people are speaking on their own behalf and not on behalf of any organization or group they are affiliated with unless otherwise explicitly stated by the individual. They are Ciora Thomas, Maria Montano, Jodi Hirsh, Morgan Hawkins, Jessica Semler, Mac Booker, Jessica Benham and Anonymous.

I started with the statement from Ciora Thomas who was the first person to speak publicly. The others are in no particular order.

When you decide to run for any office you should know before hand about the LGBTQ Community. Don’t wanna be taught after you offend our lives so you can only learn what to say and not to say and still be a bigot on the inside!!!

Like I’m legit pissed!!! Maybe the LGBIA communities can turn a blind eye and wanna help however babbbbbyyyyyyyyyyyy trans people ESPECIALLY trans poc will be affected the most as complicit ass bias and forgiveness rains supreme because yaw want Zappala out so bad!! Without actually considering REAL intersectionality!!

How about not putting our lives at risk at the same time! The church ain’t never did shit for us but force us to be what they wanted!!

How about actually training, endorsing and supporting candidates who actually believe in intersectionality. Just because Turahn Jenkins is a black cis man doesn’t mean he has all our best interest.

Foh
#BlackTransLivesMatterPGH

Ciora Thomas


When the information about Turahn Jenkins’ violent, hateful church first surfaced early last week, I immediately reached out to his team and was told that he was “unequivocal” in his support for the LGBTQIA+ community. Later that same day, I was invited to attend this meeting. In the context of taking his supporters at their word, I thought this was a good opportunity to help provide Jenkins the space to clarify his support for those of us who understand how deeply important it is to oust Zappala, but could never support a trans- or homophobic candidate.

I said yes to the meeting, but qualified that I wanted to extend the invite to many others, especially QTPOC, as they are the most vulnerable community, especially as it relates to the D.A. As such, I invited many others to this meeting, including Maria.

Instead, Maria and Ciora and so many other vulnerable members of the community were subjected to two hours of trauma. Jenkins did not denounce the views of his church. Far from it. He took on a defensive physical posture, head down, minimal eye contact, and vacillated between claiming ignorance about the views of the place he donates time and money to and sends his 6 and 8-year-olds for bible study, and admitting that yes, he knew, but he never thought anything of it. My guess is he truly didn’t understand why any of this conversation needed to happen. He has never critically analyzed the words of his pastor, or the harm his church and those like it inflict. That the man vying to be the arbiter of justice for the county did not think that hearing screeds against an entire community–hell, sending his children to a church to hear screeds against an entire community–was a problem is abhorrent. I do not understand how we got here.

I am profoundly disappointed in the allies who suggested and/or supported Jenkins’ decision to run. I trusted their commitment to social justice. I trusted their political savvy and professionalism. I trusted their commitment to equity and inclusion. I believed that surely there had been some mistake. Surely they had considered the community–especially the QTPOC community–enough to vet a candidate’s position on basic issues of deserving to be alive before standing with him.

What happened in that meeting was incredibly harmful and even re-traumatizing for many of the attendants, and for the larger LGBTQ community. I feel personally responsible for asking people to be in that room and contributing to yet another moment in their lives where their worth was diminished. Where their lifelong battle for acceptance and love was openly dismissed. I unwittingly participated in harming my own community. I acknowledge and apologize for my part in that. And I hope and expect the same from those involved with his candidacy.

The best option for Jenkins now is to drop out of the race immediately so that we have the chance to support a candidate who centers racial justice but understands that our fight for justice is intersectional. We have come so far in these last months, as a community and as a movement. I hope Jenkins will do the right thing so that we can all begin to heal, and continue to move toward the justice all marginalized communities deserve, now more than ever.

Jodi Hirsh


Tonight I was asked to meet with new D.A. candidate, Turahn Jenkins, to talk about his stance on LGBTQIA+ issues after some disturbing revelations regarding his active participation in a church that is extremely homophobic.

When asked if he believed that being gay/trans was a sin he said yes and compared it to adultery.

This is not ok and is unacceptable from anyone seeking my support and the support of the LGBTQIA community. The people responsible for my abuse and torture in college would lay in bed at night reading their bible telling me that being gay was a sin. They learned these beliefs in churches like Turahn’s and used it to dehumanize me and abuse me.

When asked if he had spoken to his pastor and the leaders of his church about their views and practices in how they treat LGBTQIA members of society he replied saying that because he hadn’t personally heard them say it he hadn’t mentioned it to them.

We can not trust a man to tackle systemic oppression and stand up to the powers in government that hold people back if he can’t even stand up to people in his church that wish my community harm.

We need a change in the DA’s office. We need someone who will stand up and demand justice for all of us. But I can not support a candidate who believes a thing I can not change about myself is a sin.

Maria Montano


When invited to attend a meeting with area LGBTQ+ leadership and Turahn Jenkins, I had fully hoped we would hear that he didn’t know his church’s history of anti-gay bigotry, or that he was working to change it, or that he would leave now that he knew…just SOMETHING showing that he was the progressive leader we wanted him to be. Sadly all of us in the room were disappointed at best, traumatized at worst.

It’s true I do not know Mr. Jenkins personally, I don’t know his heart, but I know that he told us rather matter-of-factly that our queerness is a sin. I know that while Mr. Jenkins claims he will stand for the LGBTQ+ community, he has not yet in his professional career or personal life been moved to take demonstrable action as an ally of our community and that is of primary concern to me as a voter. If he isn’t willing to stand up for his proclaimed values with his choice of church, or within the church he has chosen, how are we to trust that he will stand up for his proclaimed values in the office of the District Attorney?Yes, he is entitled to his personal beliefs; however, when he wishes to represent us as an elected official, we are entitled as voters to decide whether those beliefs, which would come into play as he guides his office, are representative of the way we wish to serve justice in our county.
When asked in our meeting how he would treat LGBTQ+ citizens who came in contact with his office, he responded that he would treat them like anyone else. However, true intersectionality does not call for everyone to be treated as if they are the same. On the contrary, it calls us to seek to understand how our differences have informed our paths in life. It is only through this kind of intentional process that we can seek true justice. We need a District Attorney who deeply understands this and has a track record of living this principle.

As a woman of color I ache for justice for my community. Trans and queer people are part of our community too. And we face unique challenges within our community and in this justice system at large. We have a momentous opportunity here for change and we cannot afford to fall short. It would be categorically unfair to ask or expect the LGBTQ+ community to fall back, to simply take his word for it when so much is at stake. The few protections we have, in addition to abortion, health care, immigration, and other human rights, are being actively attacked and dismantled at the federal level; Pennsylvania, which already lacks protections for our community, is now a red state and we cannot yet be sure of the outcome of legislative and gubernatorial races that are forthcoming. It is vitally important at this moment that we ensure our progressive ideals and our human rights are protected at the local level. Surely the “best city to live in” can do better than lip service.

Morgan Hawkins


I have a lot of feelings about the meeting I attended last night with leaders of our LGBT community. It’s wild that in 2018 a group of folks took on the deep emotional labor and hurt to educate someone who said they believed homosexuality was a sin. It would have been completely reasonable for everyone to walk out (and cheers to Ciora who did) because it is painful to be expected to shoulder that hurt while also trying to educate, something no one should have to do.

I understand that not everyone is in the same space on their journey for unpacking their ingrained sexism/homophobia/racism/etc. People learn, and it can be an uncomfortable, scary, humbling and NECESSARY experience to remove that veil. I believe that could possibly happen in this case, but queer folk, particularly those most marginalized don’t have the luxury *nor should we ask them to* to hold their breath or give support so someone who believes their state of being is a sin, and is connected with an organization that actively espouses hate against LGBT people.

It’s a testament to how badly we want change that we try to teach people even as they’re actively hurting us. But we need and deserve more.

I have a lot of complicated feelings. I’m still processing.

I’m driving to Michigan to see the luminous Janelle Monae, and I can’t think of a better way to get rid of these icky feelings right now. 🌈 

Jessica Semler 


About this Turahn Jenkins meeting: I know why him saying that homosexuality is a sin (that is the wording he used) is the headline, and for good reason. But that wasn’t the end of the meeting. Ciora left then (and who can blame her?), and was the first one to post anything about it, but it went on for more than an hour after that. It did not get better. Jenkins repeatedly failed to basically comprehend that LGBTQIA people might have special concerns inside the criminal justice system, and the best he could manage was a “I would treat members of the community the same as anyone else.” As someone in the meeting pointed out (I was on the phone, so I couldn’t always tell who was talking), that sounds a hell of a lot like “all lives matter.” Also, at least from my point of view, it sounded like nothing more than a promise to respect the constitutional rights of people regardless of orientation/gender identity, etc. That is necessary, but obviously not sufficient.

Essentially, he showed no sign that he had ever considered the needs of gay or trans people, despite the fact that he said he had clients “in the community,” and I know that the PD’s office has made trans sensitivity in particular a focus.I don’t know if that meeting was supposed to be in any way confidential. Nobody really exactly said so. Obviously Ciora and others didn’t think so. Or, and this is what I am coming to, even if it was, some things have to be aired anyway.

I guess I am just writing because I thought it might be useful to have another perspective on what happened in that meeting. It seemed to me that he showed failures of knowledge, of empathy, and of moral courage when it comes to LGBTQIA people. And I don’t see how those things could possibly be remedied, although there were people at the meeting who seemed to want to try to accomplish that.

Mac Booker


As a queer disabled woman, I was incredibly hurt to hear Mr. Jenkins express his homophobic viewpoints. I had been excited at the possibility of his race, as I deeply desire to see a District Attorney candidate that values Black lives. However, as I have learned on my own journey, to truly value Black lives, we have to value queer and trans black lives as well.

Like Mr. Jenkins, I grew up in a conservative church, where I, too, was told that being gay was a sin – ‘love the sinner, hate the sin,’ was the common refrain. Yet, I long ago began the process of unlearning those harmful beliefs, while also attempting to move past the trauma that the church inflicted on me as a child, trauma brought back to me during the meeting with Mr. Jenkins. I have recently begun to attend a church that is open and affirming, where I am learning anew: that being a Christian does not necessarily involve being a bigot.

It is not the job of the LGBTQ+ community to educate candidates, as there are plenty of existing resources. Further, it is not the job of trans activists to educate cis people – cis folks, we need to take responsibility for educating our own. We should be also wary of any candidate willing to espouse changed beliefs or a changed church attendance in order to court our vote or support.  

Our progressive movement, and the relationships we’ve built within it, is too valuable for us to leave any one or any group behind. We must find a way to move forward together. I believe Mr. Jenkins, as a candidate, is a solution to a system unjust to people of color, a system which finds no justice for the murders of black boys, which unfairly charges black men. But, we must also find a solution to this same system that also mistreats sex workers, trans people, queer people, and disabled people, among many other marginalized groups, and I am not convinced that Mr. Jenkins is the candidate who will bring that change.

If the progressive revolution isn’t for all of us, then it isn’t for any of us.

Jessica Benham


I was glad to be a part of the meeting, doing a bit for our tribe(s). I’m not really important or involved in anything at the moment, so I felt humbled to be invited. Everyone had a position or group, and I’m really just a disabled old-school queer activist and political hand, sitting in the background and observing. Barely had any business being there at all! But I thought it was really special that our communities manifested a group to act an emergency fail-safe of sorts, to try to talk to Mr. Jenkins before his candidacy got out there and started running into problems with various communities — not just ours. It’s good to know we can muster that on demand still. I thought it was positive in this way.

Like Ciora Thomas, I also got upset at the meeting. I stepped out for a minute because these were pretty intense information and viewpoints we were trying to bring to his attention, as a D.A. candidate. I ended up staying, because I kept up hope that I would hear something from Mr. Jenkins that showed he would find a way to reach out and speak to our community, and then overcome some of the concerns that he may have moral and faith issues with us as human beings. At first, I felt like he was interested in talking with us and getting to know us — but, after he was questioned about his church and beliefs, he seemed to withdraw quite a bit. I took this as shock of sorts. I feel like he genuinely didn’t understand why we would have an issue with his church or whatever personal moral convictions he held about us — why we cared about it or how we thought it might affect him doing the D.A. job. I felt like he might have also been confused about why we took offense to our characterization of us and our lives as those of sin or sinful. I can’t speak for him on these things for sure, though; he’ll have to do that himself. I really hope he does. 

But, separate from that, there were questions asked by many people — and I thought they were good and fair ones, that he could have answered or at least been prepared for. I felt like he didn’t. So, I can think Ciora Thomas’s stated viewpoint before walking out was completely valid (not that, as a cisgender white gay man, she needs me to back her up). But because, after having said what he really thought of us as individuals and a group, as a candidate seeking our support, to our face, no less — well, what were we there for? It’s a very, very good question. One that leaves me wondering whether he would speak to another group that he didn’t have underlying religious objections to in the same way, when seeking their support.

I will say that Mr. Jenkins was very gracious to sit for as long as he did, listening to us, considering how much people (rightfully) responded to him as offended or upset. He seems like a nice person. It is possible that the meeting was just a bad first meeting between a person and a community that don’t really know each other well yet — though, I’m more a bit skeptical now about that. At the meeting, I recall that there was a general list of “action items” that was pulled together that he might consider following up on with our community. Now I don’t know how that fits with the statement he released — it doesn’t seem to fit, to me — and leaves me wondering. So, I’d like to see what he does next.

I spoke with him afterwards, briefly, and thanked him — pointing out some of the additional issues of concern to me. He listened intently, to his credit; shook my hand and that was it. All-in-all, I came away from the meeting confused and disheartened — because I really want to support a new progressive candidate to become D.A. But I was left wondering if someone like me and people like us would truly have a welcome place in the coalition he needs to build to win — and that leads me to wonder about how the leadership and organization as D.A. might look like under him, in turn. So he doesn’t have my support and I don’t know how he could get it — but I wish him well. And I admire everyone who showed up to the the meeting as community members standing up and participating when needed.

— Anonymous


This post has been updated to reflect the final statement from Jessica Benham. I erroneously used an earlier statement released on her FB page. I apologize for the confusion.

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