“I want Pennsylvania to be a safe, just, and more welcoming place for everyone. I want everyone to have an opportunity to thrive in our state.”
Gisele and I have been social media friends for several years, most typically coming together when there is a need that taps into our mutual social justice skills and resources. I’ve found her to be smart, thoughtful, compassionate, and transparent. She’s also a fierce ally to the LGBTQ community. And I am pleased by her gusto for her new role as Second Lady of Pennsylvania (SLOP, she says) especially as I have never before heard of any state Second Lady’s work. It is exciting to see what Gisele will bring to her role and to better understand the potential for spouses and partners to move through political worlds. I was very pleased that Gisele was able to complete a Q&A with me.
Your Name: Gisele Barreto Fetterman
Your Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Your role in the Administration: Second Lady of Pennsylvania
How do you describe your identity? Hugger, gentle, Immigrant.
I remember as I read about the election results, your sheer joy, wonder, and pride were palpable in statements like this “The undocumented little girl from Brazil is in the Senate Chamber about to be sworn in as Pennsylvania’s Second Lady.” Can you expand upon that sentiment for my readers? I lived as an undocumented immigrant for close to 15 years. My present and my future were uncertain and we feared every knock at the door. To now find myself in this role is truly emotional and I couldn’t be more grateful.
It’s a matter of autonomy and what we wear represents a part of our identity. Where something was purchased, what it cost and what inspired it are expected questions, but we have to stop telling people what to wear.
What are the duties and obligations of the SLOP? How much latitude do you have to pursue your own vision for Pennsylvania? There are no defined duties. I hope to continue the work I started as First Lady of Braddock but now with a wider audience. I approach it with lots of listening and finding ways to work to support the concerns shared with me. There are also many issues I am very passionate about and will continue to raise awareness to them.
What is your vision for Pennsylvania? I want Pennsylvania to be a safe, just, and more welcoming place for everyone. I want everyone to have an opportunity to thrive in our state.
Here in Pittsburgh, you are well known for your roles launching social service programs like the Free Store and 412-Food Rescue. Will you continue to be involved in those organizations? Is there new potential to replicate those models throughout the Commonwealth or replicate their values? I remain very involved in the day to day operations of Freestore 15104 and For Good PGH. With 412FR I am co-founder and Emeritus. Freestore has grown to several locations and the growth was always initiated by a community member. I hope to continue to expand into communities who believe these initiatives can support their needs.
What excites you the most about the next four years? Being able to reimagine what this role can mean and how it can impact the lives of Pennsylvanians. We just opened the State House pool to the public. This is the first time in the history of Pennsylvania that this has happened. Coordinating with groups to visit has come with overwhelming emotions. Some of the groups we are working with to visit and swim include: One of the first historically Black churches in PA. A group of Foster Parents and Foster Youth. A group of LGBTQIA and non-binary folks. Children of incarcerated parents. Teenagers in recovery. I am so honored to have them all come swim and feel welcomed and loved and embraced.
You and the Lt. Governor have unique style traditions that are often subject to media scrutiny, for different reasons. You have told reporters inquiring about your outfits that while you expect such questions, you won’t tolerate being policed. What sorts of questions do you think would be appropriate, useful, or simply interesting versus judgemental when it comes to fashion, style, appearance of public officials? Any time you enter the public eye, these inquiries will arise. It’s a matter of autonomy and what we wear represents a part of our identity. Where something was purchased, what it cost and what inspired it are expected questions, but we have to stop telling people what to wear.
I am also currently visiting every correctional facility in the state, and serving as Warden for a Day at each location, meeting with staff, inmates families.
There are lots of photos on Twitter of you with the Lt. Governor in which his head does not show, something that seems to be a running joke between the two of you. Please tell us about that. It’s been going on for a few years and I still giggle every time. John is very tall and when cropping for Instagram photos, I would lose my shoes if I left his head in there. The shoes won and they continue to win, every time.
— Gisele Barreto Fetterman (@giselefetterman) April 14, 2019
Have you met other Second Ladies from either previous administration in PA or from other states? Is there anyone to whom we should be paying attention for their work in this role? I haven’t had the opportunity to do so yet but I hope to seek them out and learn from them.
Can you imagine a future where we harness the energies, experiences, and talents of the first spouses and partners from all of the Pennsylvania municipalities to move our Commonwealth forward? What could that look like to you? That would be a great model if the partners were willing to join in the arena. Politics is difficult and mean and it’s definitely not for everyone. But yes, partners come with passion and experience and ideas I hope they share with the world too.
Please tell us about the first LGBTQ person whom you knew and what impact they had on your life? When I was 8, our neighbors directly across the hall at the apartment building we lived were two gay couples. My mom worked long hours cleaning houses and they became more like family. They watched over us, checked in on us regularly, made sure we had dinner and loved us like their own. They were much more than our neighbors and we loved them very much.
What is your love song to LGBTQ youth?
India Arie – I am light
What can we expect from you in the coming weeks and months? This summer I plan to be really busy making sure as many of our residents learn to swim as possible. I am also currently visiting every correctional facility in the state, and serving as Warden for a Day at each location, meeting with staff, inmates families. Working on several more projects still to come ☺
Where can my readers find you on social media?
Thank you, Gisele.
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