Q&A With John Fetterman, Candidate for US Senate

Via John Fetterman campaign

I learned a great deal from the tour, and it helped build my understanding and knowledge of how a legal recreational marijuana system, which I have long strongly supported, could work in Pennsylvania. And some of what I heard on that tour helped change my opinion on a few issues relating to legal weed. 

Lt. Governor and candidate for US Senate, John Fetterman

This is the next post of our 2022 primary election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth

By participating, candidates are saying that they

  • must be an LGBTQIA+ ally
  • identify as pro-choice
  • must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that you accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results

I have never met John Fetterman in person and I’m pretty sure I’ve never met Gisele Fetterman, although we correspond and occasionally collaborate around various community issues. As a Mon Valley kid who grew up in West Mifflin, just across the river from Braddock, I admit I was skeptical of his sincerity. I thought he was a trust fund Ivy League white guy with a savior complex. I had grown up with and worked with white guys who wore shorts year round as an affected indicator of their rebellious attitudes. I thought I knew his type.

I was wrong. I was wrong to be so judgmental, to make multiple assumptions, and to lump John in with these other boys/men that I had encountered who were decidedly not feminists nor good guys. John is a good guy. He’s a flawed human being who defies convention by not hiding his flaws. He’s more humble than I anticipated and, perhaps most importantly, he listens to people. His statewide tour during his first months in office as Lt. Governor really gave me pause – he was going to listen intentionally to everyday Pennsylvanians in every part of the Commonwealth. I’m unsure I’ve ever been aware of any elected official doing something like that, certainly none that left such a vision planted in my brain.

I am not making an endorsement in this specific project, but if I’m going to benefit from the time the candidates take to answer my questions – I should hold myself to the same standard and take the time to admit that I was wrong. The issue in this race seems to be focused on who can beat a Republican challenger for a seat held by a retiring Republican. Maybe we need to focus on asking who can do the job better, not just win the election. I deliberately set out to solicit responses from candidates for federal office, including this Senate seat and the regional Congressional offices. Jerry Dickinson was the first Congressional candidate to respond and John Fetterman is the first candidate for Senate to respond. He didn’t need to do this interview, but he did and relatively quickly. I hope we hear from the others and I have a chance to rethink my assumptions about them as well.

I hope you’ll read this lengthy, thorough interview that dives into some important LGBTQ issues.

Name: John Fetterman 

Pronouns: He/Him/His 

Office Seeking: U.S. Senate 

How do you describe your identity?  Straight male and ally 

Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about? One of my favorite hidden gems in Pennsylvania is the Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County. It’s located within the Allegheny National Forest and I cannot really describe its beauty. 

Every time I’m in the area, my wife Gisele and I always make sure to stop by. We love to spend time in the park and walk around, especially in the fall when the leaves are in season. I urge everyone else to go visit! 

Tell us about the first LGBTQIA+ person you knew and what impact they had on your life  While not the first LGBTQ+ people I knew, one couple holds a special place in my heart because of the circumstances around the event. In 2013, I officiated a marriage for Bill Gray and John Kandray in my unfinished loft apartment, spontaneously, with only hours to prepare. 

I was one of few people in Pennsylvania – and literally the only elected official in the state – who would ignore the state law and officiate same-sex weddings. Bill and John had driven across Pennsylvania to Montgomery County, where a clerk was willing to sign same-sex marriage licenses, and back. They didn’t want to wait until the weekend, and I couldn’t blame them. They had been waiting for this moment for over a decade. So we held the ceremony on a Monday night right after work. 

I put on my finest cargo shorts and black Dickies work shirt, picked up a rainbow cake from Costco, and we had ourselves a wedding surrounded by their family and friends. 

For anyone who was there that night or saw the wedding on the news, it was impossible not to see the joy on Bill and John’s faces and deny that their love was just as pure, just as valid as anyone else’s. The event had a profound impact on me, and it was such a special moment.

Expanding rights and protections for LGBTQ+ Americans is a no-brainer, because just like in 2013, I’m always going to do the right thing regardless of the political consequences. 

We must pass the Equality Act and codify protections for the LGBTQ+ community into law

John Fetterman

Please tell me about your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region.  In 2013, I was the first elected official in western Pennsylvania to start officiating same-sex marriages. Back then, I did this in defiance of Pennsylvania’s still standing same-sex marriage ban because I believed it was the right thing to do, despite the threat of legal sanction from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. 

As Lieutenant Governor, I have tried my best to use my office as a bully pulpit to fight for LGBTQ+ issues. During Pride month, I have regularly ordered the display of Pride flags from my balcony at the state capitol in Harrisburg along with the Trans Pride Flag during the Transgender Day of Remembrance. My display of these flags so incensed Republican lawmakers that they inserted a provision into the state budget, directly aimed at me, barring the display of these flags from the state capitol building. Despite the ban, I have continued, and will continue, to proudly fly these flags from my balcony because they are more than just pieces of cloth. They are a signal to the state and the whole country that we are still fighting for LGBTQ+ rights receiving full protection under law, and I won’t stop flying these flags until LGBTQ+ community receives that full protection. 

As Lieutenant Governor, I have also fought for state and local laws to prohibit anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, hosted a same-sex wedding when a wedding venue refused to do so, joined with lieutenant governors across the country to urge the lifting of restrictions on LGBTQ+ men from giving blood, and fought for equality for LGBTQ+ couples in the provision of adoption services. 

Unfortunately the LGBTQ+ community still faces discrimination in the workplace, in healthcare settings, when trying to obtain housing, and in the criminal justice system among other areas. The LGBTQ+ community has also become subject to alarming increases in violence, particularly against Black and Brown transgender women, as a result of lacking protection at the highest levels of government. From using my office as a bully pulpit to championing specific legislation to remedy these injustices, I have been proud to stand as an ally with communities

that are too often discriminated against and marginalized. 

Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the US Senate? How will you respond to those priorities?  We must eliminate the disadvantages that the LGBTQ+ community faces due to discrimination in the workplace, which lead to high levels of poverty, homelessness and food insecurity. I believe that we must provide very specific anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community, like those in the Equality Act. 

We need to pass the Equality Act to explicitly guarantee LGBTQ+ Americans are protected from discrimination; the BE HEARD Act to strengthen protections in the workplace for LGBTQ+ and others; and the Fair and Equal Housing Act to ensure the LGBTQ+ community is protected from discrimination in housing. 

Our campaign comprises more than a dozen people, including full finance, research, and political teams. More than half of the campaign team is made up of women and/or people of color, including multiple people of color as department directors. Both the campaign manager and deputy campaign manager are members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Our campaign team also includes immigrants and several formerly incarcerated individuals.

Are you absolutely committed to a fully inclusive Equality Act (including gender identity)? Would you vote for a version that focuses on sexual orientation and not gender identity? As a Senate candidate, I strongly support eliminating the filibuster to pass the Equality Act and enshrine legal protection for the LGBTQ+ community into law. 

The threats of ‘religious liberty’ laws and exemptions target both LGBTQ rights and women’s rights. Pennsylvania has no law protecting marriage equality, second-parent adoption, nondiscrimination, or similar important rights. If SCOTUS overturns or waters down Roe v Wade and the ‘penumbra of privacy’ protecting us, what do you anticipate happening in Pennsylvania? I believe in religious freedom and I believe in LGBTQ+ rights, but I do not believe in using religious freedom to grant legal hate and discrimination. Religious freedoms for the sake of being discriminatory is wrong and should never be permitted in this country. We must pass the Equality Act and codify protections for the LGBTQ+ community into law. 

Support for Roe v. Wade is a litmus test for my vote for any Supreme Court nominee. I believe that the right to an abortion is sacred, and if elected to the U.S. Senate I support eliminating the filibuster to pass a bill like the Women’s Health Protection Act that would codify Roe v. Wade into law. In addition, states like Pennsylvania and others across the country must work at a state level to defend and protect the right to an abortion. As the second in command to Governor Tom Wolf, who has always used his veto pen to protect abortion rights, I know that individual states can do their part to codify the right to an abortion. 

Philadelphia has had a disproportionate amount of trans fox, especially Black and Latinx trans women, fall victim to the campaign of terror in our nation. In the past year, Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania documented five homicides of BIPOC trans folks including teens. What will you do in the Senate to address this growing violence targeting the trans community? To protect transgender individuals from violence, we must provide professionals like first responders, teachers, hospital staff, and others with the tools they need to both recognize dangerous situations and properly and safely intervene. These trainings should also be accompanied by a list of programs that provide specialized services to transgender individuals and can be safe spaces in these situtations. 

We also need to fight back against the tragedy of homelessness in the trans community. Depending on the exact estimate, somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of the homeless youth population are gay or transgender. For adults, one in five transgender people are discriminated when seeking a home, and one in ten are evicted due to their gender identity. Funding must be targeted to programs that specifically address the homelessness crisis in the LGBTQ+ community, especially youth. We also need to ensure that laws like the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which prohibit discrimination in housing based on gender identiy, are adequately enforced. In addition, there are other specific issues that LGBTQ+ homeless youth deal with, such as housing, employment, transition support, healthcare, and other areas that we need to continue to fund as well. 

In addition, I would support legislation like the Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act, which would help further categorize certain crimes as hate crimes.

Your image sometimes suggests you don’t give a damn what people think about your choices/values/fashion, etc, but at the same time – you spend an inordinate amount of time actually listening to people, such as when you traveled to every Pennsylvania county after your election as Lt. Governor. Can you give an example of when talking with a typical Pennsylvania neighbor has opened your eyes or changed your mind versus simply reinforcing what you already believed? In 2019, I went on a listening tour of all 67 Pennsylvania counties to gauge whether Pennsylvania residents wanted to legalize recreational marijuana. My tour found that nearly 65 to 70 percent of attendees supported legalization, and its results are what pushed Gov. Wolf to support legalization. I learned a great deal from the tour, and it helped build my understanding and knowledge of how a legal recreational marijuana system, which I have long strongly supported, could work in Pennsylvania. And some of what I heard on that tour helped change my opinion on a few issues relating to legal weed. 

One thing I heard often from concerned parents was the dangerous marketing and presentation of edible forms of recreational marijuana. I’m all for edibles, and I think that they’ll be an important part of any legal marijuana system, including in Pennsylvania. But these concerns were very valid, and the parents made me rethink some of the regulations around edibles. 

A few parents brought up the ways children could dangerously confuse an edible for just a regular snack – if marketed and presented as a normal looking piece of candy, package of brownies, or bag of chips. This wasn’t a concern I was really thinking about until they brought it to my attention, I had never thought about it that way. And while it might seem like a trivial detail involved in creating a legal recreational marijuana system, it’s vitally important to prevent children from accessing edibles and avoiding confusion on whether these are just normal snacks, or edible forms of marijuana. 

While I’m still supportive of edibles generally, after talking to these parents, I would support any recreational marijuana legalization effort including additional regulations on how edibles are marketed and presented.

You are leading this primary in most polls. You are leading in fundraising. You have the highest exposure in the media. Are people truly afraid you can’t win against a Republican or are they perhaps more afraid of how your potential victory in this race will change Pennsylvania Democratic politics? Our campaign is building an unrivaled movement of grassroots supporters across Pennsylvania. We have almost 200,000 individual donors who support our campaign enough to open up their checkbooks and contribute to our cause. We have donors living in 88% of Pennsylvania zip codes, deep red and deep blue. We have over 5,500 volunteers committed across all 67 Pennsylvania counties, who are already knocking doors, sending texts, and making calls for our campaign. We’ve seen outstanding crowds at our events, from red Adams County to blue Montgomery County. This is a true grassroots campaign that can and will win in May and November. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that I’m the only candidate in this race – Democrat or Republican – who has already run and won statewide. 

It seems that people are attacking my campaign because the Washington insiders and big corporations are afraid of how I’d govern, because I’m not one of them. I don’t spend my time backslapping with lobbyists and doing the bidding of rich donors like other politicians do. They know if I win, they lose, and they won’t be able to control me or buy my vote. I’m actually going to go to Washington to work for the people of Pennsylvania, and that terrified the insiders and corporations. 

There’s a clear need to actively create space for women, especially Black women and other women of color, in elected office AND on campaign and legislative staffs. These are issues of representation and realities. Tell us about your teams.  Our campaign comprises more than a dozen people, including full finance, research, and political teams. More than half of the campaign team is made up of women and/or people of color, including multiple people of color as department directors. Both the campaign manager and deputy campaign manager are members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Our campaign team also includes immigrants and several formerly incarcerated individuals.

Voter turnout is a significant concern, especially for municipal/local elections. What advice would you offer to organizations and groups concerned with turnout in Pennsylvania? My campaign’s strategy is to reach the reachable in every single one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. I fundamentally believe that we can’t write off any place or person in a statewide race in Pennsylvania. We need to drive turnout in every single place in Pennsylvania, which will help candidates up and down the ballot. 

In addition to running a true 67 County campaign, we also need to accept the changes in organizing with new technology and remote tools. Joe Biden won in 2020, during a once-in-a-generation pandemic, due to a robust and effective digital organizing program that allowed for virtual participation. We need to rethink what organizing looks like and invest in digital organizing programs. 

How can supporters get involved with campaigns while practicing social distancing and other protocols? There are many ways to remotely volunteer and get involved in campaigns safely. Our campaign has a robust digital organizing effort that allows supporters to make calls, send texts, and Friend Bank from the comfort of their own home. Supporters can also amplify campaign social media content on their own social media platforms to reach more people in their networks.

It seems that people are attacking my campaign because the Washington insiders and big corporations are afraid of how I’d govern, because I’m not one of them. I don’t spend my time backslapping with lobbyists and doing the bidding of rich donors like other politicians do. They know if I win, they lose, and they won’t be able to control me or buy my vote. I’m actually going to go to Washington to work for the people of Pennsylvania, and that terrified the insiders and corporations. 

Tell us about your endorsements. 

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 

United Steelworkers District 10 

AFSCME District Council 47 (Philadelphia) 

Pennsylvania Postal Workers Union 

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws 

United Rural Democrats 

Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association 

No Dem Left Behind 

Philadelphia 30th Ward Democrats 

Douglas Hearn, Warren City Council 

Dave Glass, Clearfield County Commissioner 

Barbara Mortimer, East Brady Borough Council President 

Braxton White, Clarion Area School District Board Vice President 

Sara Robertson, Clarion Area School District Board Member 

Stephanie White, Clarion County, Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee Member 

Barbarann Keffer, Upper Darby Mayor 

Jon Panofsky, Centennial School Board Director (Bucks County) 

Marty Qually, Adams County Commissioner 

Dee Scales, Braddock Council Member 

Rob Parker, Braddock Council President 

Joelisa McDonald, Mayor of Rankin, PA 

Delia Lennon, Mayor of Braddock, PA 

Garry Herbert, Mayor of Lansdale, PA 

Mitchell Meyerson, Chalfont Councilman (Bucks County)

Finally, what are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign? 

  • I am the only candidate in this race who has already run and won statewide.
  • I have not had to evolve on the core issues – I am running on the same core truths as I did in 2016, like a living wage, universal healthcare, codifying rights for the LGBTQ+ community, environmental justice, and criminal justice reform.
  • Our campaign is grassroots-led and powered; we’re not taking corporate PAC money or fossil fuel money. We’re powered by all of you chipping in a few bucks. 

Please list your social media accounts and your donation links. 

Instagram: instagram.com/johnfetterman 

Facebook: facebook.com/JohnFettermanPA 

Twitter: @JohnFetterman 

Act Blue: facebook.com/JohnFettermanPA

Is there anything you’d like to add? I would be honored to have your support!

Thank you, Lt. Governor Fetterman.


To participate,

  • you must be an LGBTQIA+ ally
  • identify as pro-choice
  • you must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that you accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results

Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here. Responses from this election cycle are listed below in the order they were returned by the campaign.

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