Here’s Why I Publicly Identify Candidates Who Do Not Complete My Political Q&A

Someone asked me privately recently about my choice to publicly list candidates I’ve approached to complete my Campaign Q&A series, specifically identifying those who have not responded to my request at all.

In other words, this is a long post explaining a blog series policy, procedures, and impact so its on the record for anyone who has questions. Just like no one has to agree to complete my Q&A, no one has to read this or agree with me. But here it is.

Is it a fair assumption for me to think those candidates are disrespecting or disregarding the queer and trans community by not acknowledging or complying with my request? Am I am being reasonable in broadcasting that decision or choice?

First, let me explain my process. I reach out to campaigns using multiple tools such as email, Messenger, campaign website forms, known campaign staffers, supporters, etc. I ask the candidate to participate after laying out the ground rules. If they respond and agree, I create a Q&A that’s customized to their particular campaign. When I send it to the campaign, I asked them to set their own deadline so we can be mutually accountable and respectful of time. If they return it, I try to publish within 24-48 hours. If they do not return it, I follow up with the point of contact who agreed to the Q&A. If they do not respond at all to my inquiry, I try a few more times.

It is important to note this critical system issue – every single email I send out, regardless of the address I use, will have the word ‘lesbian’ in it, often other queer words, either in the email address, the subject line, the name of attachments, or the body of the message. This means my email often lands in spam filters. This is a suppression tactic that has a chilling impact on speech. It doesn’t mean the candidate set those filters up, but it should be a reminder that technology can ‘shadow ban’ folx in the most unexpected ways – so expect them and make an adjustment. It is rare that I’m willing to literally erase my identity to email anyone, certainly not in this context.

Second, let’s talk about intent. My intention is to educate the public about the candidates through a queer lens. I do not edit their responses at all. I do not give them word limits. I permit any links they want and I actively encourage them to take any direction they choose with a question. That’s the best I can do to forge a connection between the candidate and the public. The only exceptions would be libelous content or links to malicious sites. My wife is a lawyer and handles the “is this libel?” determination.

My intent includes giving the mike to people who share common progressive values, specifically that they are active LGBTQ equality advocates, that they are pro-choice, and that they actively agree that Joe Biden won the 2020 Presidential election fairly and legally. That’s it. They are agreeing to those things when they participate. If I know ahead of time that they do not fit this criteria, I either don’t invite them or decline to include them if they ask.

I add the election certification question after MSNBC journalist Tiffany Cross brought it up on her Saturday morning show, The Cross Connection earlier in 2022. She said it should be criteria for any Democratic candidate. So I added it. Tiffany is a Black cisgender heterosexual woman and an ally to the LGBTQ community.

My intent is to ask thoughtful questions, some universal and some campaign specific, that are tied to the LGBTQ experiences, understanding realistically that my lens is always subjective to my lived experiences.

The other important point about intent is that I also acknowledge repeatedly that this is one tool. I believe the endorsement questionnaires are very important, including the LGBTQ centric ones and the progressive endorsements that are part of our intersectional experience. And I clarify that there is a different between a Q&A and an endorsement. This is by no means the only indicator of engagement with the queer and trans community, but the permanence and accessibility of written first-person responses plays a unique role in shaping voter decisions.

For example, I am right now trying to resolve a disparity in how a candidate completed one such questionnaire with how they presented that same information on their campaign website. No one else seems to have even noticed the discrepancy. I won’t get into details here, but it is significant and I will tell you about it eventually.

That leads into impact. I’ve been blogging since 2005 – this blog is the longest running one in Pennsylvania and one of the longest running LGBTQ blogs in the nation. A lot of people will read these Q&A’s. I have the data to back it up. As we draw closer to Election Day(s), traffic to those posts increases sharply as do incoming referral links from other sites and social media accounts. People are looking for this information. It likely doesn’t answer all of their questions or fully address their concerns. But it does contribute to building an informed electorate.

It also create a permanent archive. You can dig into the archives and see what candidates said in 2018 or 2020 or today. Or see who said something, who didn’t. Documentation is important. The blog is free to access for anyone with internet service. We can’t say that yet about the majority of video, podcasting, or archived mainstream media coverage with paywalls. Campaign websites change or disappear. I am so committed to this not disappearing that I worked for two years with experts to create Pittsburgh LGBTQ Charities with one tenet devoted to archiving queer resources. The domain registration and webhosting fees are actually in my will. Too much disappears. I should note that PLC will be working on archiving more than just my blog, but that’s the starting point. And we’ll be securing funding to properly pay queer consultants with expertise in archiving, web design, graphic design, and legal issues to create a model.

That’s to say that one impact of this series is that for the foreseeable future, this dialogue with candidates for office will be publicly available as much as I can humanely accomplish. Can you imagine if we had similar written responses with candidates in 1970, 1980, 1990, etc? When someone moves from borough council to state representative and then higher office, there would be something to consult – did they ‘evolve’ on LGBTQ issues or where they there all along? This is also a good question, as much as the one I was asked that inspired me to write this post. It is even a talking point in the Fetterman campaign for US Senate.

Another form of impact is putting the candidates and campaigns on notice that we are paying attention. Maybe they care, maybe they don’t. I make no assumption than any elected official reads my blog or even knows it exists. So I reach out and make sure their campaign knows that in a region with sparse LGBTQ media resources or out LGBTQ journalists, still folks like us are paying attention. I’m not a journalist, I’m a social worker. I’m not running a traditional or mainstream queer media outlet. There is one such entity in Pennsylvania – Philly Gay News. There are other more informal, community run, or cultural and entertainment media sites. There are two chapters of The Association of LGBTQ Journalists (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.) There are quite a few out LGBTQ journalists in various media roles around the Commonwealth. To my knowledge, the only regional outlets that rely formally on a LGBTQ style guide are PublicSource, the Pgh City Paper, and WESA 90.5. And there are two openly gay cisgender male anchor/reporters in this region’s television media, both on KDKA TV.

The dearth of media resources paying attention to the LGBTQ community is quite evident if you search for information on the murders of five young trans BIPOC in Western Pennsylvania between February 2021 and January 2022. Two of those murders remain unsolved. Who is talking about those victims? Who isn’t and why not? Who has dug into the follow up stories? Why or why not? And in this context, what is any person running for office planning to do to address this campaign of terror in our region? Who asks and who doesn’t?

So impact is determine quite a bit by factors I cannot control – mostly, the media market. It would be ideal or at least better if we did have LGBTQ media following the races, asking these questions, documenting the campaigns, and that media was very intentionally intersectional. That’s what you deserve.

Finally, there’s the impact of my decision to publicly identify the campaigns, I’ve contacted, the ones who agreed to participate in the Q&A, the campaigns that agreed and haven’t yet responded, and the campaigns that have not responded. I’ve identified one campaign that asked and did not meet the criteria. And I always ask for campaigns to reach out to me directly.

These are public figures who have chosen to run for office or hold office. It is fair to ask them questions. I wouldn’t stand in front of their homes with a bullhorn and ask these questions, nor would I tag their family or employers about this. There are boundaries. I ask privately, I announce the regular launch of the election cycle series publicly, and I try diligently to get answers. I do ask supporters of various candidates to put in a good word for my request or at least to ask them to check the spam filter.

Never once has a candidate opted not to participate and explained why. Most candidates simply ignore my request completely. Some agree, but don’t complete the Q&A in time. I have no way of knowing when that’s a deliberate ploy or simply poor time management/limited resources. How would I be able to know?

If a candidate opted not participate and did explain why, I would share that information with my readers. If they asked me to keep it the reason off the record, I would continue to include them in the list of those who are not participating. My hope is that they would have a robust reason that clarified how they are engaging the queer community, addressing the issues I laid out in this post missive. If a candidate said to me “I filled out three LGBTQ questionnaires, participate in XYZ LGBTQ sponsored debates, spoke to ABC LGBTQ events and need to invest my energy elsewhere” – well, I don’t know what I would do because it has never happened.

Back, to my original questions:

Is it a fair assumption for me to think those candidates are disrespecting or disregarding the queer and trans community by not acknowledging or complying with my request? Am I am being reasonable in broadcasting that decision or choice?

For the first part, yes, it is a fair assumption. I’m one of the few games in town, I’ve been around for a long time, and I give everyone ample opportunities to respond to me. I am part of the LGBTQ community as are a lot of my readers (not all.) Ignoring Sue Kerr as a person while perhaps rude, is not inherently disrespectful of the community. Ignoring this blog sends a message that is unflattering unless it is explained. No one has ever explained. Why would someone who does want to genuinely engage the community refuse to submit a Q&A to my publication and refuse to explain? If they think I’m not a solid LGBTQ space for their messaging, if they think I’m personally not someone they want to engage or connect with, if they suspect I’m shady or underhanded in how I share their responses – if they don’t like me or don’t like my politics or my questions. Not respecting me or holding me in regard is a different thing than not respecting the community or having regard for the community. But how would I know if they don’t tell me? And no one has ever told me.

Broadcasting is reasonable. These are public figures striving to be public officials. I don’t harangue them. I make a lot of private attempts to connect with campaigns. I use back channels in case we have a spam filter issue. I post on local social media sites dedicated to elections. I cast the net wide. It works. Not only does it address spam filters and missed messages, it actually can set the record straight (so to speak) Here’s an example:

In 2019, The Victory Fund published a list of out LGBTQ candidates who won their elections – including two from Western Pennsylvania. I shared that list and discovered three additional successful candidates, including an out gay climate crisis scientist from Chicago winning a borough council seat in rural Western PA and a Arab-American gay man winning a borough council seat in a Pittsburgh suburb. That’s really important information. And those candidates got hooked in with the Victory Fund in subsequent elections. The latter candidate and his husband organized the first Pride events in their borough. That’s important. We deserve – you deserve – to know this. The borough of Indiana has gone solar and saved taxpayers money because of the person they elected. This matters.

In conclusion, I think I’m being fair and reasonable. You may disagree, as might a candidate you support. I don’t typically call out people in this specific series, when there’s a specific issue to address around a specific person on the campaign staff or their behavior, I handle it privately. I have been called out, TERFd, and cancelled. It isn’t something I would personally choose to do to others and certainly not an effective technique to actually secure an interview.

I do appreciate the opportunity reflect on this process while there’s still a bit of time to get more Q&A’s circulating for the 2022 Primary Election in Pennsylvania. Someone reached out to me via email asking for a Q&A to be created while I was drafting this post. It would be hypocritical for me to reject scrutiny of my motives and tactics in a project I believe is about transparency among candidates. I am not putting people on the spot. They opted to seek out the spot when they decided to run for office. I just asked them to answer some questions.

Now I’m asking for a reason.


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