This week LGBT advocate Matt Comer took on State Sen. Joel Ford (D-Charlotte) over his record on LGBT issues and habit of answering criticism with bizarre, dismissive Twitter GIFs.
The backlash to Ford’s posting a defecating dog GIF in answer to criticism from his constituents ultimately led Ford to apologize – while still justifying himself
a bit. It also led the manager of his campaign manager to say they’ll be preparing some appropriate, pre-approved GIFs for the senator to post from now on.
Ford is challenging Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, a fellow Democrat, as she makes a bid for re-election. HB2, prompted by the Charlotte City Council’s passage of an ordinance extending legal protections to LGBT citizens last year, will be a contentious campaign issue.
We reached out to Comer, a prominent activist and former editor of LGBT publication QNotes, to talk about where things go from here.
1) You live in Charlotte and this most recent dust-up is not your first run-in with Sen. Ford, I take it?
No – it goes back to when he was the chair of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party and favored discriminatory policies then.
My concern that I think would be echoed by other LGBTQ leaders across the state is that Senator Ford’s first impulse on issues of equality seems to be to take a discriminatory position. Then, when he meets criticism he’ll pull away from that.”
2) In this most recent conflict, by tweeting insulting GIFs, he ended up turning up the criticism quite a bit before pulling away. Has that been your experience previously?
I really sort of expected him to come back at what we were saying with some sort of animated GIF or something because that’s what he does.
If Senator Ford is curious as to why it seems like so many LGBT leaders doesn’t trust his record, all he has to do is look at how he communicates with members of this community – it’s flippant, condescending, patronizing.
3) As a long-time LGBT activist, I would imagine you’re more used to butting heads with Republican lawmakers than Democrats. Is coming up against this with a Democrat new for you?
The Democratic platform very clearly outlines the party’s vision and values when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion. So it’s always frustrating when you have members of the party for whatever reason not living up to that vision and those values.
With Senator Ford is was the same way with Senate Bill 2, the ‘magistrate protection bill’ [that would have allowed magistrates to opt out of performing same-sex marriages]. With HB2, he says he supports LGBT protections – but not for transgender people. He’s certainly not the only one but he’s consistently the one who seems not to be able to understand what these positions mean to the community, how it hurts real people.
With HB2, I’m concerned that the narrative he’s created is one that will trade the safety of LGBTQ people for jobs and development. All these things are important, but one can’t be sacrificed for the other. He’s resorting to these anti-LGBTQ Republican talking points in order to get HB2 repealed.
4) And now, as he challenges Jennifer Roberts in the Charlotte mayoral race, these issues aren’t likely to go away. Are you concerned about the impact that campaign is going to have on LGBT people in Charlotte and beyond?
What I am most concerned about is the narrative that gets created by campaigns. If these campaigns – in the Democratic primary campaign – is going to make the Charlotte ordinance and HB2 a wedge issue, it’s going to be bad. This isn’t an election between a Republican and a Democrat where you would expect this to be used as a divisive wedge. It’s being used in the race between Democrats.
These narratives have a real impact on peoples’ lives. There’s a reason we have to build a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth.
5) I understand Sen. Ford called to personally apologize to you and you’re going to sit down and have coffee. What do you hope will come out of that?
I told him I was looking forward to having a face-to-face dialogue about his record – that he should have that conversation not just with me but with other LGBTQ leaders.
He has an opportunity to listen – if he takes the opportunity. And hopefully he’ll come away with an understanding of how his voting record and statements have affected the community.