N.C. Sen. Joel Ford: Tweets, apologies and LGBT criticism

N.C. Sen. Joel Ford (D-Charlotte)

On Tuesday N.C. Sen Joel Ford (D-Charlotte) had a strange, tense exchange with LGBT activists who criticized his record on LGBT issues.

He responded to the activists with a GIF of a dog defecating in the snow. This led Matt Comer, a Charlotte-based LGBT activist, to ask if that was appropriate behavior for a state senator.

Ford’s tweet led to a public backlash and a scolding from the editorial board of the Charlotte Observer.

Ford ultimately deleted the tweet and issued an apology – including a personal call to Comer, with whom he agreed to have coffee to discuss his record and LGBT issues.

Dakota Cary, Ford’s campaign manager, even told Charlotte NPR station WFAE that his campaign is going to create a series of pre-approved GIFs for Ford to use, because he prefers to tweet GIFs at those questioning and criticizing him rather than give individual responses.

Cary said Ford selected the GIF of the defecating dog from the “awkward” section of his “GIF keyboard.”

“He used that one,” Cary explained, “because he thinks that when people like that come for him on Twitter… it’s easier than sitting down and typing out the same response each time.”

Asked whether Ford regretted the move and would want a do-over, Cary said yes. “None of the GIFs that we’ve been using have been well received, and so I think there’s a disconnect between trying to use GIFs as a way to communicate with people and what they actually mean,” adding, “You end up with a problem like this where what he wants to convey and what comes across (are) two different things.”

Cary said the campaign will consider creating a list of pre-approved GIFs for the candidate to use when responding to people on Twitter.

Ford, a more conservative Democrat, is used to criticism from the LGBT community.

Last year he was one of the few Democrats to support a Republican bill to allow magistrates to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages. This session he has been one of the few Democrats to support a repeal of HB2 that would put LGBT protections to local referendum votes.

But the criticism has turned up to 11 since Ford announced he’d be running against Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, a fellow Democrat, as she seeks re-election.

Roberts supported and defended the Charlotte City Council ordinance that extended greater legal protections to LGBT people in the city – and resulted in the N.C. General Assembly’s passage of HB2.

Ford said he supported the ordinance but not its bathroom provision, the most controversial part of the bill. He was conspicuously absent during the HB2 vote but later said he would support repeal.

In an interview with N.C. Policy Watch Wednesday, Comer said he appreciated Ford’s apology and hopes he’ll actually be open to dialogue with the LGBT community. But if he thinks he can make criticism go away while still supporting policies that hurt LGBT people, Comer said, he’s sorely mistaken.

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,” Comer said. “Then, when he meets criticism he’ll pull away from that.”

Matt Comer, LGBTQ activist

If Ford wants to be mayor of Charlotte – the state’s largest city and home to a large and vocal LGBT community – Comer said he’ll have to do better than that.

“He has an opportunity now to actually listen to this community and understand how his statements and his positions have affected us,” Comer said. “I hope he’ll take that opportunity and it can lead to some change.”

In a statement Wednesday, Ford left room for questions about just how fruitful that dialogue will be.

“To provide context, I am tired of being slandered by some people on Twitter as anti-LGBT and homophobic,” Ford said in the statement. “I have worked to find solutions that are realistic and impactful but some people do not see it that way.”

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