By Frank Pizzoli
Sometimes chaos creates its own order.
And now award-winning Pittsburgh-based blogger Sue Kerr has connected all the dots. The result is Pittsburgh LGBTQ Charities (PLC), a new non-profit organization aimed at raising awareness and promoting grassroots engagement for neighborhood quality of life, animal welfare, anti-poverty, and LGBTQ+ issues in Western Pennsylvania.
“Historically, the LGBTQ community has been involved in robust ways throughout the entire community on housing, civil rights, poverty, animal welfare, and more,” Kerr, who’s been blogging for 16 years, told Capital-Star. The new entity “will provide an umbrella organization for my work and the work of so many others,” Kerr said.
The organization is looking at ways to elevate social justice stories through sponsorships and the day-to-day work of making connections in a diverse community.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel. We don’t want to take from ongoing activity. Rather we want to add to the mix, fill in the cracks,” Kerr emphasized.
Kerr, who is also serving her second-term as co-chair of Pittsburgh’s first Commission on LGBTQIA+ Affairs, she’s “been involved in countless service and art projects over the past two decades and almost all have required me to find a nonprofit fiscal sponsor to fully participate – that was exhausting.”
“Finally, I decided to simply create the nonprofit to meet the needs I’ve identified as gaps in regional services. It was time to build it myself,” she explained.
Kerr recruited a small, but stellar board including local Pittsburgh attorney and businessman F. Dok Harris, son of former Steeler and pro football Hall of Famer Franco Harris; Anne E. Lynch, Executive Director of Three Rivers Community Foundation; and Sarah Hartman, Finance Director at Hillel Academy. She brought in nationally renowned philanthropic consultant Andrew Lane and worked with attorney Robert Disney to handle the establishment process. Former Roots Pride organizer and current healer and teacher through Tabernacle Life, Joy KMT, will join the board in January.
“Sue is the most reluctant nonprofit founder I’ve known,” Lynch said in a statement. “We’ve had countless conversations about the gaps in services and I’m proud she’s once again created something to fill a gap, rather than just talk about it. Kerr earned an MSW from University of Pittsburgh and has devoted 25 years to social work and community organizing. Of the opinion that “Pittsburgh doesn’t necessarily need another LGBTQIA+ nonprofit… We are better off moving in this direction,” Lynch said. “I’m not a new nonprofit service. I will connect and elevate the social justice work I’m keenly aware of from my years of involvement,” Kerr clarifies.
One significant project that will now have a home at PLC is her archive of individuals who have been victims of transgender murder and violence. Sadly, according to the Human Rights Campaign, “2021 has already seen at least 50 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say at least because too often these stories go unreported — or misreported. In previous years, the majority of these people were Black and Latinx transgender women.”
“My goal is to have these stories correctly recorded for the sake of creating an ‘informed history’ of the level of violence against trans and non-binary people,” Kerr told Capital-Star.
As founding editor of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and a 2019 GLAAD Media Award winner for her blog, Kerr documents the trail of violence against trans individuals nationwide, including New York City.
Another project of Kerr’s is AMPLFY which has archived over 300 first person accounts collected from 2015-2019 of LGBTQ individuals with ties to western Pennsylvania.
“It’s vital that we learn something about the life and the circumstances of each trans death,” Kerr said. She sees it as her job “to share these deaths with my cis, gay male, and lesbian readers and allies, to help them understand that it is not okay to ignore a campaign of terror targeting our community just because we aren’t the main focus.”
Recognizing from her own experiences that there are many points of convergence in social justice work, Kerr will serve as an Artist-in-Residence writing as a political blogger with the corporate support of Ampersand Consulting. It’s an opportunity for her to pull it all together.
Kerr will document her residency under the blog title ‘Political Capitol,’ which will explore Progressive identity in Pennsylvania’s electoral and campaign politics.
As social justice issues overlap more and more, she wants to better understand “the breath and scope of a candidate’s Progressive identity,” she said. “The term Progressive covers a lot. I want to see where there’s overlap, affinities, who’s in, who’s out when a candidate waves a Progressive flag,” she explains.
“Our goal is to identify Progressive elected officials and political candidates in Pennsylvania,” Kerr explains. She will ask each participant to affirm their active support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation on the local, statewide, and federal levels.
Using a simple Q&A, they will each have a chance to highlight their own Progressive issues in their own words.
Kerr also will invite each participant to recreate a photo ‘with’ her from her 1991 political science internship with then-U.S. Rep Rick Santorum.
These images and interviews will be published on her blog. At the end of the project, she will create an exhibit using campaign mailers as the media for the images and written content. The project will also map out the location of Progressive politicians throughout the state.
“Our goal right now is 50-100 participants with at least one from each county,” Kerr explained. Although not the project’s focus, participants from the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions are welcome.
“This is not about me,” Kerr said. “I want to ensure that the blog, related content, and other queer materials are archived properly – that’s what pushed me to take this leap back into the 501(C)(3) world. I want to lift up the great work people are doing and bring my privilege, experience, and resources to their tables if they’ll have me.”
Meanwhile, PLC’s first project is a gift card drive to support neighbors who feed and manage cat colonies throughout the region.
“I’ve known Sue for over a decade now. She has been an amazing teacher and leader – I know we are all excited to help her on this next journey,” says F. Dok Harris, member of the Board of Directors. “The cat food community is lucky to have such a hardworking champion!”
Frank Pizzoli, of Harrisburg, is the former editor and publisher of The Central Voice. He covers Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ community for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this article first appeared.