In the middle of a cafe in the Northside, Sue Kerr, 47, looks like anybody else wandering through. She wears casual clothes and her hair tied back in a ponytail. The only item that draws attention is her rainbow bag. But behind the scenes, and with a keyboard, she is a force to be reckoned with.
By Sarah Gross
Kerr is the creator and primary blogger for the website PGH Lesbian Correspondents. In a time of inclusivity, and speaking up for lost voices, this Northsider is doing as much as she can to help bring attention to LGBT people and issues.
PGH Lesbian Correspondents was created in December 2005. Since then, Kerr has been working on it religiously. A social worker, her original goal wasn’t to become the community organizer she is now. She just wanted to sit in her attic and spread information, though she knew it would be LGBT-centric. Thirteen years, two additional bloggers, and one dedicated fanbase later, the blog has evolved into a large center for LGBT content, with Kerr still at the heart of it all.
People are noticing the impact Kerr and her blog has throughout Pittsburgh, especially to those in the LGBT community. Dan Gilman, chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto, said, “She has called attention to issues from conversion therapy to trans-inclusive benefits to advocating for same-sex marriage, back before it was legalized.” Sheila May-Stein, the sponsor for the Gay-Straight Alliance at Pittsburgh Perry Traditional Academy, called Kerr an “unsung hero” of Pittsburgh.
Kerr currently lives in Manchester, with her partner Laura Dunhoff, another blogger on the site. They live with two cats and one dog. Kerr describes her partner and herself as “middle-aged pool ladies.”
Kerr landed in the Northside after periods of living in West Mifflin, and D.C. One section of her blog involves genealogy and researching her past. Hunting through her family tree, Kerr discovered deep Northside roots. She found distant cousins, grandmothers, and other historical relatives throughout the area.
“When I say deep, I’m talking—some of these folks were here in 1820,” she says.
An active feminist, Kerr is fascinated with the women who came before her, whose stories were untold for so long. Her face lights up and her head shakes in astonishment as she talks about ending up in almost the exact same place as some of them. Her ancestors may have even helped settle the land. Kerr doesn’t hesitate to call these ancestors “colonizers” in her blunt way, refusing to romanticize older times and rather choosing to be honest about history.
Her passion for history turns to appreciation as she discusses stories of a different group of people who came before her: not blood relatives, but LGBT communities.
“Really, [pride] should be about—I try to make it about revisiting the tenants of Stonewall, and what our history has been like,” she says.
This determined candor translates into Kerr’s blog and work. She is an advocate for all things intersectional and makes sure to elevate transgender voices and the voices of people of color, which she believes are often left out of traditional media as well as LGBT groups and spaces.
Kerr is not someone to avoid a topic just to play nice. She talks about anything she finds crucial for people to hear, whether or not they particularly want to hear it. Some of these more controversial topics include: bringing attention to the overlooked death rates for transgender people (particularly high for trans women of color), calling out large magazines for silencing voices and writing biased political pieces, and discussing constructive actions people can take to help the LGBT community, rather than just participating in the commercialized “fun and fancy ” part of LGBT culture. She talks about these topics loudly and passionately: She’s not afraid to go on a tangent to discuss what she cares about. Other topics she doesn’t shy away from are the need for LGBT voices, her love for her work, and the connection between her blogging and her queer identity.
Some of her biggest critics, Kerr says, are actually gay men and lesbians, who sometimes get offended about how she criticizes the LGBT community for excluding transgender people, bisexual people, and LGBT people of color.
“One of the big things people say to me is, ‘Nobody reads your blog’,” she says.
People make this comment with one goal in mind, she says: to make her and her work feel like they don’t matter. But Kerr posts about current events and real-world news; crucial pieces of information for people to hear. She is quick to block abusive comments and reach out to friends for support and slow to give up.
Despite the hate, she has never considered quitting, except for a brief hiatus in 2011, due to health reasons. When asked why, Kerr put it simply: “I just pick myself back up and keep doing it because somebody has to.”
“She will fight for injustice and equality, no matter what,” said Dan Gilman.
Kerr works almost nonstop, churning out several posts a day. She has a constant social media presence and appears on the occasional media interview. But the project that means more to her than anything else is a part of the blog she herself doesn’t even write. It’s called #AMPLIFY, and it has grown so much that this year it has received a $4,000 grant from the Three Rivers Community Foundation.
#AMPLIFY initially started as a Q&A with local LGBT people while Kerr was doing a residency with Most Wanted Fine Art. It has turned into a large portion of her blog, where hundreds (262 currently) of LGBT Pittsburghers are included. It gives information about their lives and features every identity from “Ace” to Z. Guests answer open-ended questions and write their own stories through their answers. Kerr’s primarily formats this content for the web, but she believes there’s an incredible value in showcasing these voices. She is even currently in the works to create a hyper-focused initiative of #AMPLIFY, where all the voices highlighted are Northside residents.
Kerry Kennedy, of gay-owned K.S. Kennedy Distinctive Floral, said, “I think that she gives [LGBT people] a space, and validates their existence.”
“I love those posts. I love every one of them. It makes all the hard moments and the frustrating moments [worthwhile] to be able to be in the position, to highlight these voices.” said Kerr.
Kerr shows pride not only in her work, but also in her identity. She likes going to pride events to meet new people and reconnect with old friends, though she expresses disappointment over lost opportunities to express important LGBT issues like homelessness and hunger. LGBT people, she says, are more likely to dropout of school or be kicked out of their homes. Living on the streets is a terrifying reality for many of them.
“I always laugh at the phrase ‘happy pride,’ because what the heck does that even mean,” says Kerr.
Nevertheless, she is determined to use her blog and her following to bring light to issues like racism, transphobia, and homelessness. Referring back to her colorful handbag, Kerr says, “A lot of people don’t even understand that this is a pride purse. [They] just see it as a pretty rainbow purse.”
For now, though, she says she looks forward to going to K.S. Kennedy floral, and for the reopening of the Riverview pool. She has important things to do, but after all, she’s still a pool lady.