Max Marin of Billy Penn reports that a text message accidentally received by Billy Penn shows a campaign consultant for Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner sharing a lewd meme with a group of top campaign officials.
On Sept. 6, Ray Zaborney, a well-known political consultant whose GOP-leaning firm was recently retained to handle Wagner’s media operations, texted a meme of television personality Caitlyn Jenner next to a statement that seemingly mocks the celebrity’s gender transition.
Zaborney sent the meme to four people: Jason High, Wagner’s campaign manager; Jenise Harris, the campaign’s finance director; Shauna Boscaccy, policy director; and a Billy Penn reporter, who was not an intended recipient.
The meme features a black-and-white photograph of Jenner, styled to imitate Nike’s new advertisement featuring Colin Kaepernick. The ad campaign plays off the former NFL quarterback’s decision to continue kneeling during the national anthem, despite the ostensible consequence of losing his job. Conservatives nationwide have responded by destroying their Nike apparel and declaring a moral boycott against the company.
In the Jenner meme shared among Wagner operatives, which is marked up with the brand’s signature swoosh and the “Just Do It” slogan, imposed over the photo is a modified message:
“Believe in something. Even if it means cutting your dick off.”
Zaborney is a media specialist in Pennsylvania politics whose job often entails feeding information to journalists, both on and off the record. On Wednesday, this reporter had been trying to reach Zaborney for information about an unrelated story involving the Wagner campaign.
None of the recipients responded to the meme in the group chat.
Alex Reber, PA State Democratic Party treasurer tells The Central Voice, “Scott Wagner's team has shown that they are not prepared to represent all Pennsylvanians. While Scott Wagner's team mocks transgender individuals, Governor Tom Wolf has created the first LGBTQ Commission in the country to ensure our community is represented in state government.”
One member of the newly-appointed commission, Joanne M. Carroll, calls the meme “disgusting, albeit not surprising!”. “Politicians aligned to the right consider it sport to dehumanize, malign, or objectify anyone who is not like them…straight, white, and cis-gender. Carroll is President of TransCentralPA, and Co-Chair of Keystone Conference, a transgender annual event held in the Harrisburg region. The evdent draws between 500 and 700 mostly transgender individuals from about 20 states and a dozen foreign countries.
“We combat their racism, transphobia and homophobia by registering to vote, motivating our friends and families to register, and then collectively voting only for those candidates that will vote for diversity in all its expressions in both the State House and Congress,” Carroll says.
Amanda Arbour, executive director, LGBT Center of Central PA, tells Voice “This kind of disgusting and hateful meme is indicative of a larger culture that does not validate or value transgender people, and instead uses them as the punch line of a joke - or targets them with very real violence.”
In 2017, the Human Rights Campaign re[ported advocates tracked at least 28 deaths of transgender people in the U. S., the most ever recorded. These victims, the report says, were killed by acquaintances, partners and strangers, some of whom have been arrested and charged, while others have yet to be identified. Some of these cases involve clear anti-transgender bias. In others, the victim’s transgender status may have put them at risk in other ways, such as forcing them into homelessness.
Arbour says “we fully affirm and support transgender people as important and valuable members of our community who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
“Scott Wagner must immediately fire campaign consultant Ray Zaborney for his despicable, transphobic actions and campaign manager Jason High for failing to denounce Zaborney,” says Mike Mikus, senior communications advisor for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
“Pennsylvanians deserve a governor who will stand up for everyone in the commonwealth, but Wagner has already made clear that he is not that leader. Just recently, he said that he would consider signing a bill to make same sex marriage illegal. Scott Wagner as governor would take Pennsylvania backwards. Scott Wagner needs to take immediate action to fire Zaborney and High,” Mikus says.”
Billy Penn is an independent media organization based in Philadelphia.