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 Thursday morning, 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.
In a subsequent private text message to the reporter, Zaborney apologized for sending the text and offered to acquire some “on background” information in exchange for the reporter to “forget [Zaborney] sent that meme.”
While continuing to pursue the original info, the reporter identified the individuals who were the intended recipients of the Jenner meme — which turned out to be, to some surprise, three members of Wagner’s inner circle.
After that discovery, Billy Penn informed Zaborney that the meme itself was newsworthy and would not be “forgotten.”
“Anyone questioning my commitment to diversity or the LGBT community obviously doesn’t know me very well,” Zaborney responded in a statement. “I am a passionate believer in equality for all and have long been an advocate for marriage equality and ending discrimination in all forms against the LGBTQ community. I’m proud of my advocacy and proud of my efforts and will continue to stand for equality.”
Requests for comment from the text’s other recipients — High, Harris and Boscaccy — went unreturned.
As the road to the governor’s mansion narrows, Wagner’s campaign has found itself on unsteady ground with LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.
Wagner stepped down as a state senator last year to launch his bid against Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. During his time in Harrisburg, Wagner supported The Pennsylvania Fairness Act, which would provide long-absent civil rights protections for the state’s LGBTQ residents.
Backing the anti-discrimination bill earned Wagner the ire of some social conservatives. During the notably vicious primary campaign, Wagner’s GOP rival, Paul Mango, relentlessly attacked him over his support of the Fairness Act, specifically for supporting transgender bathroom choice that “puts our children’s safety and privacy in jeopardy.”
But just last month, Wagner drew sharp criticism for his remarks about “bathroom bills,” a catch-all term for policies allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their self-identified gender.
“It’s real simple,” Wagner said at an August campaign event in Zelienople, Pa. “If you’re born with male plumbing, you use the men’s room. If you’re born with female plumbing, you use the ladies’ room. Period.”
The comment garnered sharp backlash from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, among other local organizations. Pittsburgh City Paper also noted that Wagner’s professed support of the the Fairness Act is at odds with his position on bathroom access.
In the aftermath of the “male plumbing” comment, Wagner’s campaign clarified that Wagner does support transgender bathroom choice, so long as the individual has gone through the process of having their gender changed on their Pennsylvania drivers license.
Wagner himself could not be reached for comment on the meme.