Fear, loathing, and bigotry rule 2023 Kentucky legislature Skip to content

Fear, loathing, and bigotry rule 2023 Kentucky legislature

This bill will harm children. And not one of us in this Commonwealth sends our lawmakers to the Capitol to harm children.

4 min read

In the penultimate courtroom scene in 1993’s “Philadelphia,” Denzel Washington’s character demands the court acknowledge the subject they have danced uncomfortably around throughout the trial. “Your honor, everybody in this courtroom is thinking about sexual orientation, sexual preference, whatever you want to call it,” he says. “Who does what to whom and how they do it …. So let’s just get it out in the open. Let’s just get it out of the closet. Because this case is not just about AIDS, is it? So let’s talk about what this case is really all about: The general public’s hatred, our loathing, our fear of homosexuals.”

Kentucky’s Republican legislators have spent much of the last month working to ban drag shows, books, medical care (against medical advice) and more while publicly struggling to find the words to make specious arguments, from the continually mis-pronounced ‘prurient’ to insisting they can not or should not speak the words aloud in the very books they are insisting on banning.

If you are a lawmaker who has spent so little time with written material that you are unable to find words — words that are right there! in writing! — to make your argument, take that as a red flashing sign that you do not understand enough about your subject-matter to make a cogent argument.

This lack of word-finding has been repeatedly evidenced by my own representative, James Tipton, who appeared to struggle late Wednesday evening to describe what exactly is in the school library books he finds so pornographic and objectionable.

By midday Thursday, with the legislative clock ticking, I watched Rep. Tipton chair a hastily called Education Committee hearing on a new version of Senate Bill 150 — taking omnibus House Bill 470 back to the most extreme anti-trans bill — and recalled a meeting we’d had in his office a month ago. I had gone there to speak with him about common sense gun laws. He kept mentioning Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, which seemed in the moment a fairly benign way to talk about anything other than guns. I did not find this unusual.

What I realize in retrospect, however, is that I have been continually fooled into seeing Rep. Tipton in this light. How often I have witnessed him hide behind Sen. Southworth’s skirts these last few years, as if it say, ‘Don’t look at me, I’m harmless! She’s the extreme one!’

But with his confident yes vote in committee on SB 150 — after listening to multiple raw and emotional testimonies about how shortsighted, irresponsible and dangerous this bill is — I see how Rep. Tipton has continually and conveniently held up Sen. Southworth as a red herring. His urgency to subject some of Kentucky’s most marginalized kids to irreparable harm, simply because he seems to not understand their sexuality or their physical and emotional needs, is not only clueless and philistine but beneath the office he holds.

Within minutes of the close of the Education Committee meeting, SB 150 was on the House floor for a vote, with Rep. Keturah Herron rightfully decrying that this horrific bill was purposefully rushed, and for what reason? Rep. Josie Raymond argued, “We are about to legislate something we don’t understand,” and Rep. Sarah Stalker added, “Clearly we need to protect our children from some of the people in this room who are voting for hate.”

As legislators in both the House and Senate debated and cast votes into the night, a number of impassioned speeches stood out. One that struck a chord for its laughable naiveté was Rep. Bill Wesley, R-Ravenna, as he told the story of his cheerleading daughter and fellow cheerleaders asking him to make sure boys could not use their bathroom.

I was once a 15 year-old cheerleader, too; a happy cheerleader until I had to quit the squad because the heterosexual, much-adored, former basketball star who taught at my school — and whose wife was my cheerleading coach — spent more than a year grooming me (and likely others) to give him blowjobs.

It is the ultimate irony that lawmakers like Rep. Wesley, who falsely conflate the so-called “bathroom” issue with sexual abuse and grooming, are the gift that keeps on giving to very real pedophiles everywhere.

I have watched the debate about this hateful bill from the start. I have been witness to its unfortunate journey, both in person and via video. This bill will harm children.

I repeat: This bill will harm children. And not one of us in this Commonwealth sends our lawmakers to the Capitol to harm children.

History will not be kind.

Thirty years ago, “Philadelphia” received a Best Picture Oscar nomination for being a leader, for being one of the first blockbuster films to not only address homophobia but to portray homosexuals positively and as welcome in American society.

Kentucky is not only not leading – our GOP elected officials mortify the majority of us with their ignorance. Unlike places like Michigan, where they just passed legislation to protect the LGBTQ community, the majority of our lawmakers remain woefully behind the times in their fundamental misunderstanding of language and of people — of children — whom, let’s be honest, they fear, find disgusting, and do not understand.

To paraphrase Denzel in “Philadelphia,” how about we get it out in the open, get it out of the closet. Kentucky Republicans refuse to acknowledge facts or find words because it protects them from having to admit their hatred, their loathing, their fear of homosexuals and non-cisgendered people.

Theirs is the very definition of bigotry.


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Teri Carter

Teri Carter writes about rural Kentucky politics for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Washington Post, and The Daily Yonder. She lives in Anderson County.



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