Since I was giving a favorite book of poetry, Adrienne Rich’s “The Dream of a Common Language,” to a young friend for their birthday, I re-read it to make sure it was appropriate. It was. The 1978 collection of poems opens with this epigraph by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle’s nom de plume): “I go where I love and where I am loved, into the snow; I go to the things I love with no thought of duty or pity.”
I spent much of the 2023 Kentucky legislative session thinking about love, a word we heard over and over again from Republicans in the supermajority — oh how very much they love our kids, they insisted — as they worked like pack mules to haul one of the most hateful, anti-transgender bills through committees and the House and Senate until it became law.
Sadly, our GOP lawmakers seemed to have little concern this year for children who are abused, neglected, born unwanted, homeless, hungry, in foster care or gunned down in schools, focusing instead on keeping them from learning about gender and sexuality.
Where a child uses the bathroom and making Kentucky a Second Amendment Sanctuary, along with gambling, got top billing.
Don’t get me wrong, these lawmakers seem to love their own kids, and kids who are like their kids. It’s all those “other” kids, the kids they made zero effort to understand these last months, who they can’t quite get around to loving or tolerating. Even if they had done so little as listen to certified medical experts who testified before them or used that mysterious search engine we call Google, they would have learned enough to say: We should stop, we don’t know enough, we need to think about this.
But they did not stop, they did not think, and they would have you believe they hammered this hateful law into the coffin of existence because they love … wait a minute, hold up, I need to check my notes on who was it they claimed they loved so much again?
Oh right. Kids.
I have been thinking about Kentucky’s LGBTQ kids and Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) lately because, in her time, she was considered one of the most courageous voices of her generation. She wrote more than 30 books in which she openly addressed gender, sexuality and race, her mission being “the creation of a society without domination.”
While Rich’s life was certainly more complex and controversial than this statement, her work, and the work of H.D. before her, addressed issues that the 2023 Kentucky GOP insists, decades later, are still too brand-spanking new to try to comprehend.
I attended the LGBTQ rally for equal rights outside the Capitol last Wednesday, where a huge, vocal crowd was already gathered by 9:30 a.m. The sun was shining. Every speech was more inspiring than the last. Dance music played on the speakers. I hugged and talked with the courageous people I have seen in the halls and in committee meetings over the last few months. And what I saw was joy; what I saw was acceptance and shared humanity; what I saw, what I felt, was love.
Also on Wednesday, The Family Foundation held a rally in the Capitol rotunda, so I made my way there, too. I wanted to hear what they and the GOP lawmakers they lobby had to say.
As people mingled on the marble floor, waiting for speakers to begin, the break in atmosphere from the crowd outside was stark, like the difference between a birthday barbecue and one of those big money, rubber chicken dinners at a country club.
I had just finished taking several pictures when a blonde woman in a white jacket approached me, smiled big, and reached out to shake my hand. She told me her name was Margaret ________ , and though we have never met I immediately recalled her inflammatory, political comments from social media. One example: On Nov. 2, 2022, just before the midterm elections, she wrote about my column on Amendment 2: “this blogger spins many things – her “false narratives” promotes [sic] hatred and division, her tall tales are manipulative.”
Margaret explained that her church, Ninevah Christian in Anderson County (which I have written about for the pastor’s abhorrent, running commentary against the LGBTQ community) was all about love. “We pray for and love everybody,” she insisted.
Then Margaret looked me dead in the eye and said with emphasis, “I love you.”
I stood there, stunned, thinking about the hundreds of families and kids outside in the sunshine asking, begging, to be accepted, to be loved, while this woman and the lawmakers in the Rotunda with her refused to see them, much less love them. What kind of twisted version of “love” is this?
I stayed for some of the speeches and noted that Margaret was sitting with Randy Adams, the former Anderson County teacher whose Facebook manifesto about pronouns had roiled our school board and town for weeks last fall. Mr. Adams spoke. David Walls, executive director of The Family Foundation, spoke. Lawmakers spoke. It was like listening to a battalion of bullies.
To all of the incredibly brave people who fought for your rights during this General Assembly, I applaud you. You have so much courage, you are right, you are loved. And as Adrienne Rich wrote in her poem titled “Power” — “her wounds came from the same source as her power” — you have power, too. Remember that.
It will be a blight on Kentucky’s history that misguided and mean-spirited Republicans decided that destroying kids’ and families’ lives was paramount this year. Not education, not abuse, not neglect or homelessness or hunger, and not the fact that our teachers and children have to regularly practice how to not get shot to death in their classrooms.
Along, of course, with making Kentucky a Second Amendment Sanctuary state; keeping the guns they love, above all else, safe.
May we all remember our power and our love, and their priorities, at the ballot box.
Cross-posted from the Kentucky Lantern.