Last year, 510 anti-LGBTQ+ bills swept legislative sessions across the country. Of this national total, at least 9 were from Kentucky, and multiple of the bills were filed as education bills – but all of them impacted Kentucky’s youth, namely LGBTQ+ youth.
These bills varied from censoring students’ pronouns in the classroom and outing students to their families, to regulating bathroom usage options in schools, to preventing doctors from providing medically accurate and life-saving health care to LGBTQ+ teens, and suppressing classroom discussions regarding diverse and historically accurate Black, brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ perspectives and struggles.
This brought together students, parents, educators, and community members across Kentucky to rally together to protect the young people these bills impact. Among those folks was Brandon Long, who spoke to the rally about his experience in being gay, surviving conversion therapy, and fighting for young people to not experience that same suppressive and assimilative violence he did.
In speaking to Long about what called him to run right now, he spoke of a call to action that catalyzed him. At the end of the legislative session last year, Representative Sarah Stalker said, “To queer Kentuckians: ‘I have one thing to say to you. Come for our jobs.’”
Long shared, “That resonated so deeply for me, not just as an opportunity for advancement or anything. That is a rallying cry for people in this state: oppressed people, ignored people, bullied people– to stand up, speak, and do something. There is no better time. This will only keep happening if there is no resistance. That is what propelled me to run.”
On his perspective as an educator who deeply opposed the bills introduced in last year’s legislative session, “Part of the job and the passion of being an educator is to open up the world for young and bright minds who are curious and to fuel and cultivate that passion for learning. That includes learning about different cultures, different people, different histories.”
Long continued, “America has always been a place of diversity. Even the Kentucky state flag is of the urban gentleman and the frontiersman. They are shaking hands, shaking hands, and saying ‘united we stand, divided we fall.’ That’s been our ideal as a state, but we’ve never reached that fully. What we see right now is just another manifestation of othering. As an educator, the best thing I can do is open up the world so that my students can be global citizens, and see all the parts: the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
He continued, “The heart of education is to learn the stuff, but also learn from the stuff. Learn the people and places that are different because it expands you as a person and gives you compassion, wisdom, and knowledge.”
Long speaks from experience in learning from difference and holding the good, the bad, and the ugly in life. Long shared his story of surviving conversion therapy during the legislative session last year to, “put some color, content, and context to people’s understanding of conversion therapy.”
He shared further, “Telling my story of being the person I am: the gay man, the Christian, the educator, the father… It’s to say, ‘I am a real person, and this is the real experience I had.’ It’s not just a one-off thing you can dismiss, no, it is my entire adult life. I did everything these groups told me to do. And here I still am. And that’s not a failure on my part. It is a failure on the practice and the structure of conversion therapy.”
Long was born in Harlan County to a coal-mining family, and he grew up between eastern and central Kentucky. Regarding how his family felt about his experience with conversion therapy, Long shared that all of his family did not ‘get’ everything about his queer identity. He recognized that they might not have had the exact same views, but they listened to him share his experience. Long said, “I have had so many conversations with family members who had no idea what I was going through, and they were crushed when they found out. This speaks to how a face, a voice, a history, and this experience could bring important conversations to life.”
Repeatedly, Long spoke on finding it vital to represent all Kentuckians in his district, even those who are different from him. He spoke often of his identity as a Christian, and how his love of God and his neighbors influenced his every interaction with the “systems, structures, and institutions” of his daily life.
Loving your neighbor includes fighting for your neighbor for Long. Groups like Southern Poverty Law Center have been covering how the Christian Right has utilized pseudoscience to justify suppression of queer communities in fighting gender-affirming care and upholding conversion therapy practices. In response to those who aim to suppress and assimilate vulnerable and queer populations,
“We have the power to say no, we are going to care for all children. That
includes the 15 year old teenager in central Kentucky wrestling with his sexuality but terrified because he just heard of Matthew Shepard’s murder. That child needs to be cared for and prioritized. I cannot separate my advocacy from my own experience. I don’t think anyone truly can. As someone with that background, who experienced the mental anguish and psychological torture of conversion therapy, I think I can come into the state legislature with a distinct and unique perspective. To be able to advocate and champion policies for vulnerable populations and youth in general.”
For the young people out there right now witnessing the culture being fostered through legislation widely acclaimed as hateful, Long shared, “There’s something unique and beautiful about you, and we want to support you to be able to handle it well.”
Regarding how he feels about being an out candidate in Kentucky in this political climate, Long said, “It’s intimidating but exciting. It’s like a friend told me, “You already went through hell, what else can they throw at you?’”
Running for public office in Kentucky as a queer person provides visibility and perspective, and Long aims to use this campaign to specifically advocate for vulnerable populations, but especially the youth of Kentucky.
Regarding the announcement of Brandon Long’s candidacy as the first out candidate for Kentucky House District 68, Fairness Campaign’s Executive Director Chris Hartman (he/him/his) shares,
“It’s exciting to see more and more LGBTQ+ candidates like Brandon seeking state office. Still today, there is only one openly LGBTQ+ state elected official, Representative Keturah Herron, who is only the second LGBTQ+ member of the Kentucky General Assembly in history. Personal experiences from folks like Brandon, who has survived the painful and traumatic experience of anti-LGBTQ+ ‘conversion therapy’, can help turn hearts and change minds in a place like Frankfort. I can’t wait to see how many more LGBTQ+ Kentuckians file for elected office this Friday. For anyone reading, there’s still time!”