Editor’s Note: This piece is an editorial submission. As a 501(c)3, Queer Kentucky, INC cannot endorse political candidates and we must stand by that obligation. If they Paul Campaign were to reach out and want to publish something, we would legally honor that obligation as well.
I was in Western Kentucky this past weekend at the Fancy Farm Picnic. For those who are unfamiliar with Fancy Farm, it’s a long-standing Kentucky political tradition that consists of BBQ, Bingo, and politicians roasting each other. For one weekend a year, people from all over Kentucky come to this small community to participate in this tradition, which helps raise money for their local parish, St. Jerome Catholic Church.
During the roast, I stood in the back left of the crowd. Those attending their first Fancy Farm are often told what to expect from the raucous crowds. It’s no secret Democrats were outnumbered both on stage and in the crowd by Republicans. This was expected. I stood proudly, but aware of my surroundings, in a sea of Democrats. Since we were outnumbered, there was an overlap of Rand Paul supporters in our section.
As a young, nonbinary progressive living in Kentucky, I always have my guard up.
But what I saw – and heard – during Rand Paul’s wife, Kelley’s, speech was something I couldn’t have prepared myself for.
On a daily basis, I see transphobia among Republicans across the country. Just in Kentucky, I see legislation to criminalize social and medical transitions for youth. I see legislation to ban trans women from athletics. I see legislation to demonize safe hormone replacement therapy. I see legislation to obstruct meaningful education of queer issues and identities. I knew this level of hate was out there, because I have experienced it firsthand, but I have never experienced it so loud and so proud, by people who are supposed to represent me.
Paul claimed, while referencing the participation of transgender women in sports, that Democrats “can’t even define what a woman is.”. She claimed that Democrats say “men can have babies” (which, by the way, is true). This kind of transphobic rhetoric is why over 80 percent of transgender youth consider suicide. It’s why 40 percent of trans youth attempt suicide. It’s why one of her husband’s supporters felt confident enough to tell me I was “going to hell.”
These statistics should alarm you, but I want to remind you that the numbers are people. I am one of the 80 percent. I am one of the 40 percent. I am a living, working, voting Kentuckian that is constantly told I am not welcome here.
During the roast, candidates representing the Kentucky Republican Party (KYGOP) talked about bringing Kentuckians together for truth and liberty. I embraced my truth just over a year ago, however, I still have yet to feel any liberty. Rand Paul and his wife, along with their friends on that stage, are doing everything they can to make sure I never will.
In their remarks, truth and integrity were rare. The most laughable part to me was their claim that Democrats seek to have “a drag queen in every classroom.” Ironically, because of Rand Paul’s dangerous rhetoric attacking teachers and unions, and his desire to defund the Department of Education, Kentucky is struggling to even have a teacher in every classroom. If he truly cared about public education, he would focus on investing in teachers and students, instead of falsely claiming drag queens are going to be in classrooms.
Speeches were limited to six minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. I fought through tears during each six-minute GOP speaker’s transphobic tirade. I know I wasn’t the only queer, or trans, Kentuckian in the crowd. We all felt the same fear and anger. This was not our Kentucky.
These same speakers who spewed this venomous transphobic hate, repeatedly told the crowd of their ability to unify Kentucky. How they wanted to stop the divisiveness. How they wanted to end polarization. How they plan to make Kentucky a better place to live. My question to them is: As a queer and trans person, am I a Kentuckian to you? Because the grins and jeers I faced following each transphobic “joke” told me what your supporters view of me, but what do YOU, my supposed representative, see me as?
Kelley Paul did not make me feel welcomed. Instead, I felt attacked and endangered. I can tell you one thing, I sure as hell didn’t feel represented. It was clear that when she and her friends on that stage spoke of a united Kentucky, they longed for a Kentucky that did not include me.
The way I felt during Fancy Farm is why I’m voting like my life depends on it, because it does. That’s why on November 8, I’ll be casting my vote for Charles Booker, because he is someone who believes my life matters, and is someone I know will never make me feel unsafe.
Ysa Leon is studying Communications and Social Advocacy at Transylvania University. They founded Transys Queer Athlete Organization called TU One Team, and was recently nominated for the NCAA Division III LGBTQ Student-Athlete of the Year award.