One of the many prevailing misconceptions about diversity in politics – or in any leadership capacity for that matter – is that the promise of it can only lead to unqualified officials. On the contrary, diversity within an institution only makes things better: A variety of perspectives and experiences makes a government more capable of addressing its citizens’ needs, not less. Keturah Herron, a candidate running for Kentucky House District 42, knows this. Endorsed by the Committee for Fairness and Individual Rights (C-FAIR) – the political action committee of The Fairness Campaign – and LGBTQ Victory Fund – an organization whose mission is to achieve and sustain equality by increasing the number of openly LGBTQ+ elected officials at all levels of government – Herron is more than qualified to make a change for Kentuckians. In fact, she already has.
Albert Fujii, a spokesperson for the LGBTQ Victory Fund, has this to say on Herron: “A seasoned community organizer and policy expert, Keturah is well prepared to bring her experience and critical perspective to the Kentucky state house, a legislative body with zero LGBTQ representation. Good policy starts with getting good people into the decision-making room. We are excited to support Keturah’s historic campaign as she shatters a lavender ceiling this February.”
As emphatic as those words are, they do little to illustrate why Herron is such a singular candidate. “As someone who is a Black, queer, masculine-presenting woman, I have seen and experienced a lot. I never followed politics or had a desire to be in politics. I believe I have been called to do this. I deeply believe my life purpose is what has gotten me here today,” says Herron who uses she/they pronouns.
Herron grew up in Richmond, KY in a single-parent home. She says that her mother instilled in her the values of helping others, community, and hard work. “Growing up, we always had a family member or family friend living with us. So I believe that my 15 years of experience working with youth and families is grounded in that,” recounts Herron. A common criticism of diverse candidates is that they won’t appeal to voters in more rural parts of the state, but Herron also believes that her identity and background are an asset in this regard: “[I’m from] rural Kentucky. Many people do not view Richmond, KY as rural. Madison country is the first county that starts Appalachia, so I would argue differently. I believe all the dynamics of who I am will allow me to represent the people in House District 42 as well as all Kentuckians.”
However, her rationale isn’t solely relying on identity politics. Herron has important experience both with the ACLU and with the formation of Louisville Ordinance No. 069, Series 2020. More commonly known as Breonna’s Law, this ordinance effectively banned no-knock warrants, began more tightly regulating the execution of search warrants and the use of body camera equipment during implementation of search warrants in Louisville.
Herron recalls her involvement with the ACLU fondly. Already a fervent community organizer, Herron was recognized for her political potential while speaking at an event regarding the impact of parental incarceration on families. “After the event, two people from the ACLU approached me. They later invited me to one on one for coffee. I learned about the work they were doing, and I spoke to them about my life experiences.”
She began volunteering shortly after that, and it wasn’t long before she co-created the Smart Justice Advocates (SJA). “SJA is a group of people who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system. We learned about policy, met with legislators, and started to build community,” explains Herron. In 2018, having garnered the necessary experience, the ACLU formally asked Herron to do contract work with them for the 2019 legislative session. “I came on board to help fight against the school safety bill. My goal was to prohibit police from being in schools across Kentucky.”
But Herron can cite even more valuable lessons learned from her time with the ACLU: “I learned the importance of coalition building and working with people whom I normally would not. I was able to build relationships with legislators in the house and senate as well both Democrats and Republicans. I learned to read policy, write policy, whip votes, and just overall get things done.”
As mentioned previously, all of this experience – and none more so than the ability to “get things done” – enabled Herron to champion the ratification of Breonna’s Law. It was a real turning point for her, a pivotal moment when her experience and identity could work in tandem to her advantage as well as that of the citizens of Louisville. “I was feeling so many emotions, and at the time, it was the one thing I felt I could help with,” she says, “I was on a call with people locally and across the nation, and as we did introductions, it was my turn. I didn’t know what to say, and it just came out of my mouth. I said, ‘I will work to ban no-knock warrants.’ From there, I made a few calls and we got to work.”
Herron makes the rest sound easy, but it wasn’t. A colleague of Herron’s drafted the first copy of the bill: “[They] said send us what you have. It was my goal to get something drafted and then get community to weigh in. It was fast… From the day we launched the #nomorenoknocks campaign until the day it passed, it was 17 days. That was unheard of.”
Herron’s successful election may not be quite unheard of, but it would sadly still be notable even without considering her impressive qualifications. The LGBTQ Victory Institute, currently lists only six total out, LGBTQ+ individuals in Kentucky politics – only one of which a legislator and not locally elected. “You often hear people speak about how representation matters. I wholeheartedly believe it does matter,” says Herron passionately. “It is important to have the LGBTQ+ experience present while policy is made. It is my hope that my presence will inspire all LGBTQ+ folks that they belong and are able to do whatever they desire. I also hope my presence will debunk any type of negative thoughts and feelings people may have about us. I envision creating a pipeline to leadership to help create people power. I am one person. I cannot do this work alone. I want people to understand their role in the overall ecosystem.” If elected, Herron plans to tackle legislation on voting rights and violence prevention, specifically taking the oft-debated issue of gun violence but looking at it through the lens of public health.
As meaningful as a win would be, Herron also knows how important it can be to prepare for the possibility that progress may not happen as quickly as she likes and/or not necessarily with her this time. “I would tell people we have to define our own wins. We cannot allow other people to tell us what that looks like,” she says simply. “Me running is a win. Me being bold enough to raise my hand in this moment is a win. At the end of the day, no matter what happens on Feb. 22, the work must continue.”