A prominent GOP candidate has infuriated Kentucky’s hotly contested gubernatorial primary race with a comment that, if elected, «we won’t have transgender people in our school system,» angering LGBTQ advocates in a state that has enacted laws that limit the rights of transgender youth.
Former UN ambassador Kelly Craft made the comment in response to a question during a telephone town hall Monday night. She did not specify what political actions she envisioned involving transgender students, but her campaign weighed in when she was asked to respond Tuesday.
«Of course Kelly was referring to the awakening ideologies being pushed in our schools,» her campaign said in a statement. “She has been advocating for what is best for all children throughout this campaign.”
Craft’s comments were quickly denounced as «desperate and disgusting» by Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, a Kentucky-based LGBTQ advocacy group.
Craft is fighting a combative race against state attorney general Daniel Cameron as part of a field of 12 candidates vying for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in the May 16 primary. Craft’s running mate, state Sen. Max Wise, sponsored a sweeping bill targeting transgender youth this year.
“Her claim that she and Wise will somehow remove transgender children from Kentucky schools is nothing more than an insane political promise that she cannot keep,” Hartman said.
«None of the other candidates are criticizing LGBTQ youth that much because it won’t work except to harm trans kids,» he added.
The candidate is expected to challenge Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who is seeking re-election to a second term in the Republican-leaning state and faces nominal opposition in his party’s primary. Other Republican contenders include state agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles, state auditor Mike Harmon, retired attorney Eric Deters and Somerset mayor Alan Keck.
Craft spent an hour answering questions purportedly submitted by callers in Kentucky, with topics including her position on gun rights, abortion and fighting illegal drugs.
One question asked Craft how she would «fight the transgender agenda» in classrooms. Craft noted that Wise sponsored the measure that addresses, among other things, school bathroom policies, the curriculum and what pronouns are used to refer to transgender students.
Craft added: «Under a Craft-Wise administration, we will have no transgender people in our school system.»
He later doubled down on answering the same question, saying, «Under a Craft-Wise administration, we won’t have transgender people.»
Throughout the campaign, Craft has criticized what she says are «wake-up» ideologies infiltrating Kentucky’s public schools, and has vowed to lead efforts to reform the state’s education department if elected. With her comments about transgender children, Craft upped the ante on her culture war message.
The question is whether the strategy will pay off against a field of staunchly conservative candidates. Craft has poured millions of his family fortune into a barrage of television advertising.
«There’s no question that that issue fits very, very well with mainstream Republican primary voters,» Republican political adviser TJ Litafik said by phone Tuesday. «The danger any candidate faces is becoming so extreme in order to win a very small primary vote that they cannot go back to the middle for a general election.»
The Kentucky legislation is part of a broader movement, along with Republican state lawmakers in other states who have passed sweeping measures restricting the rights of LGBTQ people.
The debate over transgender issues is likely to continue into the fall campaign for Kentucky governor.
beshear banned the sweeping measure that banned gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth, one of many provisions affecting transgender youth. Beshear said the legislation amounted to a government overreach of parents’ rights when making medical decisions for their children.
“My faith teaches me that all children are children of God,” the governor said in his veto message.
The GOP-dominated legislature overrode the veto.
Other parts of the measure require school districts to devise bathroom policies that, «at a minimum,» do not allow transgender children to use the bathroom in accordance with their gender identities. It allows teachers to refuse to refer to transgender students by the pronouns they use and requires schools to notify parents when lessons related to human sexuality will be taught.
Several Kentucky families with transgender children recently filed a federal lawsuit challenging sections banning puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender youth. The lawsuit did not target other sections that deal with school policies.