Can’t find the word? Try ‘bigotry’
Fear and loathing in the Kentucky legislature
A sticker adhered to marble on the Kentucky Capitol’s mezzanine. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)
In the penultimate courtroom scene in 1993’s “Philadelphia,” Denzel Washington’s character demands the court acknowledge the subject they have danced uncomfortably around throughout the trial. “Your honor, everybody in this courtroom is thinking about sexual orientation, sexual preference, whatever you want to call it,” he says. “Who does what to whom and how they do it …. So let’s just get it out in the open. Let’s just get it out of the closet. Because this case is not just about AIDS, is it? So let’s talk about what this case is really all about: The general public’s hatred, our loathing, our fear of homosexuals.”
Kentucky’s Republican legislators spent much of the last month in Frankfort working to ban drag shows, books, medical care (against medical advice) and more while struggling literally to find words, from the continually mispronounced ‘prurient’ to insisting they could not or should not speak the words aloud from the very books they were insisting on banning.
If you are a lawmaker who has spent so little time with written material that you are unable to find words — words that are right there! in writing! — take that as a red flashing sign that you do not understand enough about your subject matter to make a cogent argument.
This lack of word-finding was repeatedly evidenced by my own representative, James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, who appeared to struggle late last Wednesday evening to describe what exactly is in the school library books he finds so pornographic and objectionable.
Midday Thursday, with the legislative clock ticking down, I then watched Rep. Tipton chair the shortest, final hour House education committee hearing I have ever seen. The 23 minute-long hearing was held solely to shove through a new version of Senate Bill 150, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, taking omnibus House Bill 470 back to its more original language to make it one of the most extreme, anti-trans bills in the country.
As I watched online, stunned, I recalled the 15 minutes I’d had with Rep. Tipton in his office a month earlier. I had gone there to speak with him about common-sense gun laws. He kept mentioning our senator, Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, which seemed nothing more than a benign way to talk about anything other than guns. I did not find this unusual.
What I realize in retrospect, however, is that I have been continually coaxed into seeing Rep. Tipton in this light, often witnessing him hide behind Sen. Southworth’s skirts these last few years as if to say, ‘Aw shucks, don’t look at me, I’m harmless. She’s the extreme one!’
He is not harmless. Around Thursday noon, with his slick-and-quick management of the clock to get SB 150 out of committee and to the House floor, I now see how Rep. Tipton has conveniently held up Sen. Southworth as a red herring. His urgency to subject some of Kentucky’s most marginalized kids and families to irreparable harm, simply because he and his colleagues seem to not understand their sexuality or their physical and emotional needs, is not only clueless and philistine but beneath the office he holds.
Within the hour, SB 150 was on the House floor for a vote, with Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, rightfully decrying that this horrific bill was purposefully rushed, and for what reason? Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, argued, “We are about to legislate something we don’t understand,” and Rep. Sarah Stalker, D-Louisville, added, “Clearly we need to protect our children from some of the people in this room who are voting for hate.”
As the afternoon and evening progressed, and legislators in both the House and Senate debated and cast votes to easily pass this bill with their Republican supermajority, a number of impassioned speeches stood out. But one that struck a chord with me personally for its laughable naiveté was Rep. Bill Wesley, R-Ravenna, as he told the story of his cheerleading daughter and fellow cheerleaders asking him to make sure boys could not use their bathroom.
I was once a 15-year-old cheerleader, too; a happy-go-lucky cheerleader until I quit the squad because I felt sick and exposed at games, jumping around in a short skirt in front of the heterosexual, much-adored man in my community who was grooming me (and likely others) to give him oral sex. A term Rep. Tipton would surely avoid speaking aloud.
It is the ultimate irony that lawmakers like Reps. Tipton and Wesley, who distract and falsely conflate sexual grooming with their so-called “bathroom” issue, are the gift that keeps on giving to the very real pedophiles in our communities.
I have watched the debate about SB 150 from the start. I have been witness to its unfortunate journey, both in person and via video. This bill will harm children.
I repeat: This bill will harm children.
And history will be deservedly unkind to every lawmaker who shoved this ignorant and hateful bill down Kentuckians’ throats.
Thirty years ago, “Philadelphia” received a Best Picture Oscar nomination for being a leader, for being one of the first blockbuster films to address homophobia and portray homosexuals positively, as welcome in American society.
Kentucky is not only not leading, our GOP elected officials mortify the majority of us every time they open their mouths. Unlike places like Michigan, where they just passed legislation to protect the LGBTQ community, the majority of our lawmakers remain woefully behind the times in their willful, fundamental misunderstanding of language and of people — of children — whom, let’s be honest, they fear, find disgusting, and do not understand.
To paraphrase Denzel in “Philadelphia,” how about we just get it out in the open, get it out of the closet. Kentucky’s Republican leaders refuse to acknowledge facts or find words because it keeps them from having to admit their hatred, their loathing, their fear of homosexuals and non-cisgendered people.
Theirs is the very definition of bigotry.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.