FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A prominent GOP candidate roiled the hotly contested primary race for Kentucky governor with a comment that if elected, “we will not have transgenders in our school system," angering LGBTQ advocates in a state that has enacted laws limiting the rights of transgender youth.
Former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft made the comment in response to a question during a telephone town hall Monday night. She did not specify what policy actions she envisioned involving transgender students, but her campaign weighed in Tuesday when asked to respond.
“Of course Kelly was referring to the woke ideologies being pushed in our schools,” her campaign said in a statement. “She has been advocating for the best for all children this entire campaign.”
Craft’s comments were swiftly denounced as “desperate and disgusting” by Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, a Kentucky-based LGBTQ advocacy group.
Craft is waging a combative contest against state Attorney General Daniel Cameron as part of a 12-candidate field vying for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in the May 16 primary. Craft’s running mate, state Sen. Max Wise, sponsored a sweeping law aimed at transgender youth this year.
“Her claim that she and Wise will somehow purge transgender kids from Kentucky schools is nothing more than an unhinged political promise she can’t keep,” Hartman said.
“None of the other candidates are railing this hard against LGBTQ youth because it won’t work, except to harm trans kids,” he added.
The nominee is expected to challenge Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who is seeking reelection to a second term in the GOP-trending 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 fielding questions reportedly submitted by callers across Kentucky, with topics including her stand on gun rights, abortion and fighting illegal drugs.
One question asked Craft how she’d “combat the transgender agenda” in classrooms. Craft noted that Wise sponsored the measure dealing with, among other things, school bathroom policies, curriculum and which pronouns are used to refer to transgender students.
Craft added: “Under a Craft-Wise administration, we will not have transgenders in our school system.”
She later doubled down in answering the same question, saying: “Under a Craft-Wise administration, we will not have transgender.”
Throughout the campaign, Craft has railed against what she claims are “woke” ideologies infiltrating Kentucky public schools, pledging to lead efforts to overhaul the state education department if elected. With her remarks about transgender children, Craft upped the ante in her culture-war messaging.
The question is whether the strategy will pay off against a field of staunchly conservative candidates. Craft has put millions of her family's fortune into a barrage of TV advertising.
“There’s no doubt that that issue polls very, very well with core Republican primary voters," GOP political consultant T.J. Litafik said by phone Tuesday. "The danger that any candidate faces is going so extreme to win a very small primary vote that you can’t get back to the middle for a general election.”
The Kentucky legislation is part of a widespread movement, along with Republican state lawmakers in other states who have approved extensive measures that restrict the rights of LGBTQ people.
The debate about transgender issues is likely to continue into Kentucky's fall campaign for governor.
Beshear vetoed the sweeping measure that banned gender-affirming medical care for trans youth — one of many provisions affecting young transgender people. Beshear said the legislation amounted to government overreach into parental rights in 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,” would not allow transgender children to use the bathroom aligned 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 are going to be taught.
Several Kentucky families with transgender children recently filed a federal lawsuit challenging the sections banning puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender youths. The suit didn’t take aim at other sections dealing with school policies.