Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) defended a decision to pose for a photograph with drag queens at a recent LGBTQ rights rally after a Republican lawmaker accused Democrats of threatening traditional values.
The photo in question was taken last week at an annual rally hosted by the Fairness Campaign calling on lawmakers to pass pro-LGBTQ legislation.
Beshear, an LGBTQ ally, became the first sitting governor to attend the rally, throwing his support behind a bill to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination and another to ban the practice of conversion therapy.
State Sen. Phillip Wheeler (R-Pikeville) denounced the photo, taking objection to Beshear standing alongside members of the Kentucky Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a national LGBTQ charitable and advocacy group whose members dress up like nuns.
Speaking at a campaign rally for Rep.-elect Richard White (R-Morehead) last weekend, Wheeler showed the photo to his audience and accused Beshear and Democrats of “trying to convince our children this is the right way to live.”
“Even when I was a young man, that kind of stuff just didn’t fly,” Wheeler, 41, said, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Now it seems like it’s everywhere.”
Beshear told reporters on Thursday that he would pose for the photo again, arguing that his faith teaches him to treat every single person with respect. He called Wheeler’s remarks “homophobic.”
“I don’t think he is the fashion police for the Capitol,” Beshear said of Wheeler. “I believe he owes each and every one of [the Sisters] an apology. They are as much Kentuckians as anybody else.”
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Democratic Party pointed to Wheeler’s accusations as simply the latest in a series of controversial remarks made by the lawmaker.
In a statement, the party accused Wheeler of having a “history of bigoted attitudes,” pointing to a Facebook post Wheeler made using a racist term to refer to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
“It’s time for Phillip Wheeler to go. He’s embarrassment to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and his hateful, ignorant comments do not have any place in the Statehouse,” Marisa McNee, a spokeswoman for the party, told the Herald-Leader. “If Senator Wheeler does not resign, the Senate must censure him immediately.”
But Wheeler insists he is being maligned by Democrats and that he took umbrage at the way the group was dressed — including one man wearing devil horns and another wearing a KFC bucket to make a nun’s habit — and not their sexual orientation.
“When you have a particular group that mocks Christian religion and traditional values in the Capitol, I have a problem with that,” Wheeler said.
In response, the Derby City Sisters issued a statement attempting to extend an olive branch to Wheeler.
“The Derby City Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is an order of sacred clown nuns whose goal is to bring education and awareness of the LGBT+ community,” the statement said. “We strive to be present in the community so that others can see they are allowed to be comfortable as they are, where they are in their journey. We would love for anyone (especially Senator Wheeler and Representative White) to come and get to know us! We look atypical as a goal, however, our mission can be easily skewed when someone doesn’t know who we are.”
But Wheeler told the Herald-Leader that he is not willing to meet with the group.
“If they’re going to mock the Christian religion, I’m not interested in having a discussion with them,” he said. “They’re not going to convince me that it’s appropriate.”
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