August 31, 2010

Why Does the Kentucky Farm Bureau Loathe Gay People?

When you hear the words Kentucky Farm Bureau, what comes to mind? Agriculture, farming, and rural America, perhaps? Indeed, the Kentucky Farm Bureau has been around for generations, working with farmers in Kentucky to improve the quality of life and the economy, as well as offer insurance.
With such a deep and historic focus on agriculture, it makes one wonder why the Kentucky Farm Bureau alsohas some disturbingly anti-gay and homophobic positions. For an organization supposedly dedicated to "serving as the voice of agriculture" in Kentucky, does it make much sense for them to weigh in on issues related to gay rights?
Perhaps not, but that's not stopping the Kentucky Farm Bureau from doing so. Statements adopted by the Kentucky Farm Bureau's 2009 "Farm Bureau Policies" manual show that the institution believes LGBT people are abhorrent and immoral, and that public institutions ought to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Here are some of the Kentucky Farm Bureau's formal positions (pdf).
  • "The institution of marriage should only be recognized as the legal union of a man and a woman."
  • "We are opposed to any state-supported agency providing benefits to 'domestic' partners."
  • "Alternative lifestyles should not be taught in public schools."
  • "We are opposed to granting special privileges to anyone."
What the hell does any of that have to do with farming and agriculture? Send the Kentucky Farm Bureau a message that they should stick to looking out for Kentucky's agricultural interests, and stop peddling discrimination toward the LGBT community.
Of course, these statements just touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to controversial positions taken by the Kentucky Farm Bureau. Because in addition to these statements that are cloaked in anti-gay sentiment, the Kentucky Farm Bureau also opposes "an increase in the minimum hourly wage," and opposes the right of employees to strike or organize work stoppages to confront labor violations. And in a moment of weird hypocrisy, the Kentucky Farm Bureau affirms their position that the unborn deserve full human rights, while adamantly supporting the death penalty.
Again, what the hell does any of this have to do with agriculture?
That's a question that a number of folks are asking. Though controversy around the Kentucky Farm Bureau has existed for years, this month the Fairness Campaign in Kentucky sent a sharp letter to the Bureau, asking them to remove these controversial positions from their official policies. So far there's been no response.
And some farmers in Kentucky are starting to question the efficacy of the Kentucky Farm Bureau, too.Take a look at Hampton “Hoppy” Henton, a 62-year-old Kentucky farmer who spoke to Leo Weekly. He said that he's become dismayed at the political work of the Kentucky Farm Bureau, and that they should stay out of social issues like gay marriage, and instead focus on helping Kentucky farmers.
“They’ve got policies against gay marriage and against the right of farmers to unionize,” Henton says. “You tell me what the hell does any of that have to do with agriculture?”
Oh! That's an easy one. Nothing.
So why does the Kentucky Farm Bureau continue to take such positions? As the largest property and casualty insurance provider in the state of Kentucky, shouldn't they know better?
Send the Kentucky Farm Bureau a message today, and let the Bureau know that you agree with the Kentucky Fairness Campaign when they say that discriminatory and socially unjust policies have nothing to do agriculture, and don't belong in the policy manual of the Bureau.
Oh, and to add insult to injury here? Three years ago, the Kentucky Farm Bureau fired an employee. What did he do? He supported gay marriage. The horror!
Clearly this is an institution that has some deep-seated problems with homophobia wound up in its infrastructure. And it needs to dismantle them now.
Photo credit: David Paul Ohmer
Michael Jones is a Editor. He has worked in the field of human rights communications for a decade, most recently for Harvard Law School.

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