Lexington Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Gray says the Kentucky Farm Bureau should change its policies that oppose same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues.
“I think the Farm Bureau needs to adjust and adapt to the times, and that means adjusting their policies,” Gray said after wading through a crowd of pro-LGBTQ protesters outside the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s annual Ham Breakfast event in Louisville on Thursday morning.
A Democrat, Gray is openly gay and running against Republcian Sen. Rand Paul in his bid for reelection.
The Kentucky Fairness Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, has demonstrated outside of the annual event for years, opposing the Farm Bureau’s stances against same-sex marriage, domestic benefits for same-sex couples and abortion.
Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, said his group’s opposition to the Kentucky Farm Bureau “is not going away.”
“People’s awareness is being raised about the fact that they’re buying into discrimination when they’re buying Kentucky Farm Bureau insurance,” Hartman said.
Last year, Hartman and activists Sonja de Vries and Carla Wallace were arrested while protesting the event. The charges were eventually dropped, though the activists later filed a lawsuit against the Kentucky State Police, alleging false arrest, First Amendment free speech violation, First Amendment retaliation and malicious prosecution.
Gray said he shares the concerns of the protesters and that he attended the event “to engage those who often have different points of view than I have.”
“I’ve learned that as mayor of the city and as a public servant that we often have to engage those who have different points of view in order to find common ground and shared values,” Gray said.
During his welcome address, KFB President Mark Haney defended the organization, which he said “does not discriminate” and bases its positions on input from members.
“We will not apologize for our democratic, grassroots process, the principles of which have served our nation very well for a long time and our organization for 97 years,” Haney said.
During his speech, Gov. Matt Bevin joked that the protesters outside the event were demonstrating against ham, the ostensible centerpiece of the event.
“I know some people don’t like ham, but I don’t know if you saw some of these people outside, they’re taking it to an extreme,” Bevin said. “Somebody asked me what I thought about these protesters and I thought, well, just don’t eat the ham, it’s alright.”
No protesters were arrested this year, though Hartman said state troopers told them they had to take down a large sign prohibited by longstanding Kentucky State Fair rules.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville, and 6thCongressional District candidate Nancy Jo Kemper also joined the protests.
Yarmuth purchased a table at the Ham Breakfast in previous years but declined to go into the event on Thursday.
“Gay marriage is legal, so why you would have a policy saying you don’t recognize it is bizarre to me,” Yarmuth said.