By Bob Ruff and Carol Costello, CNN
(CNN) – Changing American social attitudes have meant that many Americans are no longer surprised when a gay or transgendered candidate runs for public office in liberal cities like San Francisco or Boston.
But what about the bible belt?
We weren’t sure, so we flew to the politically red state of Oklahoma to check out the state house race between the transgender Democratic candidate, Brittany Novotny, and the socially conservative Republican incumbent, Sally Kern.
We caught up to Novotny as she went door-to-door soliciting votes in her State House District 84. Why would someone who grew up in Oklahoma as a man, and later underwent procedures to become a woman, put herself up to public scrutiny?
The answer sounded like the candidate she is:
“I want to run for office because I want to help make sure that Oklahoma has a better future. You know, we’ve had a lot of politicians for the last several years that have been out here dividing people up and, you know, playing on people’s fears...I think we need leaders who are focused on issues like helping our small business create jobs, insuring quality education for all our children, and investing in our transportation infrastructure and our roads.”
What kind of reaction does she get from voters?
“You know being a person who is the first transgender woman to run for office in Oklahoma, I can tell you that I’ve gotten literally zero hates. Zero hate emails. Zero hate phone calls. Nobody at the door has slammed the door at my face and called me weird. In fact people have embraced me with open arms.”
Kern is a state representative, but made national news in 2008 with controversial comments she made about gays. She told a group of political supporters:
“…Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than…a few decades…I honestly think it’s the biggest threat…our nation has, even more so than terrorism, or Islam…”
Kern’s remarks went viral on the Internet. She says she received hundred of hate emails. Ellen DeGeneres took several minutes out of her show to play Kern’s remarks on her nationally syndicated talk show. DeGeneres, who is a lesbian, poked fun at Kern by trying to call her on air. (DeGeneres got her voice mail.)
Does Kern regret saying what she said?
“No…because it’s what I believe. Everyone understood what I was doing. I was giving a talk to Republican activists sharing with them how there are a group of homosexual millionaires who are wanting to change the political climate of the nation. And they were doing it secretly.”
Kern singled out Colorado multi-millionaire Tim Gill, a gay political activist, who, according to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, has doled out thousands of dollars to gay candidates in Oklahoma since 2006.
But the Commission’s campaign contribution reports back up Novotny’s claim that she received no money from Gill, and that most of her donors are from Oklahoma. Sources close to the Gill action fund say they have not contributed any money to the Novotny campaign.
Ben Patrick Johnson is Novotny’s largest out-of-state supporter. A Los Angeles voice-over actor, he’s donated $1,000 and recently held a fundraiser for Novotny. He says there’s no gay millionaires’ group trying to oust Kern.
One of Kern’s strongest supporters is Edmond, Oklahoma pastor Paul Blair. He says Johnson and the rest of Novotny’s out-of-state donors should stay out of Oklahoma politics. We asked him if there is an out of state plan to elect Novotny, what have they proved?
“…that even if you’re in a conservative state, you’re not safe if you take a strong stand on these moral issues. We can knock you out. If we can knock Sally Kern out of Oklahoma, when we can knock you out.”
The candidates themselves have generally avoided discussing transgender or other socially controversial subjects. So far they’ve stuck pretty much to economic issues, though in our interviews both candidates were willing to discuss religion:
“It’s no secret that I have a personal belief, I believe it’s a belief of most Christians, that the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin just like gluttony is a sin… There are things that are going on today that would make my grandmother blush and there were things that when my grandmother was alive that were going on that that would have made her grandmother blush. So as we get farther and farther away from biblical principles, more and more things are accepted. And that’s just the way things are going.”
“…(Sally Kern) deeply believes that the acceptance of homosexuality and whatever else in society is what is just going to tear us apart, and what I’m say is look: you know, I’m a Christian, I grew up in Catholic household. My mom instilled faith in me. And that faith means that whatever choices we make we know that God is ultimately up there to judge us…”
Election Day is November 2.