American Morning

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September 15th, 2010
06:30 AM ET

Transgender politics

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:

Sally Kern:

“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.”

Brittany Novotny:

“…(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.

Filed under: AM Original • Politics
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Jade

    "Call me close-minded, but I think a man who has mutilated his genitalia, implanted silicone in his breasts and pumped himself full of estrogen should still be considered, technically, as a man, albeit a feminine-looking one."
    – I'm going to take a slightly different approach to responding to this. Let's say we do that, just for giggles. I hope you don't ever go out in public again... because men, by LAW, do not have to wear shirts... regardless of how fat they are. So if you have someone who looks like a woman, but is treated by law as a man, ... . Or, y'know... since she is living as a woman we could treat her as one.
    – Incidentally, I love this accusation "mutilated genitalia." I mean honestly, the vast majority of men have "mutilated genitalia." Ever heard of a circumcision?

    September 18, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  2. Big Papa

    Heaven forbid that the clergy and religious leaders stay out of politics!!!
    If out-of-state political backers are not welcome in Oklahoma, then let's open up Sally Kern's campaign fund log and see exactly where she's getting paid. Even if there's no out-of-state backing, I would almost bet cash money that there might be some pastors or churches that have somehow found some "funds" to donate to Sally's campaign.

    What Ms Kern and Mr Blair need to do is stick to the facts and the issues, which are NOT whether or not a person is of the LGBT community. It should be who's the best candidate for the job. Who's working hardest for reform, improvement, and looking out for the people of the state of Oklahoma, NOT spending taxpayers time campaigning about someone's sexuality or what they do behind closed doors, as long as it's legal.

    The one who slings the most mud, usually the one who loses the most ground! Good luck Brittany!!

    September 16, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  3. Zoe Brain

    Y chromosome = male? Well, usually. Not always.

    " A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis." - J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;93(1):182-9.

    Yes, it's exceptional – but we're talking about exceptional cases here, such as Intersex conditions and Transsexuality.

    Shelley's comment was right on the nose by the way. Anatomically speaking (not "spiritually" or "psychologically" but anatomically), Ms Novotny's brain is just as female as Ms Kern's.


    Male–to–female transsexuals have female neuron numbers in a limbic nucleus. Kruiver et al J Clin Endocrinol Metab (2000) 85:2034–2041

    Male-to-female transsexuals show sex-atypical hypothalamus activation when smelling odorous steroids by Berglund et al Cerebral Cortex 2008 18(8):1900-1908;

    Sexual differentiation of the human brain: relevance for gender identity, transsexualism and sexual orientation. Swaab Gynecol Endocrinol (2004) 19:301–312.

    A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality. by Zhou et al Nature (1995) 378:68–70.

    A sex difference in the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus: relationship to gender identity by Garcia-Falgueras et al Brain. 2008 Dec;131(Pt 12):3132-46.

    etc etc etc. It's a over-simplification, but "female brain in otherwise male body" is close enough.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  4. HMEngland

    >> I believe it’s a belief of most Christians, that the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin just like gluttony is a sin…<<

    Therefore, no fat people should run for office?!?

    September 15, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
  5. jamesnimmo

    Sally Kern gives an hour-long speech to a gathering of like-minded flat earthers yet she has to clarify certain parts of it when she's called on the carpet.

    Two years ago when she first became nationally famous for secret "gays worse than terrorists" speech, she again had to clarify her remarks when called out about it.

    We see the trend that when Kern thinks she's speaking to her select groupies she's not concerned with the facts, only emotional lies.

    When questioned, Kern has to fill in the blanks of her gaffes with more lies.

    Kern is like a combination snake and centipede: an expandable mouth made to accommodate multiple inserted feet.

    September 15, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  6. danlwarren

    However you feel about transgendered people, the very act of making a political issue out of it does nothing but point out that Kern has no positive record to run on and a lack of character to match.

    September 15, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  7. Mallorie

    I'm going to explain this to everyone so its very clear. I'm not from Oklahoma, but I find this race interesting and I can not stand by and read misinformation being put out there.

    The reality is, and you can do the research yourselves but Ms. Novotny was born gender dysphoric. Gender dysphoria is a condition where the brain was composed chemically to be that of one gender (there are differences between the male and female brains) and the body is born of the opposte gender. Scientists and doctors have proven it. Any person who feels this way has to go under therapy and pysch evaluations, its not just so simple that someone just decides one day to have a sex change.

    With so many different conditions and defects children are born with, why would this not be outside the realm of possibilities for the nay-sayers out there? Ultimately, the solution to correct this condition can only be solved one way to this point. They can not "re-wire" the brain, so changing the body through hormonal treatments and surgeries to match the brain is the only way to treat this condition.

    Imagine if you were born this way, waking up and feeling like you lacked an identity, because you werent like the rest of the boys and you knew how and why you were different, but society told you how you felt as wrong. If you were in that circumstance, you'd feel hopeless and very lonely.

    I am a transgender woman who transitioned at a young age and I can speak honestly that I admire people like Ms. Novotny, because she has more courage than I do. Theres alot of us out there, but most of us try to just blend into society and be left alone. I work in the corporate world, I'm well-educated and I have generally a normal life like any other girl. We're not nuts, far from it, we just have a different story, one that many dont want to know or believe. I believe in God and I'm pretty moderate in my behaviors and beliefs. I have a supportive and loving family who always knew I was a girl and have never made me feel less than because society says we should. But I dont know if I have the guts to leave my life exposed for some people like you to judge and criticize. To run for public office is something to be admired and Ms. Novotny is a living example that transgender women are just as smart and just as qualified to do the job than anyone else.

    Would you want someone who can make a difference for the better or someone who runs on meaningless platitudes and only recites lines from the Bible that supports her bigotry. Ms. Kern, law number 1 above all others: Love God above all and love your neighbors.

    September 15, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  8. Dana

    Ralph Beach, willful ignorance looks good on nobody. You should really go educate yourself.

    September 15, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  9. Mickey

    Let's ponder this...Lies and politics , best I recall that HAS ALWAYS BEEN! Ms. Novotny is finally telling the truth and is willing to speak on the issues that face Oklahomans, all Oklahomans, not just the Christians or anyone one specfic group. Real issues, not back biting , immature mudslinging, and yet Kern still has yet to respond. Sally, stop talking samck and let's get on with the real deal! We need someone that looks out for ALL Oklahomans, not just the handful!

    September 15, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  10. Mike K

    JS, there is a distinction between gender and sex in the social sciences. Take a clinical psychology course and broaden your horizons before speaking in ignorance.

    September 15, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  11. Ben

    @ JS
    I get your point, but it is an issue of privacy. Sure, openly transgendered individuals admit to being born a different sex than the one they choose to present to the world, but there are many more that choose to keep what exists under their clothes to themselves. As a society, we cannot attempt to force individuals into classifications against their will. Genetically, Brittany Novotny has a Y chromosome, and thus biologically she would be classified as a male. However, "male" is not the same as "man." If an individual chooses to live as a woman, you should respect her decision.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:54 am |
  12. Queef

    If I lived in Oklahoma, Ms. Novotny would get my vote. And I would tell everyone I knew there to vote for her too. Sally Kern is despicable.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  13. Shelley

    Hey Ralph. Take your brain out of your body and put a female's brain in. Take your brain and put it in the female's body. THEN tell me that you are a man, and your body is now a woman too.
    Wrap your head around that and then maybe you'll understand transgendered people more. Some are born with both sets of genitalia, this is no different.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  14. Mits

    @Ralph Beach
    "I'm not judging..." followed by a paragraph of unsubstantiated, judgmental BS. Just because you say you're not judging someone doesn't make it that way. So a transgendered person is inherently untrustworthy and unfit for political office? Instead, I'm guessing you're going to vote for the woman that said sexual orientation is a graver threat than a terrorist organization that killed over 3,000 people just about 9 years ago. GG America, GG.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  15. RHH

    So, Ralph, exactly how do you 'know' Brittany is a boy? Otherwise, why do you think we care what you 'feel'?

    September 15, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  16. Craig Christ

    “Ralph”, if that is your real name, you’re a genius! How could I not see it? Get your name in the news by claiming to be what most conservatives would consider a sexual deviant only to later reveal that you were lying and are actually still a man. It all makes perfect sense. The campaign slogan could be, “OK I lied about my sex change but I’ll really change Washington!” I’m humbled by your political acumen. You should run for office.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  17. nichole

    @ Ralph

    Accuse her of lying, then accuse her of telling the truth to milk publicity out of it.

    You're a very confused man.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  18. JS

    Call me close-minded, but I think a man who has mutilated his genitalia, implanted silicone in his breasts and pumped himself full of estrogen should still be considered, technically, as a man, albeit a feminine-looking one. Not that I have a problem with him, though, I think his gender, or the uncertainty of it, is irrelevant to his qualification as a politician.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  19. derek

    @ Ralph Beach:
    wait, what?

    You say she lies about being a female, when in the next sentence you say she _told_ people she is transgendered.

    Please make up your mind.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  20. James

    Ralph, of course you are judging Brittany. Don't pussyfoot around. Your comment is the dumbest thing I've read all week. Going through a gender transition is one of the hardest and loneliest choices a person can make, thanks to attitudes of people like you. To accuse someone of doing it for political purposes proves to me that you have no idea what you're talking about.

    "Yes, I chose to be part of the most feared, most revolted, and least understood groups in our society, to lose 75% of of my friends and family, have to change jobs, and consider suicide on a daily basis for years... because I thought it would be good publicity for my political campaign." Give me a break.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  21. KayGee

    Brittany Novotny didn't lie, Ralph. She did not "hide" her status as trans gender. Sally Kern, however, did lie by making false statement about gays in societies. Bigots like Kern and Beach often lie to promote their bigotry.

    September 15, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  22. Ralph Beach

    I am not judging "Brittany Novotny but I have to speak my mind. You are a guy not a girl. If you lie about being a female how do I know that you will not lie in Politics? I feel you told people that you are Transgender in order to get on the news. You knew once people found out about you that being on the news would it would come to this. A Transgeender in Politics?!...What better news than this. Please, get into Politics for the right reasons.

    September 15, 2010 at 9:29 am |