Letcher County, where I was born and raised, has an unemployment rate of 9.2 percent — almost double the 5 percent unemployment rate for the entire state.
The county has a graduation rate of 75 percent, eight points lower than the state as a whole, and a per capita income of $18,163 — $10,000 less than the national average.
It is evident that Letcher County has a lot of adversity to overcome in order to see growth and prosperity for its citizens.
What a majority of the community members are asking is, why are the Letcher County Fiscal Court and District 1 Magistrate Bobby Howard even concerned with transgenders’ use of public restrooms?
This has not been an issue in the county until it was made an issue by these local politicians.
The fiscal court and Howard are asking County Attorney Jamie Hatton to protect the county from complying with federal regulation by discriminating against transgender people. The fiscal court, Howard and the county attorney are setting an example that the county is above federal law.
The county relies heavily on state and federal aid, yet these politicians want to be exempt from federal law. Surely its leadership has more important things to focus time and attention to, such as education, employment, drug abuse and an ever-growing HIV epidemic.
Just last week, two students were hospitalized after using a synthetic drug at the county high school; just one week prior to this incident local offices reported that over a four-day period 13 individuals were arrested for drug abuse.
Instead of being concerned about who is sitting in the next bathroom stall, Howard should be focusing taxpayers’ money and time on life-and-death issues for the area.
It is argued that these county officials are representing their constituents and they are doing their jobs. What about the constituents not being represented? Whitesburg is a progressive and open-minded community made up of intelligent citizens. Who is representing these individuals? Who is representing the transgender citizens of the county?
In case you don’t remember, a Letcher County business once put a sign in its window that read “Muslim Free.” Citizens of the county gave that business an insurmountable amount of backlash in support of fairness and equality to all people.
Local business owners, citizens, and friends of citizens stood together to send a message that Letcher County is an inclusive and welcoming community. Shortly after, the “Muslim Free” business closed its doors.
So, I’m asking the state and county leaders not to make Letcher County a bigoted and exclusive community, but to work toward growth and improvement.
Find a solution to lower the unemployment rate, create jobs that will offer a sustainable income to families, and increase the percentage of high-school graduates.
Letcher County is full of beautiful, intelligent and capable people. Give them the opportunity to flourish.
Gary Bentley, a Whitesburg native who lives in Lexington, is a former coal miner who works in manufacturing.