U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, and 6th Congressional District Democratic nominee Nancy Jo Kemper of Lexington joined about 40 protesters outside Thursday’s Kentucky Farm Bureau Country Ham Breakfast at the Kentucky State Fair to urge the Farm Bureau to change “discriminatory” practices.
The protest was peaceful without any arrests. Last year, three protesters were arrested by state police on misdemeanor charges that were later dropped, and the three have a pending U.S. District Court lawsuit against the state police.
Yarmuth, wearing an an orange T-shirt that said, “No Hate in Our State; Kentucky Farm Bureau Big on Discrimination,” said the Farm Bureau had policies against gays, teachers, unions, pro-choice advocates and death penalty opponents.
“Most people in that room don’t know the Farm Bureau’s policies,” Yarmuth said while standing outside the Kentucky Exposition Center, where more than 1,600 people, including a lot of politicians, gathered for the Farm Bureau’s 53rd annual breakfast.
Mark Haney, president of Kentucky Farm Bureau, said the organization’s policies reflect the values of its members, and the group does not discriminate.
The audience included Gov. Matt Bevin. When asked about the protestors, Bevin, a Republican, said, “It’s a great country, and it’s great people can love ham or not love ham. I love ham.”
Kemper, who is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, in Central Kentucky’s 6th District, said she always has been for equal rights of all people.
She said she believes there are “gay kids in rural areas,” and the Farm Bureau should be concerned about them.
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said his organization and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, the Jefferson County Teachers Association and Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice joined in the protest.
Kentucky Farm Bureau’s policy book says marriage should only be recognized as the legal union of a man and a woman, Hartman said. The bureau is one of the state’s largest lobbying groups.
The group’s policies, Hartman said, also include opposition to any state-supported agency providing benefits to domestic partners.
The only tense scene at the protest occurred earlier, when a state police trooper informed Hartman that the protesters could not have signs.
Hartman asked why not, and the trooper said he didn’t have to explain anything to him.
The group put its signs on the ground across the street.
The breakfast attracted several big-name political speakers, including U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, both Republicans. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, the Democratic nominee challenging Paul this year, was in the audience.
Shortly after a Farm Bureau video touting its democratic organization, Hartman and about 20 protesters who bought tickets to the breakfast left.
“We’ve heard enough,” Hartman said. “It’s the same old drivel.”
He said the group will plans to be back next year if there are no changes.
The ham breakfast traditionally showcases the best of Kentucky agriculture by presenting the state fair’s grand champion country ham for auction to the highest bidder. Auction proceeds benefit the winner’s Kentucky charity of choice.
Central Bank paid $600,000 for this year’s 17.38-pound ham.
Since the event began in 1964, the Kentucky Farm Bureau has raised nearly $10 million for charities across the state. In 2015, the winning ham sold for $400,000.