Until about a week and a half ago, she was just an obscure, retired schoolteacher who'd only in the last few years ventured into state politics.
Now, though, after a less-than-three-minute clip of one of state Rep. Sally Kern's occasional public addresses (if 50-or-so people counts as "public," that is) about the "homosexual agenda" was posted on YouTube (see related article in this week's issue), she's known across the nation, and even in other parts of the world, and her words have been condemned by numerous local and national community and political groups, but celebrated by a few others.
At the time of this writing, at least one million people have viewed the original clip, which doesn't begin to count those who have seen it on other websites where the video has been posted since, nor the many, many millions more who have seen its widespread media coverage.
Openly gay daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres apparently saw it, and made an on-air attempt to contact Kern last week to "clear some things up," and to "figure out which societies have disappeared that we don't know about."
Upon dialing her Capitol office number, though, DeGeneres ran into the same problem experienced by untold numbers of reporters, constituents and others who saw the clip and felt like reaching out, which was that her 250-message-capacity voicemail box was full.
Her e-mail inbox had also been inundated with messages.
Tens of thousands of e-mails, mostly from angry critics, flooded the Oklahoma House of Representatives' computer network, forcing IT personnel to shut it down a few times last week.
A source close to the Capitol told UTW that DeGeneres wasn't the only celebrity to call the Sooner statehouse in an attempt to hook an interview with Kern.
"Dr. Phil" host Phil McGraw also tried to contact her to invite her on his show.
Also, innumerable local and national, and even international news media outlets were beating down her figurative door.
Where most of them failed, though, UTW succeeded, and the bulk of what Kern had to say for herself can be seen in the accompanying article of this week's paper.
Her lack of availability was largely due to last Thursday night's deadline for House bills to be heard on the House floor, which necessitated all-night, marathon floor sessions all week, which tied up most if not all of Kern and other lawmakers' time.
Now that her time is relatively freed up, though, Kern said she doesn't plan to grant most, if any, of the requests for interviews, neither with DeGeneres nor with Dr. Phil or others.
"If I thought I'd get a fair shake, I would, but I'm not going to go and throw myself into the lion's den," she told UTW.
"We did contact Dr. Phil to find out what the show would be about, and they said I'd be part of a panel," Kern said.
She said she expects that the panel would likely be hostile toward her message about the "homosexual agenda" and its potential of "destroying this nation."
If the members of that forecasted panel are anything like the critics who have responded to Kern's message so far, she's probably right.
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which is the organization that "outed" her by posting the YouTube video, called her speech an "anti-gay tirade" and condemned it as "hate speech."
Also, Patrick Sammon, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said her remarks "are so inappropriate and beyond the pale that she's demonstrated that she's not fit for service in public office."
Closer to home, local community leaders gathered in downtown Tulsa last week to denounce her comments.
"Oklahomans for Equality deplores the sentiments expressed by Kern," said Justice Waidner, the executive director of the downtown Tulsa-based gay rights activist group.
"In a triple play of intolerance, Representative Kern offends lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, thousands of women and men defending the United States from terrorist attacks, and Muslims worldwide. Yet, she remains completely unapologetic, citing her right to freedom of speech," she added.
Waidner is correct. Kern told UTW that she "won't apologize or back down," and rejected criticism of her comments as "hate speech," stating that she merely exercised her right to free speech (again, see accompanying article).
Waidner continued, stating that Kern's "legislative track record belies" her stand under the banner of free speech.
"In 2006, Representative Kern sponsored a bill denying funding to public libraries that refused to segregate books addressing LGBT themes, thus preventing access to crucial information for numerous LGBT people, especially youth," Waidner said.
However, Kern's bill did not address all LGBT-themed books, but only children's books, requiring them to be removed from the children's section and placed in another section accessible only to adults and parents.
Kern filed the bill after a constituent discovered her child reading "King and King," which was written for children between the ages of 4 and 8.
The book tells the story of a young prince whose "grouchy" mother, the Queen, tries to make him find a princess to marry, despite the fact that he's "never cared much for princesses." In his search for a princess to marry, he meets and falls in love with another prince by the end of the book, which concludes with a kiss between the two.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives, but was not given a hearing in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Also during the press conference, David Bernstein, spokesman for the Jewish Federation of Tulsa and for the Say No To Hate Coalition, compared Kern to a neo-Nazi for her comments.
"Coming from my Jewish perspective, in the Old Testament, Judaism teaches us that all human beings are created equal. The whole story of the creation is not a bunch of mommas and papas--it's one man, one woman, we all come from the same place. No one lords it over anyone else, no one is better than anyone else," he said.
"Babies aren't born knowing how to hate. People have to be taught how to hate. Representative Kern, I believe, is a teacher of hate. Not by judging people by their character, not by judging people individually or by what they do or don't do, but by judging entire groups. In Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler knew that very well," Bernstein continued.
Jim Langdon, board president of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, called Kern's remarks "insulting, intellectually fraudulent, and embarrassing," stating that, as a state legislator making such comments, Kern "perpetuates the wrongful stereotype that Oklahoma is a backward state."
Jerre B. Fine, an openly gay former linguist for the U.S. Air Force, said she's offended on three levels: as a gay person, as someone who has served in the ongoing war on terror, and as someone whose language instructors are Muslim.
Sheryl Siddiqui, spokesperson for the Islamic Society of Tulsa, made no mention of whatever offense she feels as a Muslim, but called Kern's comments "divisive" and "counterproductive" because they distract the Legislature "from far more important issues," such as poverty, social services and the economy.
The Rev. Jim Mishler and Martha Hardwick, executive director for the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry and member of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance's board of directors, respectively, both stated that, despite her claim that, "as a Christian I believe that homosexuality is not moral," she does not speak for all Christians, or all Baptists.
Kern's husband is a pastor of a Southern Baptist church.
"Our Baptists disagree with her, as do the rest of our board," said Hardwick.
However, when asked who is supporting her in the ongoing controversy, Kern said, "There are all kinds of churches that have called, and my own denomination has a very solid stance on homosexuality."
According to the Southern Baptist Convention's position statement on sexuality, "Homosexuality is not a 'valid alternative lifestyle.' The Bible condemns it as a sin. It is not, however, unforgivable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals."
Hardwick's criticisms didn't end with her disagreement of Kern's religious statements, though.
"By her condemnation of LGBT people, as well as Muslims and others, Miss Kern is openly admitting that she is one legislator who will not and has not represented all of her constituents fairly and equally, contrary to her charge as a state legislator," she said, stating that she believes the "vast majority of Oklahomans . . . shun (Kern's) anachronistic opinions."
So far, however, that "vast majority" of Okies doesn't include the Republican members of the state House of Representatives.
The embattled lawmaker received a standing ovation in a meeting of the House GOP caucus last week.
Kern didn't take that to mean every one of her Republican colleagues has her back, though.
"I couldn't see everyone in the room, so I'm not going to say 100 percent of the people there stood up, and I'd say all of them don't agree with me 100 percent," she told UTW.
Kern said she took the standing-O as an expression of her colleagues' solidarity with her during a difficult time, not necessarily as an endorsement or acceptance of her message.
There has yet to be a formal statement about the matter from House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, despite criticisms by a few gay activist groups in the state for his not taking any action so far.
Benge, however, was likely trying to avoid distraction from those "far more important issues" mentioned by Siddiqui, as he and other lawmakers worked all day and night to meet last week's deadline for House bills.
The Oklahoma Republican Party has also yet to comment on the Kern Controversy.
"I haven't had a chance to talk to Representative Kern," state GOP chairman Gary Jones told UTW.
"Her comments were that (the YouTube clip) was edited, so I want to hear her side of the story," he said.
A few local Christian and social policy groups are speaking out on behalf of Kern, though.
"Kern Faces Wrath of National Gay Movement for Upholding Biblical Standards of Morality" was the headline of a statement issued last week by the Oklahoma Family Policy Council.
The first line of the statement read, "State and national leaders of the homosexual lobby are using biblically based comments by state Rep. Sally Kern to fuel their gay agenda."
The Catholic Diocese of Tulsa, on the other hand, has not issued a formal statement regarding the Kern Controversy, expressing either condemnation, approval nor indifference.
Representatives of Tulsa's Bishop James Slattery did not return UTW's telephone calls.
We did manage to contact the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, though.
Despite the fact that Kern represents constituents within its purview, Archdiocese spokesman Rev. Ed Weisenberger told UTW that he isn't familiar with her comments, nor with the controversy surrounding them, and that he wouldn't normally comment to media outside the Archdiocese anyway.
Tags: Sally Kern
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