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Gay Democrat Seeks Congressional Seat in a Deep Red Kentucky District

Jimmy Ausbrooks

Kentucky’s First Congressional District, located in the western part of the state, is considered safely and solidly Republican. Its current representative is a staunch opponent of LGBTQ+ equality and has been known to send homophobic messages over Twitter. It sounds like a challenging place for a gay man to run for office, but that hasn’t stopped Jimmy Ausbrooks.

Ausbrooks, a mental health counselor, ran unopposed in the district’s Democratic primary this year, and he’s facing U.S. Rep. James Comer in the November general election.

Comer is no friend to LGBTQ+ people. He’s received zeroes on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard throughout his tenure, which began in 2017, and he once sent a bizarre text message in which he called a fellow Republican, political consultant Tres Watson, “Gay Watson.” Comer has sent other “vulgar” and “abusive” text messages over the years, according to Louisville’s Courier-Journal. He also has stated his opposition to marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights in general, although last year he removed that information from his campaign website.

“I don’t see how he’s representing me,” Ausbrooks says of Comer.

Ausbrooks says he wants to be a representative for all the people if voters send him to the U.S. House. His own community, naturally, is important to him; he notes that Kentucky has no statewide antidiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people and isn’t likely to enact them any time soon. “I know that the federal level could give us those protections,” he says.

While he’s a native Kentuckian, he’s lived in some states with inclusive civil rights laws, including California and Florida. “I have experienced what that freedom, what that protection feels like,” he says.

Ausbrooks is committed to working for other progressive causes as well — reproductive freedom, reasonable gun regulations, expanded access to mental health services, voting rights, universal health care, an increase in the minimum wage, immigration reform.

He’s been deeply interested in politics for a long time. He was one of numerous candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate from Kentucky in 2020; Amy McGrath emerged victorious but lost the general election to incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell. But Ausbrooks’s political résumé goes farther back.

He credits his eighth-grade history teacher with giving him a passion for politics and government. “I’m very grateful that we have teachers who inspire our youth,” he says.

Through the Washington Center, which arranges internships for college students, he worked in Democratic National Committee Chairman Donald Fowler’s office in 1996. The following year, he attended President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration at the invitation of Wendell Ford, Kentucky’s last Democratic U.S. senator. In 2000, he earned a degree in government from Western Kentucky University.

After running a furniture store for several years, he got a master’s degree in counseling from Lindsey Wilson College in 2018, then opened his private counseling practice in his hometown of Franklin. He’s one of the few out gay counselors in the region, and he has many LGBTQ+ clients. He’s on the board of the Kentucky Counseling Association, and he advises the association on LGBTQ+ issues.

That the region needs activism for LGBTQ+ equality was much in evidence at August’s Fancy Farm Picnic, a venerable western Kentucky political event that features speakers from both parties. Rand Paul, the state’s junior U.S. senator, who’s up for reelection this year, sent his wife, Kelley, to speak for him.

She delivered such lines as “Democrats went from a chicken in every pot to a drag queen in every school” and “Come November, we’re going to say bye-bye to the Democrats and their drag queens.” She also said Democrats can’t define what a woman is, and she denounced transgender athletes, saying “men” shouldn’t be in women’s sports. Paul, a Republican, is being challenged this year by Democrat Charles Booker, the first Black U.S. Senate nominee in Kentucky history.

Comer’s speech at Fancy Farm was marked by anti-trans comments as well; like Kelley Paul, he claimed Democrats cannot define a woman, and he mocked the idea of trans men giving birth.

Ausbrooks, when it was his turn to speak, said Kelley Paul’s address was an insult to him and many of his friends. “We are human beings,” he said. “We are people.” He reminded the audience that everyone has LGBTQ+ people in their family and their neighborhood. “This is a time to unite as a state,” he said. “When I go to D.C., I am going to represent each and every one of you. Even though you are biased against me, I still believe in you.”

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