Kentucky GOP Gubernatorial Candidates To Host Debate At The Henry Clay, A Historic Safe Space For The LGBTQ Community

Mar 7, 2023 at 4:28 pm
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community and their friends, family and supporters walked and lined Main Street from Floyd Street to the Belvedere for the Kentuckiana Pride Parade, Saturday, June 16, 2017 in Louisville, Ky.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community and their friends, family and supporters walked and lined Main Street from Floyd Street to the Belvedere for the Kentuckiana Pride Parade, Saturday, June 16, 2017 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Brian Bohannon

In just a few hours, Kentucky Gubernatorial GOP candidates will take the stage at The Henry Clay for a debate to be televised on Spectrum News 1 this evening from 7-8 p.m.

The GOP debate is welcoming media and ticketed invitees, and offering five-minute interviews with media, and a meet-and-greet with the 200+ attendees following the debate. 

However, from the tone of the media invite, no one will be in the same room with candidates during the debate. The media and attendees will watch from a different room, the second-floor ballroom, via large screens. The only photographer will be from the Associated Press, and no livestreaming will be allowed. There are more rules, but here’s the thing: this debate is the epitome of an ironic horse pile of a mess, and to be honest, it’s blatantly offensive to those in the LGBTQ community and anyone who cares about their friends and family members who are part of that community. 

The GOP, the party who has been actively working on bills across the country like Kentucky’s HB 470, which would essentially ban gender-affirming care to transgender youth, or SB 115, which puts the performance of drag in certain places at risk, is hosting their debate at The Henry Clay. 

Why is this noteworthy?

The Henry Clay has a long history for Louisville’s LGBTQ scene. It once housed the Beaux Arts Cocktail Lounge, which was a meeting place for local gay men and those who stayed at the hotel. The Beaux Arts was in operation from 1947 until 1955. It was, from many accounts, an openly “gay” bar billing itself as “the gay Beaux Arts” in advertisements and offering patrons “music and gayety.”

Beyond the time of the Beaux Arts Lounge, The Henry Clay has been at the heart of the theater district in Louisville. This theater district has hosted and still hosts plays, ballets, and other performance arts that are geared toward and celebrate the queer community. The Henry Clay, in particular, has served as home to several LGBTQ-oriented theater groups. One of those is currently Pandora Productions, whose "Godspell" show opens this week. 

The idea that the GOP is hosting their debate in a theater, in a building that has been home to the Louisville LGBTQ community is, in so many ways, mind-blowing. The inability of Republicans to read a room and not look like ridiculous fools is wild. This may not be the time or the place to bring the hate of the “Grand Ol’ Party” to a community fighting for its very survival.

The Henry Clay still maintains a ballroom on its fourth floor called the Beaux Arts Ballroom, a nod to its queer history. 

So, the Kentucky GOP, who actively harms and espouses hate upon the LGBTQ community, is hosting their “shindig” in the house that gays built — to put it mildly. 

Will the moderators ask them about these bills? Will they be pressed to explain why they chose The Henry Clay over the many more GOP-friendly spaces in the city? I mean, doesn’t Southeast Christian have a big auditorium?

Here’s what’s good. The sidewalk outside the Henry Clay is wide, and should a protest pop up, there is plenty of space and parking nearby.