FANCY FARM, Ky. — Republicans went hard on a controversial, hot-button topic in appearances at the Fancy Farm picnic on Saturday: transgender people in sports.

Democrats were none too pleased.

Kelley Paul, who spoke in place of her husband GOP Sen. Rand Paul, spent much of her speech railing against transgender women’s participation in women’s sports and what she framed as progressives’ lax gender ideology.

“I wouldn’t expect the Democrats to know what a recession is. They can’t even define what a woman is,” Paul said to a spate of raucous cheers coming from the Republican side of the crowd.

First Congressional District Democratic candidate Jimmy Ausbrooks, who is gay, took offense at her comments.

“I’m glad that Miss Paul left. That was an insult to me and many of my friends,” Ausbrooks said on the stage. “We are human beings. We are people.”

Some in the audience responded with jeers and boos.

”When I go to D.C., I am going to represent each and every one of you, even though you’re biased against me, I still believe in you,” he told the Republicans in attendance. “So you can sit here and you can laugh at me, you can make jokes at me, I don’t care. But I do care about your rights.”

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After the speeches, Ausbrooks called Paul’s remarks “inappropriate” and “cruel.”

Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge said he’s not sure what Republicans think they’re gaining by attacking transgender people.

”There’s not much in Kentucky politics that makes me speechless, but I was really appalled by it,” he said.

The “vitriol” directed at Ausbrooks “for simply having the courage to stand on that stage knowing where he is and saying he’s gay, that kind of bullying, that kind of unbelievably cruel rhetoric, I don’t know that they realize — I hope they don’t realize — how impactful that is. There could be kids up here, Republican or Democratic kids, who are struggling with their sexuality and that could have been a death sentence. And that’s not hyperbole.”

He added: “Shame on them.”

Paul mentioned the story of University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, whose national conservative media star has risen due to her opposing transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.

“We say no more men in women’s sports,” Paul proclaimed. “I worry about Kentucky Democrats. They used to be everywhere and now you can barely find one. Maybe it’s because the Democrats went from promising a chicken in every pot to a drag queen in every school.”

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Ryan Quarles, GOP commissioner of agriculture and candidate for governor, said he “believes that it’s wrong to let biological boys compete with girls in women’s sports.”

It was a line he repeated twice on Saturday: Once at the Graves County Republican Breakfast and again on the Fancy Farm stage. He praised the Republican-dominated legislature for its passage and veto-override of Senate Bill 83, which bans transgender student athletes from participating in sports on teams that align with their gender identities.

State Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, touted the legislature’s accomplishments, including passing a law to “prohibit biological males from competing in women’s sports.”

“I have granddaughters who play sports and it’s very dear to my heart,” he said to cheers from much of the audience.

State Auditor Mike Harmon, who is running for the GOP nomination for governor, also made a play on words criticizing Democrats’ COVID-19 policy and gender-inclusive language by saying that you might be a “Beshear-Biden Democrat” if you think “mandates are great, but you wish they would be called ‘persondates.’”

Western Kentucky’s 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. James Comer joined in on the rhetoric.

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“Democrats in Washington are so liberal and so woke now that they can’t even define what a woman is. But even worse: They say men can have babies,” Comer said.

Paul also targeted drag queens, usually male performers who dress in an exaggeratedly feminine costume.

“Chinese kids are learning calculus in the third grade. What are the Democrats teaching our kids? That men can have babies. By November, we’re going to say bye-bye to the Democrats and their drag queens,” Paul said.

House Speaker and event emcee David Osborne, R-Prospect, said Democrats “continue to be more and more out of touch with reality.

“They think that the answer to fuel cost is buying more electric vehicles, that government — not parents — know what’s best for their children, and that Title IX could be hijacked to let men compete as women. … Even Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t buy that one.”

After the event, he acknowledged the popularity among Republicans of talking about transgender people and those who bend gender norms, but said that he didn’t see legislators pursuing more policy on the subject beyond Senate Bill 83.

“It’s certainly a topic that is top of the day. The events of the summer with the Kentucky swimmer kind of brought it to light a little bit more here in Kentucky, and it’s become a national topic that everybody likes to talk about. I don’t see it driving a lot of policy beyond what has already been done,” Osborne said.

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