Vermont Politicians Respond to Transphobic Rhetoric with More Rhetoric

On “The Morning Drive with Kurt and Anthony,” former Republican City Councilor and State Representative Kurt Wright traffics in appearing to be a common-sense Vermont centrist, all the while hosting extreme conservative activists and politicians. In the middle of a spring marked by widespread anti-trans political action and legislation in the US and heightened transphobic and homophobic violence in Vermont, Wright invited right-wing activist Karlyn Borysenko onto his radio program.

While Wright regularly invites extreme right wing guests onto his program — last month’s guests included Rudy Giuliani’s son Andrew Giuliani and former New Jersey Governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie — many local Democratic politicians continue to join Wright and co-host Anthony Neri on air, seizing the opportunity to advance their personal political careers. 

During the program with Borysenko, Wright did not object to her parroting extreme right-wing transphobia, such as calling Burlington School District teachers “groomers” for discussing gender and sexuality.

Borysenko, who is described as a “sometimes controversial psychologist” in the show notes, uses her “Unwoke Army” of volunteers to harass and intimidate pro-trans organizations and individuals. Most recently, she focused her ire at a closed, private training from the Burlington School District, through Edmunds Middle School, on race and gender expression. During her interview with Wright, Borysenko stated without any disagreement from the hosts that Burlington “was a school district that, without sounding hyperbolic, was abusing the children.” She went on to ask if people should be more afraid of being called racist than “having their child transitioned by a guidance counselor.”

Local public school teachers such as Christie Nold have been the target of the Unwoke Army’s constant harassment, including personal attacks from Borysenko herself. In a twitter thread from April 19, Nold claimed that Borysenko had personally accused her of “sexualizing children.” 

In the video associated with her appearance, titled “Woke School District is Grooming kids on the Internet,” Borysenko claims that she is not anti-trans or anti-queer. Yet she regularly uses hyperbolic language and homophobic dog whistles, such as when she liked a comment from Youtube user Brenda Youngblood that said “These teachers seem very pervy and creepy and I would be afraid to let them have contact with my child.” Another one of her videos on YouTube has the title “Woke mayor of Burlington Vermont SUPPORTS GROOMING in public schools.”

Wright platformed Borysenko on April 18, at a time of heightened violence against trans and queer people in Vermont. Six days before the interview aired, local trans woman Fern Feather was murdered, and a week after the interview the Vermont Pride Center was vandalized. This month, a Canaan man was arrested for multiple transphobic threats towards the local high school, saying “If anybody comes near my daughter with a fucking dick and fucking panty hose, I’ll kill ‘em.”

Throughout the 45-minute program, neither the hosts nor callers engaged in any pushback, even when Borysenko used homophobic and transphobic dog whistles. Despite being aware of Borysenko’s views, Wright put the onus on listeners, who skew heavily toward older, white, and conservative, to call in and correct any blatantly false information or allegations made. 

At one point Borysenko asserted: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but there have been no acts of violence perpetrated because of these issues.” Neither host Wright or Neri mentioned the murder of Fern Feather or the numerous threats and death threats Burlington school officials had received in the preceeding weeks.

Instead, Wright provided a platform for Borysenko to minimize the harm she has caused to Burlington school officials. When asked to respond to BSD employees saying they received death threats as a result of Borysenko’s programming, Borysenko called Nikki Ellis, an assistant principal in the Burlington School District, a liar. Wright did not challenge her. 

When Borysenko threatened to expose teachers’ emails, Wright desperately asked her to acknowledge she wasn’t trying to instigate any physical threats or harms of safety. Like Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Wright platforms fear mongering and harassment, but does not want to be held responsible for any direct violence that comes from it.

Since the April 18 episode aired, the program’s only guests from Vermont’s trans and queer community were political candidates whose interviews did not extend to homophobia or transphobia. Over a dozen politicians, many prominent Democrats and Republicans whose personal political careers benefit from “The Morning Drive,” have been invited and appeared on to the show since then. We reached out to several of them about their decision to go on “The Morning Drive.”

Governor Phil Scott condemned the violence against Fern Feather in a statement shortly after she was attacked, but oddly omitted her name from all official communication. He went on the program two days after Borysenko, on April 20. He also joined the show again on June 15. Scott’s Press Secretary did not respond to our request for comment.

We reached out to current Lt. Governor and candidate for U.S. Congress Molly Gray and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, regulars of “The Morning Drive,” who both joined the program on April 22. Gray went on to the program a second time on June 2. While neither responded to our request for comment, four days later Weinberger issued a press release on the targeted vandalism against Vermont Pride Center, stating that “acts of hate have no place in Burlington.” Borysenko had targeted, among other Vermont educators, Burlington School District’s own staff. Weinberger did not respond to questions about how his administration is keeping trans and queer youth and BSD staff safe from right wing harassment fueled by Wright’s show and Borysenko. Weinberger returned to the show on June 16.

Jill Krowinski, current Vermont Democratic House Leader, joined the show on May 4. After the spate of transphobic hate crimes, Krowinski wrote a letter condemning attacks on LGBTQ Vermonters, particularly around “terminology that has long been used as a way to frame the LGBTQ+ community as dangerous to children.” Krowinski did not respond to questions about whether she would return to the show in the future.

On May 5 and June 15, former Lt. Governor David Zuckerman, who is running for his previously held position, went onto the show. The first appearance was less than two weeks after Vermont Pride Center was targeted. Zuckerman has a history of supporting pro-LGBTQ legislation, particularly same-sex marriage. He did not respond to our request for comment. 

On May 23, Brenda Siegel, the Democratic frontrunner for governor, appeared on the show. Siegel, who is part of the LGBTQ community, posted multiple tweets decrying the actions of anti-trans action by the Vermont GOP and at the national level. In an email exchange, Siegel’s campaign manager wrote that “she condemns harm caused by anti trans rhetoric allowed on the show” but refused to answer if she would return to the program in the future before listening to the episode, saying it “would take some time before she is able to do that”.

In a tweet by State Senator and former Democratic congressional candidate Kesha Ram Hinsdale regarding the Canaan threats, she blamed the Vermont GOP for making Vermont less safe for “trans people, drag queens, and allies.” Ram Hinsdale has been on WVMT twice since April, on May 17 and June 1. 

In an email response, Ram implied she would continue to go on to the program, saying that she does not “believe we are any better off by refusing to speak in spaces where otherwise voices like ours would not be heard.” Ram did not mention if she had condemned Borysenko or transphobia in the Vermont GOP on the show.

Vermont Democratic congressional candidate and Senate President pro tempore Becca Balint joined the show on June 14. We will update this if we receive a response from her campaign. 

In a short email exchange, Wright claimed to “have invited guests to be on our show with a different perspective from Ms. Borysenko.” Wright also said that they “expect to have [an alternative] perspective on the show in the near future.”

In a follow up email, Wright claimed that trans politicians such as Taylor Small, Christine Haliquist, and Brenda Churchill have been on the show. Curiously, none of these interviews have been posted online. Wright went on to say that he had invited someone from Edmunds Middle School to be on the show, but “that they may not want to have the issue in the spotlight anymore” since he was still waiting for a response.

We asked if Wright could explain to us the difference between Borysenko’s rhetoric and the transphobic rhetoric used by a Canaan father, which forced the school to close on the last two days of the school year. While he acknowledged the rhetoric was similar, he held that “The individual in Canaan was actually talking about acting on a threat of violence while Borysenko did at least condemn any threats of violence.” 

It appears that Wright and WVMT do not see it as their responsibility to push back on bigoted falsehoods. Rather they just need to make sure that if their guest is spreading hate, even using genocidal language, they do not admit to actively encouraging violence. 

Two months have passed since the interview first aired, yet “The Morning Drive with Kurt and Anthony” has not facilitated any conversations that express an alternative perspective from Borysenko’s. They have let her narrative stand.

When marginalized groups come under fire, Vermont politicians only combat violent rhetoric with rhetoric of their own. They do not take any meaningful actions regarding their fellow politicians or local media personalities who engage in dog-whistle bigotry — even an action as small as avoiding a radio program like “The Morning Drive with Kurt and Anthony.”

Support The Rake Vermont

Our journalism can't happen without your support.

Become a Patron!

Related Articles

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.