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Kentucky Gay-Rights Activist Arrested During Protest

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

A prominent gay-rights activist was dragged out of a state fairgrounds building and arrested Thursday during a protest at the Kentucky Farm Bureau's country ham breakfast, an annual event that draws many of the state's top political leaders.

State police officers dragged Fairness Campaign executive director Chris Hartman away in handcuffs after a brief confrontation after he tried to enter the breakfast.

Hartman had a ticket for the event, his attorney said. Hartman and a handful of other activists shouted "shame" as he was dragged out of the building.

Outside, as he was lying prone on the ground, Hartman shouted "this is a police state ... this is what discrimination looks like." He was placed in a police vehicle and taken away.

Hartman faces misdemeanor charges of second-degree disorderly conduct, menacing and resisting arrest, said his attorney, Mike Goodwin. Two other activists — Carla Wallace and Sonja DeVries — were charged with second-degree disorderly conduct and menacing, he said.

Goodwin said he's confident the charges will either be dropped or the activists will be acquitted.

A state police spokesman did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Amber Duke, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said Hartman was arrested after he was denied entry to the event despite having a ticket.

"He had his hands up to present his ticket and the trooper said 'put your hands down, put your hands down,' a struggle ensued and then handcuffs, arrest," she said. "Chris went down to the ground."

The Fairness Campaign said members were there for what has become an annual protest of the Farm Bureau's stance on gay rights and other issues.

Farm Bureau spokesman Todd Bright said it did not give instructions to deny anyone entry to the event. The organization said it does not discriminate, but its policies do reflect its membership.

"We respect the right of all organizations to go through their policy development process," Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney said in a statement. "We ask that organizations and individuals respect our right to follow our process, even if you think differently."

The Farm Bureau wields considerable political influence in the bluegrass state. Hartman's organization says the Farm Bureau takes anti-LGBTQ positions.

Most people attending the breakfast were unaware of the commotion in the lobby outside the giant ballroom where the event took place.

A short time after the arrests, the state's Republican governor, Matt Bevin, praised the Farm Bureau's values as reflecting those in the nation and the state during his speech at the breakfast. Those values, he said, include respect for God, law enforcement and the military.

Bevin, who faces a tough challenge in November from Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, urged Kentuckians to "vote your values and not your party."

The event draws a crowd of about 1,500 people each year and brings with it considerable media attention, especially in election years.

Hartman also was arrested for protesting at the event in 2015 and charged with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. Prosecutors later dismissed those charges.