One family in Southeast Kansas took a hard look at what was happening in the 4-H program they’d been a part of most of their lives and decided to take a stand.
Charla King, her husband Ross King, and three of their five children (two are too young) are — or rather were — very active in the Cherokee County 4-H chapter. But disheartened by the stands the national chapter seemed to be taking, and after being roundly ignored by the national group and essentially blown off by the state organization, the Kings are starting an alternative organization. They’re calling it “Heritage Youth of America.”
Charla King said the new group will be entirely non-political but still provide the youth-development programs for which 4-H has been famous for more than a century.
“We’ve decided as a family we could not be associated with 4-H anymore,” Charla King said. “So we are creating a new organization that hopefully will expand further, but in our county for now .. and it’s not going to be a carbon-copy of 4-H.”
The group is hoping to have their first meeting in November and should know if they will be able to show at the local fair next year after the Cherokee County Fair Board votes on Oct. 12 on whether or not to allow HYA to show at the local fair.
Charla King said that in Kansas, only 4-H and Future Farmers of America members are able to show at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson outside of the open class, but local HYA members will be able to show as usual at the county fair once approval is obtained.
National 4-H program promoting DEI over farming
It all started when the Kings discovered a page on the National 4-H program’s store website promoting “Peace, Love, Pride” — Pride being a month-long celebration for LGBTQ+ individuals — but no similar products for national holidays or celebrating things such as the national day of prayer.
“They were putting the 4-H clover over a rainbow flag and promoting that lifestyle over any other lifestyle,” King said. “And it’s not like they have an equal promotion for heterosexual kids or anything like that.”
Dr. Kurtis Gregory, a local veterinarian also active in 4-H, said when he reached out about the Peace, Love, Pride merchandise, he was told it was “a national holiday.”
However, while “Pride Month” may be — understandably — important to its community, it is not actually a national holiday.
Being devout Christians as well, the Kings did a bit more digging, finding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Critical Race Theory, and other social justice issues taking prominence at the national level and scattered across the website.
The final straw, King said, was when she found out that at a 4-H camp over the summer, a biological boy was housed in a girls’ dorm.
Indeed, Gregory found out about the same issue from other parents as well.
In a letter to the state extension office (4-H is run by the extension offices of Land Grant Universities, which here is Kansas State University), Gregory noted the 2019 Housing Policy at Rock Springs 4-H Youth Camp — which is taken from the national policy — states “that transgender campers are housed in the bunkroom of the sex they denote on their registration forms.”
The camp uses a “two-deep” supervision policy, meaning at least two counselors — generally between the ages of 18 and 25 — sleep in the cabins with the campers, and there are individual, locking bathrooms and showers; the policy is also that to “prevent discrimination against transgender individuals, their sexual orientation will not be questioned at camp.”
Moreover, the policy prevents parents from even being informed their child might be bunking with a camper — or counselor — who is transgender.
Gregory further noted that a mom and club leader (who declined to be interviewed) stated she was driving a vehicle full of 12-year-old boys back from camp and heard one of them ask, “Did you see the boy that was sleeping in the girls’ dorm?”
Charla King sent multiple messages to the national organization’s Facebook page, as well as an email, only to have all of them ignored.
King, Gregory, and others reached out to Dr. Gregg Hadley — who is the state extension director, and asked for a meeting.
Gregory said in the meeting, Hadley essentially minimized their concerns. In an email obtained by the Sentinel, Hadley said he’d reached out to an administrator at the national level regarding the concerns expressed by Cherokee County residents. He says he was told that the unnamed administrator doubted “the perspectives of his organization and those of the concerned citizens will align with one another” but agreed that the King’s communications should have been returned.
Hadley additionally said that, while nothing prevents anyone from forming a parallel organization or the Cherokee County Fair Board from permitting them to show, no extension resources or funds should be used.
Hadley also seemed concerned that King and her supporters were trying to dissolve the local 4-H chapter. However, King said specifically that is not her goal, but rather to provide an alternative.
“There’s still plenty of people who want to be involved in 4-H, and we don’t want our group to be divisive,” she said. “If people want to be in 4-H and our group, that’s fine.
“We want to have another place that is free from social and political bias. We want a safe space for kids where they don’t have to deal with politics or sexualization or anything like that.”