Two peas in a pod: Kentucky and Florida

Published 11:42 am Thursday, August 24, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Correction: There was no outbreak of measles in Kentucky this year, as opposed to this article previously saying there was. According to the Jessamine County Health Department (JCHD), there were zero cases linked to exposure from the original (index) case. I guess that’s one point, for Kentucky, then.


When I first moved to Kentucky as a 17-year-old girl, one thing got on my nerves more than anything. More than seeing a man barefoot on a college campus, more than the less-than-reliable Lexington Public Transportation and even more than the blizzard-like conditions in the winter of my first year in a more moderate climate. 

Email newsletter signup

The Florida slander truly grinded my gears. This wasn’t because I thought Florida was so much better than Kentucky that no one should ever critique my home state. Still, more because the similarities were glaring, and as someone with roots along the Smoky Mountains, I couldn’t handle Kentuckians thinking somehow their state was so much better than Florida. 

As time passes, I feel more vindicated in my thought process around these two beautiful and chaotic states. The breathtaking nature of both states is a given- we should all be able to agree on that. The kindness of people in Kentucky and Florida is something I see often, as well. But what else do we have in common?

Invasive species

Have you heard about the Florida Man who brought his pet alligator to get food at the drive-thru? I feel so bad for the worker who had to face him; gators are horrifying- unless we’re talking about gator bites (It’s basically chicken and better than venison, don’t judge me). I know alligators aren’t invasive, but a dangerous exotic pet trade thrives in Florida. I’m talking about Indiana Jones monsters. Enormous Burmese Pythons, feral hogs and reptiles of all shapes and sizes now call Florida home- even though they are invasive and unwanted. 

In Kentucky, there’s always a non-zero chance you run into an alligator in a creek. These aren’t supposed to be in Kentucky, but because of illegal releases, it can happen. Calloway County in Kentucky had a gator visitor this month in one of its creeks. Before that, the last reported invasive species was a Caiman spotted in a Lexington canal in 2021. In 2020, a 3-foot alligator was found near the Kentucky Dam. And in 2015, another alligator of the same size was found in Skaggs Creek near Kentucky Lake.

Watch out! Chances are low for Kentucky, but never zero. Although Florida is much more of a humid subtropical wonderland for tropical critters of all kinds, Kentucky also has a particular liking for reptiles. 

Making vintage diseases cool again

Remember the recent Asbury revival- The event celebrated spirituality around the country and brought tens of thousands to the county’s cute and quaint town of Wilmore in Jessamine County? Well, that special religious event also put an exceptional vintage disease back into the playing field- measles. The acute respiratory illness with a lovely rash to follow was declared eliminated by 2000, but the revival saw it come back, baby! 

Thankfully, this situation was not even an outbreak, and did not spread past patient zero. Still- how scary is it that we got so close to seeing a full measles return? Thank you, JCHD.

“Upon receiving confirmation of measles in the index case, JCHD immediately began working closely with that person, Asbury University, Kentucky Department for Public Health, other state public health departments, and the CDC to conduct a thorough investigation and quarantine all potential close contacts who were unvaccinated. We tracked those in quarantine for 21 days following exposure to our index case (per CDC recommendation) and none of those in quarantine showed any concerning symptoms throughout their quarantine period. As of March 13, the CDC indicated that there were no other known cases in the US stemming from exposure to our index case.” Said the Jessamine County Health Department’s Communications and Marketing Director, Melinda Barkley.

Florida has seen a vintage disease comeback of our own- although it’s a bit older and a whole lot uglier, I can’t help but see the parallels. 

Although still rare, Leprosy has been endemic to central Florida since about 2015. This is a chronic infectious disease caused by bacteria. Although treatable with multidrug therapy (MDT), if left untreated for too long, it can leave individuals with permanent disabilities. Among other things, this disease causes infections in the nerves and skin. Imagine wiping one day, and your butthole falls off. That can happen with Leprosy.

I promise I’m not saying this to ward off people from my home state. It’s still rare- there have only been about 20 cases per year in Florida since 2015. This uptick has not been tied to a lack of vaccination, but it is not tied to the COVID vaccine, either, as some claim. Instead, Leprosy cases in Florida have been linked to cute little armadillos. Be careful, y’all. 

New laws

For the final and perhaps most stress-inducing part of this list, both of these states, which I love deeply, have been passing heart-breaking legislation. 

Both states, according to the Movement Advancement Project, have laws that actively censor discussion of LGBTQ people or issues in school. These are also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” policies. While many see these as “wins” when referring to parental rights or their choice to approve what students learn in class or protecting their child from competing with a trans person in sports in both states, this set of laws also excludes nondiscrimination laws and policies to protect LGBTQ students in both states. In Florida, conversion therapy is not explicitly allowed but is no longer considered illegal. 

In June, Florida’s State Board of Education also banned Critical Race Theory from being taught in K-12 schools. This is particularly fascinating because, as someone who attended the Florida school system, I can confidently say that CRT was never a part of our lessons in any way. In fact, according to the Associated Press, Many Americans including Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans — argue that dissenting perspectives are often missing from textbooks and classroom discussions. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill attempting to do the same in 2022. 

The Florida Board of Education also approved standards to teach students that some Black people benefited from slavery because it taught useful skills. 

When everyone puts their thinking caps on, regardless of their political standing, we can think of how 400 years of unpaid labor and abuse and squalor and trauma has nothing to do with benefiting Black people and everything to do with the exploitation of their labor and their souls for the profit of our country. 

If we can realize that German companies are so successful and wealthy today due to the free labor they used in their labor and death camps for a couple of years during the reign of Adolf Hitler, it shouldn’t take that much more logic to think of what 400 years of slavery did to boost America as the wealthy superpower it is today- and what that must have done to all of the exploited people’s descendants who live today. So as you see, it’s quite the opposite.

This isn’t “Fahrenheit 451,” but the Florida Board of Education is trying to rewrite history. 

Although Florida seems a step crazy above Kentucky, our old Kentucky home is not far behind. I love these places- the ability to walk barefoot in our neighborhoods with no one caring at all, the beauty of each state’s nature and how it engulfs us in love, and the distinctive cultures of the two states. 

With every “Florida Man” I’ve met, I swear I’ve met two more of the “Kentucky man.” I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer- in fact, I feel good about the future of our country as a whole. I have faith in my generation and won’t give up on that because I can’t. But I just wanted to point out that the state so many turn their nose up at in Kentucky is not as far from our reality as one might think.