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Anti-gay pageant answer comes back to haunt attorney general candidate

The Illinois Republican said abusive parents are better than same-sex parents.

CREDIT: Youtube/Erika Harold
CREDIT: Youtube/Erika Harold

Erika Harold is seeking the Republican nomination for Illinois attorney general, but new comments have surfaced revealing antipathy for the LGBTQ community.

Harold was crowned 2003’s Miss America, but it was at a Miss Illinois pageant in 2000 when she was asked about same-sex adoption. Harold’s mother was a social worker who placed children in foster care, and she was asked — if she were in the same role — whether she’d place a child with a loving same-sex couple or a different-sex couple who were known child abusers. She reportedly chose the abusers.

That’s according to three different sources who spoke to NBC 5, one of whom confirmed these reports to ABC 7 as well. One of the pageant officials described remember the response because it was “so shocking,” adding that “she spoke about reading the Bible daily and said her beliefs could not subject a child to the gay lifestyle.” Another official said the answer “cost her the pageant,” and another contestant said video of her response was viewed by other contestants to be used as a learning experience.

The portion of the interview in which Harold reportedly gave the answer was not part of the pageant that was seen by the public and no video has yet surfaced.

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Harold’s campaign initially responded to the report by lashing out at those who were reporting it, with her spokesman saying, “I have a real problem with this story. Less than two weeks before the election, unnamed sources are going to say this?” The campaign ultimately put out a statement Friday claiming Harold couldn’t remember the exchange, but insisting, “Erika, like many others, has changed her position on the issue over the last 20 years. She acknowledges that position was wrong, and now strongly supports same sex adoption and foster placement.”

But Harold’s responses in 2000 are consistent with the social conservative positions she’s taken since then. When she won Miss America, she emphasized abstinence-until-marriage as part of her platform — reportedly over the objections of the Miss America organization. She had served at the time as a spokesperson for the now-defunct Project Reality, a state-funded abstinence education network based in Illinois.

According to the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education, Project Reality’s curriculum “relies on messages of fear and shame, inaccurate and misleading information, and biased views of marriage, sexual orientation, and pregnancy options.” And since same-sex marriage wouldn’t be legal in the state for another decade, “abstinence until marriage” was an inherently anti-gay position.

Harold also ran for Congress in the 2014 election, prompting new attention to her conservative beliefs. The Weekly Standard described her then as “fiercely pro-life” and concerned about “religious freedom,” under the guise of which many conservative organizations justify discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Just two weeks before she’d lose the primary in that race, Harold spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and described her efforts as a lawyer to protect “religious freedom.” “I have seen all too often how some would try to silence religious groups from speaking in the public square,” she said, “and saying your participation has to be confined to the four walls of a church.”

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CPAC has long played host to many anti-LGBTQ groups and has only recently begun letting organizations like the Log Cabin Republicans participate. In 2014, as in years prior, LGBTQ-affiliated groups were prohibited from sponsoring CPAC.

The reporting on Harold’s past remarks has prompted a variety of different responses. Her opponent in the Republican primary, Gary Grasso, has called on her to withdraw from the race, saying, “You never choose to put a child in harm’s way, to be subject to physical abuse.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who has endorsed Harold and donated $350,000 to her campaign, refused to comment.

Ashley Hatfield, executive director of the Miss Illinois Scholarship Organization, said the anonymous claims attacking Harold are “not representative of the organization.”

“All current and future contestants should compete without the fear of being anonymously attacked by pageant officials,” Hatfield said. “Erika was an outstanding Miss Illinois and Miss America, and we are proud of her work with our organization.”

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Kwame Raoul and Pat Quinn, the front-runners in the Democratic primary for attorney general, both condemned Harold’s remarks.