Still at the center of a firestorm this week is Chris Craddock, Republican candidate for 67th District state delegate, after speaking to a high-school AP government class about both gays and sex in Africa.
Some students were so incensed by what they heard that they contacted the Connection. Although too young to vote, they wanted the public to know how they felt.
Teacher Cynthia Szwajkowski's class at Westfield High in Chantilly is doing a project on the 2005 Virginia election, and Craddock, 27, was invited to address her students on Oct. 14. They then questioned him about his stance on topics including abortion and sex education.
"When we asked him about gay marriage, he said he believes nobody's born gay — they turn gay," said senior Natalie McLarty, 17. "He said, in his experience, from the gay males he's known, there are three ways to become gay: You don't have a father figure in your life, you have an abusive father figure or you have no loving support in your family."
"I was extremely offended because one of my relatives is gay, so that's an assumption he's making about my family," she said. "I don't know where he's getting his statistics, but I know a ton of people who are gay, and they have father figures and love and support in their family. He's young, and I don't know where he's getting these old-fashioned concepts."
Regarding sex education, McLarty said Craddock said schools should teach that abstinence is the right choice until marriage, rather than providing information about condoms. "So I asked him, 'If we don't teach sex ed in school or give information about birth control, where are kids going to get this [knowledge]?'" she said. "Because, even if you do wait till marriage, you still need to know about birth control and protecting yourself against STDs and AIDS."
McLarty said she added that, if people aren't educated about this, then "like in Africa, we'll end up with a huge number more of STDS and AIDS cases." She said Craddock told the class he had a friend who'd studied in Africa and told him the reason there's an AIDS epidemic there is because "Africans will have sex with anything that has a pulse."
But Craddock said these students have it wrong. "I feel like everything I'm talking about is being twisted into something I didn't say," he said. "I can't believe that people are trying to paint me in a corner this way."
"When they asked about sex education, I said I think abstinence should be what we teach," he continued. "I believe that giving out condoms to kids would be a mixed message. I don't know that I phrased it like [they say I did, but] I don't believe people are born gay."
Regarding his comments about African sex, Craddock said, "Sex runs wild in Africa. One of my best friends went to Africa and got her doctorate from Johns Hopkins [University] studying the AIDS culture in Zimbabwe. And she said one of the main reasons [there's so much AIDS there] is that sex is just rampant in Zimbabwe."
However, he added, "I was not talking about anybody here or black people [in general]. I was talking about a specific circumstance. If you have sex with anything with a pulse, AIDS is going to spread."
Szwajkowski said she heard Craddock's remarks about gays, but he said it wasn't his issue as a state legislator. And his African comment "was made in the context of how abstinence should be the focus of sex ed in the schools."
CRADDOCK'S WORDS stunned senior Erin Peterson. "I'm African-American, so I was a little shocked," she said. Planning to major in international relations in college, she's researched this issue, too, and said, "a lot of studies say one of the reasons HIV turns into AIDS [in Africa] is because they're so poor and malnourished and can't afford medicines."
She was at the candidates' forum Westfield's PTSA hosted the previous night, but said Craddock seemed "more relaxed and comfortable in front of us. A lot of people in our class knew him because they volunteer for him, so it seemed like he wasn't worried about offending us. But I didn't see him saying that kind of thing to the audience [of adults] the night before."
Senior Kate Villars said she was "completely taken aback" regarding Craddock's remarks about sex in Africa. "Our entire class — Democrats and Republicans alike — you could hear everybody gasping. There was complete silence; no one knew what to say. I went home and told my parents, and they were completely in shock."
Senior Vish Apte, 17, said Craddock's comments about gays left him "shocked that he put it out there like that and didn't leave it open for debate or any other suggestions." Calling the African sex remarks a "cheap attack," he said he "felt ashamed" for the two black students in his class.
WHEN THE Connection asked Craddock if he believes that having an abusive father, no father figure or no loving support in one's family could cause someone to turn gay, he replied that these elements "could be" a cause.
"My remarks about gays were not meant to be insensitive or upset anyone, by any stretch of the imagination," said Craddock. Laughing, he added, "I would have never said that there are [just] three ways [that people become gay] because there's an infinite number of factors that shape all of us. That's absurd."
Craddock denied that he's anti-gay or racist: "That's not at all what I believe or how I said it. That's not who I am or what I stand for."
Craddock noted that, last year, his father-in-law donated his kidney "to a black woman in our church who's like family to us. And my wife's best friend married a Nigerian and is living in South Africa with him. So to say I'm racist is ridiculous. I have black kids volunteering for me."
Ann Baker said the Craddock family has mentored her minority children and she's "never, ever seen one moment of bias toward them, in any way."
Inece Bryant of Alexandria is Craddock's wife's aunt. "I'm also black," she said. "And he's not a racist. The comment [about sex in Africa] could be applied to AIDS all over. He also recognizes that AIDS affects innocent victims, such as those who get it from blood transfusions."
Craddock supporter Gary Victor said, "I'm interracially married and know Chris well. He is not a racist; that's a cheap shot." Campaign worker Kerri McGarvey said Craddock is "open and supportive" of everyone. And Centreville's Jackie Lloyd said, "For anyone to even remotely suggest that Chris is biased or racist is just outrageous. He's fair to everyone and is a truly wonderful man."
But at Westfield, said McLarty, "He was completely offensive and out of line. "I don't want people who hold opinions like [that] to have a part in the government creating the country I'm going to grow up in and be part of."
Senior Matt Banick believes Craddock's African comment "doesn't make him a racist. It makes him seem ignorant about this issue." And he, too, wants others to know what Craddock said to his class.
"It makes him seem too impulsive — like Howard Dean in last year's [presidential] election," said Banick. "If you're going to go into politics, you've got to think about what you're going to say, no matter where you are."