At the center of a firestorm this week is Chris Craddock, the Republican candidate running for state delegate in the 67th District, after comments made last week to a Westfield High AP government class about both gays and sex in Africa.
Some students were so incensed by what they heard that they contacted Centre View because, although they're too young to vote, they wanted the general public to know how they felt.
Teacher Cynthia Szwajkowski's class is doing a project on the 2005 Virginia election, and Craddock, 27, was invited to address her students, 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 'til 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."
Added senior Erin Peterson: "He said, in some tribes, part of becoming a woman was having sex." She, too, said she heard the "pulse" comment and was surprised that he'd say such a thing: "I'm African-American, so I was a little shocked."
Planning to major in International Relations in college, Peterson said she's researched this issue, too, and "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 said she was at the candidates forum Westfield's PTSA hosted the previous night, Oct. 13, but 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. He didn't have a speech prepared and was very open. But I didn't see him saying that kind of thing to the audience [of adults] the night before."
Peterson said she was also astonished by his comments about gays. "I thought it wasn't appropriate for him to generalize the whole gay community like that because these aren't the only reasons people are gay," she explained. "I think it was OK if it was his personal opinion, but I didn't think it was appropriate to express that in public — especially since he's a politician."
"I don't think he'd want to exclude the entire gay community, or people who have friends who are gay," she said. "It didn't make sense. It doesn't seem like it was a very smart way to win votes."
Senior Kate Villars said she was "appalled at how incorrect I think his views were. To say people were gay because of their relationship with their father was, I think, a completely inaccurate generalization."
REGARDING CRADDOCK'S remarks about sex in Africa, Villars said, "I was completely taken aback. 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."
Villars said she didn't support him, anyway, because "he's so right wing and socially conservative." And after he spoke to her class, she said, "I lost a lot of respect for him."
Likewise, senior Vish Apte, 17, a Democrat, "didn't think much of" Craddock before hearing him speak. Afterward, he said, "My opinion of him deteriorated even more." Regarding the gay comments, Apte said, "I was shocked that he put it out there like that and didn't leave it open for debate or any other suggestions."
He said the African sex comments "came out of nowhere. I thought it was a cheap attack." Apte said he then turned around to look at the two black students in his class and "felt pretty ashamed for them."
Previously, said McLarty, "I thought [Craddock] must have something going for him because he beat the other guy [Del. Gary Reese (R-67th) in the Republican primary]. But he wasn't a strong speaker and was kind of circular in answering questions. And he was completely offensive and out of line. I don't want people who hold opinions like he expressed to have a part in the government that's creating the country I'm going to grow up in and be part of."
Senior Matt Banick said students in his class are extremely interested in politics and many are volunteering on the campaigns of Craddock and Democratic contender Chuck Caputo. So when Craddock spoke to them, he said, "Everyone got riled up and he got caught up in the moment."
Regarding the African comment, said Banick, "The other mistake he made was quoting a source, but he didn't correct this broad, cutting generalization. So, to me, it doesn't make him a racist. It makes him seem ignorant about this issue."
He said he's not working on anyone's campaign and doesn't particularly favor either candidate. But as for Craddock's comments to his class, said Banick, "This is something everyone's got to know about. It makes him seem too impulsive — like Howard Dean in last year's [presidential] election. You've got to have control. 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."