Candidate Forum Sidetracked by False Claim that PA Governor is Placing “Transvestite” Online Mental Health Counselors “in Our Schools”

APR 6 2013

MOUNT POCONO – Hijacking an otherwise productive and informative discussion among parents and board members about professional attention for special needs students, one candidate at the Pocono Mountain School District Candidate Forum veered off into what some called a transphobic, racist, and/or conspiracy-theory laden rant.

Towards the end of the event, Larry Soodeen, Republican candidate in the district’s Region 2 (Jackson, Tobyhanna, and Tunkhannock Townships), made the startling, false, and unfortunately-worded claim that “our school is now hiring transvestites to counsel our children.”


Continuing, he (again falsely) asserted that Pennsylvania Governor Joshua Shapiro hired a company he called Kooh (spelling it out) to provide counseling. “They are coming online to counsel our children,” he announced. “Seeds will be planted in our young children’s minds about transvestites.”

At that point, Region 2 Democratic candidate Elyse Nehring, stopped him. “We don’t use that word anymore, sir,” she politely said. “I cannot let you use that word. It is called ‘transgender’ so please use that word from hereon out.”

Asked by the moderator to explain how the gender identity of a counselor impacts children, Mr. Soodeen reached back to a 17th Century theory on the age of the earth to answer the question. “What is the impact? A lot. We were taught for the last six thousand years, and it has been proven, that there is only two, there is only male and female,” he said. “They do not have the right to push their opinion on (children).”

Then he addressed the moderator, Christa Caceres, who is president of the Monroe County NAACP, sponsor of the event. “I have to accept them for who they are. But I do not have to accept their opinion,” he said. Continuing he elicited more shocked or confused reactions from other panel members and the audience when he pointed at Ms. Caceres and said, “I could love you as a black. But I do not have to accept you as a black.”


PMCD Board candidate Larry Soodeen reacting to rebukes for veering into false transphobic and racist conspiracy claims during the candidate forum. (BTN Photo)

At that point, current board member running for reelection in Region 3 (Coolbaugh and Mount Pocono) Ronnie Byrd appeared to have had enough. Not wanting to wait for the single microphone to be passed across the room, he said, his voice rising with incredulity, “I don’t need a microphone. You made a statement that Governor Shapiro is hiring people to put that stuff in peoples heads. That’s a lie! Why?! Why would you say that?”

Ms. Caceres followed up, telling Mr. Soodeen it was part of her job as the moderator that, “when I hear misinformation, without data, without facts, I have to correct it. We have to have facts when we are dealing with school board candidates in communities and children that are diverse.”

Former board member Michael Stern, running in Region 2 to reclaim the seat he held for 12 years, also addressed Mr. Soodeen, who had been responding to all the the reactions with a broad grin, bobbing his head, and chuckling. “When you decide that you want to be a part of an organization that has the welfare and righteousness of our children at stake, this is not a joke,” Mr. Stern said. “This is serious stuff.”

As Mr. Soodeen continued to grin, the co-moderator changed the topic and asked the final two questions of the evening.

The following day, Region 1 (Barrett, Paradise, and Pocono Townships) candidate Maggie Hartmann posted video of the exchanges on her Facebook page. Mr. Soodeen then posted his own Facebook video in which he falsely accused Ms. Hartmann of using an edited version of his comments. The full video is available on the Monroe County NAACP Facebook page,