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On Friday, the Human Rights Campaign announced it has purchased airtime for an ad denouncing the decision by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other governors to sign bans on transgender athletes into law.
The ad will air in the Little Rock and Fort Smith media markets during the “Sweet 16” playoff game between the University of Arkansas and Oral Roberts University, part of the NCAA’s “March Madness” collegiate basketball tournament, which is set to tip off on Saturday, March 27 at 7:25 p.m.
The ad features photos of Hutchinson, as well as fellow Republican Govs. Tate Reeves (Miss.), Kristi Noem (S.D.), and Bill Lee (Tenn.), all of whom have indicated support for bills barring transgender students in middle, high school, and college from competing in sports based on their gender identity. Reeves and Hutchinson have already signed bills into law to that effect, and Lee appears poised to follow suit.
Noem previously said she’d sign a ban into effect, but recently sent a similar bill back to the legislature, asking them to remove restrictions on collegiate athletics, for fear of incurring backlash from the NCAA, whose policies allow transgender athletes to compete after a year of hormone therapy and being stable in their transition.
The NCAA previously yanked seven sports championships from North Carolina in 2016 after passage of an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” in that state, and is currently being pressured by more than 540 student-athletes who signed onto a letter asking the organization to cancel or relocate championships or tournaments taking place in states that are passing anti-LGBTQ laws.
“In a year that has taken a toll on all of us, it is shocking that elected officials across the country are using their time and energy to attack LGBTQ kids, putting even more lives at risk,” the ad’s narrator intones, as the camera shows a counter with the number of COVID-19-related deaths continuing to tick upwards, followed by black-and-white still photos of Hutchinson, Reeves, Noem, and Lee.
“Trans kids are kids. They don’t deserve this cruelty,” the narrator concludes, as the camera focuses on Hutchinson. “Shame, shame, shame.”
LGBTQ advocates have previously called out Hutchinson and other politicians pushing transgender sports bans, bans on gender-affirming care, and other bills seeking to permit discrimination against the transgender community, alleging that the bills are politically-motivated. Yet despite conservative politicians pushing for more bills placing restrictions on various aspects of transgender people’s lives, a poll conducted by HRC and Hart Research Group last year found that at least 60% of Trump voters in 10 swing states said they believed trans people “should be able to live freely and openly.”
That same poll found that 87% of swing-state voters said transgender people should have equal access to medical care, and the number of voters who said banning transgender student-athletes from competing in sports should be a legislative priority ranged from 1% to 3%. Another, more recent poll found that most Americans — 73% of voters — agreed with the statement that “sports are important in young people’s lives. Young transgender people should be allowed opportunities to participate in a way that is safe and comfortable for them.”
Other advocates have warned that states enacting bans on trans athletes may face economic and legal consequences, and see their reputations harmed. For example, Idaho passed a nearly-identical law last year, only to see it challenged in court and ultimately blocked from taking effect by a federal judge.
In terms of economic consequences, The Associated Press projected that North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” in 2016 — which led to boycotts, cancelled concerts and conventions, and major companies scuttling plans for expansions or relocations to the state — likely cost the state $3.76 billion in lost revenue over 10 years. Similarly, in 2017, when Texas lawmakers took up a “bathroom bill,” the Texas Association of Business estimated that the bill, had it passed, would have cost $8.5 billion in economic losses, and resulted in the loss of up to 185,000 jobs, due to NCAA and professional sporting event cancellations, bans on taxpayer-funded travel, the cancellation of movie productions, and relocations of businesses to other states less hostile to the LGBTQ community.
HRC President Alphonso David condemned Hutchinson’s decision to sign the anti-transgender athlete bill into law.
“Hutchinson’s shameful decision to attack transgender children to score a few political points is absolutely abhorrent, and rooted in nothing but his animus towards LGBTQ people,” David said in a statement. “Despite numerous opportunities, not once were they able to name a single transgender athlete in the state of Arkansas. These bills are in search of a problem that does not exist and the Human Rights Campaign will be here to make sure Governor Hutchinson and any elected officials pushing for these discriminatory laws are held accountable.”
Watch the HRC ad set to air during “March Madness” below:
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