Metro Weekly

Digital Ads Attack Texas and Florida Republicans Over LGBTQ Issues

Ads highlight investigations of families with trans children and efforts to censor books dealing with certain topics in schools.

anti-LGBTQ, transgender, removal, ad
A screenshot of the ad “Removal,” highlighting the Texas government’s crackdown on the parents of transgender children – Photo: Wide Angle Research.

A coalition of national and state LGBTQ advocacy groups has launched digital and TV ads in Florida and Texas to protest anti-LGBTQ actions or proposed laws being pushed by Republicans. Both ads specifically single out anti-LGBTQ Republican lawmakers, ending with the tag line: “Republican rule. We can still stop it.”

The ads are intended to raise awareness about the attacks against the LGBTQ community in both states. In Texas, that largely refers to efforts to criminalize parents by charging them with “child abuse” if they allow — or are merely believed to have allowed — their trans-identifying children to access gender-affirming medical treatments. In one Orwellian example, a transgender eighth grader was pulled from class by state child welfare agency officials and grilled for an hour about their identity, home life, and gender dysphoria — all without informing his parents.

In Florida, Republicans are best known for having pushed the state’s “Parental Rights in Education” law, dubbed by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits discussions of LGBTQ content in primary grades, and only permits discussion in secondary grades if the content is considered “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” The law has been blamed for censorship of textbooks, as well as efforts to ban books that are not currently being used as part of in-class lesson plans but deal with LGBTQ content — either directly or tangentially — from school libraries.

Some students claim that they’ve had their free speech rights censored or have been barred from certain school activities due to their pro-LGBTQ advocacy, with teachers and administrators citing the law’s provisions as justification. In one prominent example, a student who gave a presentation on the Stonewall Uprising as part of a history class was forced to switch history classes and was “investigated” by administrators — even though the law had not yet officially taken effect at the time. 

The groups behind the ads — the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, Equality Texas, and Equality Florida — say their intention is to highlight the “extremist” attacks being lobbed against members of the LGBTQ community by state lawmakers.

“Our community is paying attention to the extremism of politicians who would take away our freedoms and the freedoms of other marginalized and vulnerable communities,” Kierra Johnson, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, said in a statement. “We will hold accountable any elected official willing to destroy the civil rights advancements that have put LGBTQ people closer to not just equality, but equity. We are proud to partner with our Texas and Florida colleagues in launching a national digital ad campaign to put extremist politicians on notice; we are watching and will hold them accountable.”

The two ads currently being aired, which were created by the nonprofit Wide Angle Research, feature primarily black, white, and gray drawings — with a splash of color in select places — depicting state officials removing transgender children from parents’ homes, enrolling trans children in conversion therapy, and government agents directing children to discard and burn books that some have deemed objectionable.

The first ad, “Removal,” referencing the ongoing situation in Texas, features a narrator reading a script. 

“Every parent wants a happy, healthy child,” the narrator intones as the drawing flash across the screen. “But Republican leaders are passing government mandates to arrest and prosecute parents for ‘child abuse’ simply for supporting a child who is transgender. Imagine being told the state has the right to come into your home, and remove your children, because Republican leaders don’t like the way you’re raising them. It’s happening now.”

The second commercial, “Banned Books,” appears to reference not only the “Don’t Say Gay” law, but efforts to ban so-called “critical race theory” by censoring classroom materials or library books that talk about race and racism, as well as efforts to exclude or censor sex education-related materials. One of the still frames of books being piled up to be burned gives a nod to these different topics, depicting a book on world religions, a book on the history of slavery, a fictitious book called “My Two Moms,” and what looks like a pamphlet on teenage pregnancy.

“America should be a country of freedom of speech and ideas. But Republicans are passing new government mandates that ban books covering slavery, civil rights, and the Holocaust. Ban them from school libraries. Ban them from classrooms. Who knows where they’ll stop. The extreme Republican attacks on our freedom have gone to a place we couldn’t have imagined even a few years ago,” the narrator intones as a cartoon character lights a match and throws it on top of the pile of books. “Republican rule. We can still stop it.”

“Florida is on the front lines of the fight for the future of the country,” Nadine Smith, the executive director of Equality Florida, said of how the DeSantis administration, enabled by their allies in the state legislature, has pushed through laws harping on hot-button cultural issues. “Governor DeSantis’ extremism has fueled book banning, curriculum censorship, rainbow Safe Space stickers being peeled from classroom windows, and refusals to recognize LGBTQ History Month.

“He believes that his administration — not parents or doctors — get to make medical decisions for children and he is commandeering every state agency to propel his own political ambitions,” Smith added, referring to recent rules pushed by state health officials to prohibit Medicaid and some private insurers from covering gender-affirming, transition-related health care treatments — not just for minors, but for transgender adults.

“Freedom itself is under assault in Ron DeSantis’ Florida, and we must defeat him here if we are going to stop his extremism from spreading,” Smith continued, promising to stand with LGBTQ students, their supportive parents, and teachers in the face of continuing political attacks.

Equality Texas Executive Director Ricardo Martinez has been similarly critical of efforts in his own state by Attorney General Ken Paxton, who issued an opinion declaring gender-affirming care to be child abuse. That opinion prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to issue an executive order empowering state welfare agencies to investigate and hound parents of trans-identifying children — even in cases where the children have only been affirmed socially, and have not received any medical treatment.

Paxton, who was no friend to the LGBTQ community even before this current controversy, has previously pledged to defend Texas laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy between consenting adults if the U.S. Supreme Court chooses to overturn its own precedent and reverse a 2003 decision declaring anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional.

“Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton spends more time running from the law than seeking justice. When he decides to clock in, he spends his time harassing trans kids and their families. His bogus legal arguments launched CPS investigations into parents who support and affirm their trans kids. Texans on the ground didn’t put up with it, and after hundreds of state employees have quit there is now a critical shortage of child welfare workers,” Martinez said in a statement. “True Texans have heart and compassion, things Paxton seems to have lost.”

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