Voters in at least half of the states in the country are being bombarded by a flood of TV and radio commercials and mailers blasting Democrats for their support of transgender rights in the final weeks before the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
While most public polling shows that transgender issues are not anywhere close to voters’ top priority — especially given the state of the economy and rising prices caused by inflation — some right-wing groups have trumpeted transgender issues, believing the anger and outrage over them will inspire conservative voters to turn out to vote in droves.
One of the groups, America First Legal, the brainchild of Donald Trump aide Stephen Miller, has begun airing radio spots and sending out mailers — not aimed at specific candidates, but attacking pro-transgender politicians, primarily Democrats in general — in various markets across the country, reports Politico.
America First Legal has particularly targeted Black and Latino voters — who have historically cast the lion’s share of their votes in favor of Democrats — airing $4 million worth of radio ads in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit, all of which feature competitive governor and or U.S. Senate races. One ad targeted towards Black voters in those cities features a man speaking over ominous music, claiming children have been pushed into taking puberty blockers and receiving gender-affirming surgery.
“They want boys in our daughter’s bathrooms and sports teams. And now, the Biden administration is pushing radical gender experiments on children,” the narrator says in the original radio spot. “Tell Joe Biden and left-wing leaders across America, ‘Hands off our kids.'”
NAACP President Derrick Johnson told Politico said the organization sent letters to radio stations asking them to stop running that particular ad, which he called “the worst I’ve seen” on trans issues this cycle.
“This is playing to the lowest common denominator of hate and otherizing, targeting the LGBT community,” Johnson said. “When you create this type of negative reaction to individuals who [don’t] present any societal grief, you only create space for people to feel justified for attacking them physically and through public policy.”
America First Legal Vice President and general counsel Gene Hamilton defended the ad, accusing the Biden administration and its allies of “advancing a radical agenda hat denies biology, denies reality, and denies that they are threatening children.”
“We believe in biology and we believe that confused children should not be harmed permanently by individuals with radical agendas,” Hamilton said.
America First Legal has also sent mailers to Black and Latino households in Georgia, Texas, Colorado, and Nevada, in both English and Spanish, warning against “radical and irreversible gender experiments,” including anecdotes from unnamed individuals who claim to regret having undergone gender-affirming care and treatments. Another ad specifically attacks President Joe Biden, featuring clips of anti-transgender headlines from Fox News and the Daily Wire dealing with transgender issues in schools.
Another group, Citizens for Sanity, has also pushed anti-transgender campaign rhetoric, purchasing television time to air ads in the battleground states of Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada, following a similar script as the America First Legal ads.
“Left-wing leaders are pushing radical ideas in school,” one of the group’s ads, which began airing last week, says halfway through a one-minute commercial that also attacks Democrats over inflation and immigration issues. “They tell children that boys are girls and girls are boys. They promote drugs to stop puberty, even surgery to remove body parts. These are not Latino values. They are anti-Latino.”
The ads themselves are not necessarily truthful, exaggerating facts about gender-affirming care. For instance, while most major medical associations support gender-affirming care for some adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria, most physicians prefer to delay surgical interventions until adulthood. Instead, doctors are more likely to recommend counseling, social transitioning — which involves no medical procedures — and, if needed, based on an individual assessment of a patient, puberty blockers or hormones.
In Kansas, the Republican Governors Association has attacked Gov. Laura Kelly for vetoing two bills to block transgender athletes from playing on school athletic teams designated for girls or women, in an effort to bolster her opponent, Derek Schmidt. Another ad from the group features Riley Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimmer who decried the NCAA’s decision to allow University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, a trans women, to compete at the NCAA Division I championships. In that ad, Gaines says: “If Laura Kelly can’t protect women, she shouldn’t be governor of Kansas.”
In what some believe is a show of desperation — and an indicator of how vulnerable she is — Kelly has since responded with her own ad pushing back against those attacks.
“You may have seen my opponent’s attacks, so let me just say it. Of course men should not play girls sports. Okay, we all agree there,” Kelly says in the ad. Now, here’s where Derek Schmidt and I disagree.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, similar ads and mailers targeting transgender youth have been aired or spread in at least 25 states across the political spectrum in the last month, spending at least $50 million to spread disinformation about or attack the LGBTQ community.
Geoff Westrosky, the national campaign director for HRC, told Politico that bulk of the ads appear to be an effort to suppress turnout among traditionally Democratic constituencies.
“If they were looking to motivate voters to get to the polls and support particular candidates, I don’t think it would be using the particular language and messaging that they’re using,” he said. “It’s meant to fly under the radar as much as possible. Voter suppression efforts are typically done at the last minute and behind the scenes.”
He noted that right-wing groups used similar tactics, targeting communities of color, a decade ago when ballot initiatives on same-sex marriage were prevalent.
“This is not a new playbook. It’s just a new chapter and an unfortunate playbook that we think is outdated, he said. “And it didn’t work for marriage.”
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!