A right-wing group is running misleading anti-transgender ads in Michigan, seeking to persuade voters to oppose Joe Biden and Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, and GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign are pushing back and calling on social media platforms to take them down.
Two of the ads from the American Principles Project feature a man, Kevin Whitt, who says that when he was a young teenager, he felt he should be a woman, but 17 years later decided he wanted to be a man again. He calls gender-transition treatments for minors "dangerous and irreversible" and claims that Biden and Peters support "sterilization." Text over the ad refers viewers to Senate Bill 788 -- the Senate version of the Equality Act.
The third ad alleges that the Equality Act would "destroy girls' sports" because it would let trans girls -- or, as the ad puts it, "a competitor who claims to be a girl but was born a boy" -- compete against cisgender girls in interscholastic sports.
These claims are misleading. The Equality Act would amend existing civil rights law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and several other aspects of life. It does not address gender-transition procedures or school sports. Outside of the Equality Act, Biden has made clear in his platform that he supports trans people's access to appropriate health care and to the public facilities and sports teams that comport with their gender identity, but neither of these things are the threats that the ads make them out to be.
Usually, transition treatments are regulated not by lawmakers but by generally accepted medical practice protocols. In a few states, legislators have tried to bar doctors from administering such procedures to minors, but these bills have stalled. Genital surgery is not usually performed on minors, in line with the medical protocols, although some trans male minors undergo top surgery. Puberty blockers, which are often given to minors, are considered safe by physicians, and their effects are reversible if the patient stops taking them.
Sports in high schools and middle schools are governed by state bodies, and college sports by independent groups such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association. State policies vary; Idaho is the only state that has passed a law barring trans girls from girls' sports, but a federal judge has blocked it from going into effect while a lawsuit against it proceeds. The NCAA allows transgender women to compete in women's sports if they have been on testosterone-suppression treatment for a year. Those who oppose inclusion of trans females in girls' and women's sports claim trans females have an inherent and unfair advantage over their cis counterparts, but many activists and scientists dispute this. Indeed, there is "no research to show trans athletes are overwhelming cis athletes in competition," a GLAAD press release notes.
Biden has promised to make passage of the Equality Act a priority in his first 100 days as president. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill last year, but it has not come to a vote in the Republican-majority Senate, and Donald Trump has said he would not sign it into law. Peters, who supports the bill, is up for reelection against Republican John James, a businessman who lost a race in 2018 to Michigan's other U.S. senator, Debbie Stabenow. James has so far declined to support antidiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people. But again, the Equality Act addresses neither transition procedures nor school sports.
The American Principles Project plans to air the ads in other key swing states in addition to Michigan, according to a press release from the group. In the release, Executive Director Terry Schilling calls the Democratic platform "more radical than ever" and says, "Biden and his fellow Democrats have pledged to use the power of the federal government to destroy women's sports and push young children into highly experimental and dangerous sex-change procedures."
GLAAD and HRC both condemned the misleading and hyperbolic language of the ads. They make "extreme claims that ignore research about how affirming a young person's gender identity saves their lives," GLAAD's release says. Its president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, adds, "These ads perpetuate dangerous stereotypes, traffic in misinformation, and put the lives of transgender people at risk. Sites and social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook should decline to run them and send a message loud and clear that those who would use their platforms to peddle hate and lies will not be tolerated or validated."
Both GLAAD and HRC note that anti-trans campaigns have been used against candidates in other states without success. "APP tried this in 2019 in Kentucky and their bigoted gambit wildly failed," says a statement from HRC President Alphonso David. "Now they are doubling down on their outdated playbook spending millions on a misleading ad, in a state where not even the Trump campaign is on the airwaves.
"The ads blatantly lie about what the Equality Act does and misrepresent the transgender community. Facebook and all social media platforms must take down these deceitful ads or label them for the misinformation they are. The Human Rights Campaign has already contacted Twitter to remove the tweet that contains the ads, and is reaching out to additional social media platforms with the same message.
"APP wants a future where LGBTQ people can be fired, denied housing, refused business services or health care solely because of who they are. But they know full well that they're on the wrong side of this issue and the wrong side of our future."
See the ads below.