Election 2022

Extremist candidates flood airwaves with anti-trans ads ahead of midterms

Riley Gaines
Riley GainesPhoto: Screenshot

With less than a week to go before Election Day, extremist candidates and their allied organizations are flooding airwaves and mailboxes in swing states with messages of transgender hate. Ads have run in at least 25 states across the country.

America First Legal, run by Trump administration alum Stephen Miller, is among the groups sponsoring the anti-trans propaganda. According to research conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, a large portion of ad spending is targeting Black and Spanish-speaking voters through TV, radio, digital, and direct mail in an effort to suppress Democratic turnout.

Messaging includes false claims that the Biden administration is mandating “sex-change surgeries on minors” and promoting “chemical and surgical castration of boys and girls.” America First Legal’s board of directors includes Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and short-lived Trump Attorney General Matthew Whittaker.

Another group running ads is the American Principles Project, financed by billionaire couple Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, who have a long history of backing anti-trans candidates. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, American Principles exists to amplify radical right conspiracy theories.

HRC estimates $50 million has been spent by the groups in support of extremist candidates. America First Legal spent $4 million on a radio buy targeting Black voters in swing state cities Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Detroit.

“The Biden administration is pushing radical gender experiments on children,” the narrator intones in one ad. “Tell Joe Biden and left-wing leaders across America, ‘Hands off our kids.’”

While the ads support the messaging of Republicans like Senate candidate Herschel Walker in Georgia and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, their names aren’t mentioned. Both America First Legal and American Principles Project are registered “issue-oriented” nonprofits and barred from directly coordinating with candidates for elective office.

“Instead of using their final pitch with voters to outline policies on the issues that voters actually care about, they’re trying to create mass hysteria and fear — and doing so at the expense of LGBTQ+ people and, especially, transgender youth,” said Joni Madison, Interim President of the Human Rights Campaign. “These ads are part of a coordinated effort by anti-equality candidates and their extremist allies to secure votes through fear-mongering and division.”

Transgender attacks are coming directly from candidates, as well. In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is airing a TV spot highlighting what she calls her values of faith, freedom, and hard work. “Here in Iowa,” she declares, “we know right from wrong, boys from girls.” Earlier this year, Reynolds signed a law banning transgender girls from participating in girls sports.

Swimmer Riley Gaines has made a cottage industry out of pitching anti-trans messages for right-wing candidates after she tied for 5th place in a swim meet with trans swim champ Lia Thomas. So far this year she has cut ads for Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and one targeting Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly of Iowa, after Kelly vetoed two anti-trans measures.

“This has to stop,” said Gaines in the spot. “If Laura Kelly can’t protect women, she shouldn’t be governor.”

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