LGBTQ groups condemn $4M transphobic anti-Biden ad campaign in Upper Midwest

American Principles Project ad

Two LGBTQ rights groups have raised the alarm about a well-funded right-wing ad campaign in three states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — which misquotes Joe Biden to falsely state that the Democratic presidential nominee endorses “sex change treatments” for 8 and 10-year-olds.

The digital ad targeting voters in the key swing states that now-President Trump won in 2016 takes edited clips from an Oct. 15 town hall in Philadelphia, in which Biden reassures the mother of a transgender child that he would embrace protections for LGBTQ youth as president. By twisting his words, LGBTQ rights activists say the ad attempts to induce panic among voters that affirming the gender identities of trans and gender non-confirming children could somehow be dangerous.

The group running the ads, the American Principles Project (APP), is a conservative think tank and right-wing advocacy organization based in D.C. The group frequently campaigns against issues including abortion access, same-sex marriage and transgender rights. 

American Principles Project ad

The group has not responded to a request for comment.

Since mid-August, the APP has rolled out at least two ads in Michigan accusing Biden of endangering children with his support for LGBTQ youth protections. Two more ads were removed from Facebook because they violated the platform’s advertising policy.

“The concerted effort to fabricate and disseminate false quotes to voters is irresponsible and shameful,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis on Tuesday. “… These inaccurate and misleading texts and made-up quotes misrepresent a candidate’s words and fail to support transgender children and people, a community that needs our empathy and protection.”

The most recent ad has been seen by between 100,000 and 125,000 Facebook users in Michigan and Wisconsin, according to the platform. The AAP spent between $3,500 and $4,000 on its advertising.

After showing an edited clip of Biden saying, “an 8-year-old child decides, I want to be transgender,” a voiceover cuts in: “Hormone treatment and surgery is dangerous for children. What won’t Joe Biden support? Vote against Joe Biden, a pawn of the extreme left.”

In the full clip of the Philadelphia town hall, Biden was asked by the mother of a transgender child about how the former vice president would reverse President Donald Trump’s rollbacks on transgender rights.

Biden replied that he would “change the law” and “eliminate those executive orders” before going on to say: “The idea that a 10-year-old or 8-year-old child says, ‘I decided I’d like to be transgender. That’s who I’d like to be, [to] make my life a lot easier’ — there should be zero discrimination.”

At no point did Biden mention sex change treatments or other procedures to aid in transitioning.

This week, Biden told the Philadelphia Gay News that he would make the Equality Act a priority during his first 100 days if he’s elected president. Last year, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House passed the pro-LGBTQ rights bill that expands the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to ban discrimination in employment, housing, jury selection and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The GOP-led U.S. Senate has not taken it up.

“I will make enactment of the Equality Act a top legislative priority during my first 100 days — a priority that Donald Trump opposes,” Biden said. “This is essential to ensuring that no future president can ever again roll back civil rights and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, including when it comes to housing.”

Since 2016, the Trump administration has rolled back a number of protections for trans Americans — including a rule allowing insurance companies to once again deny coverage to trans patients for transition services, a rule to allow homeless shelters to turn away transgender people based on their appearance and a reversal of former President Barack Obama’s guidance that allowed trans students to use the bathroom of their choice.

An earlier ad from APP that debuted in August features a former drag queen warning children that “treatments to change the gender of a minor are very dangerous and irreversible.”

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In reality, research has shown that young people whose gender identity and preferred pronouns are affirmed and acknowledged experience better outcomes, including a drastically lessened risk of self-harm and suicide.

LGBTQ youth generally endure a higher rate of suicide attempts than their straight and cisgender counterparts, particularly when faced with violence, discrimination and rejection.

“APP PAC is delivering these ads to swing voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania as part of a $4 million campaign,” the PAC tweeted on Oct. 20.

According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the 2020 election cycle has seen a growing number of transphobic and otherwise anti-LGBTQ attacks, with millions of dollars poured into TV and digital ads from groups like AAP.

“Throughout this election cycle, cynical operatives who thrive on the politics of bigotry have attempted to weaponize trans issues for electoral gain,” said Mayor Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund. 

“Their disregard for the truth — much less the impact it has on the lives and health of trans Americans —  is an insult to voters and to anyone who demands decency in our political discourse. The good people on both sides of the partisan divide must condemn these tactics, whether aimed at the presidential candidates or the dozens of courageous trans candidates running nationwide.”