November 11, 2020 at 12:38 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Anti-trans ads seeking to win votes for Trump crash and burn
Facebook slapped a fact check on anti-trans ads ran by the American Principles Project. (Screen capture via Facebook)

Joe Biden, upon taking office as president, would enact legislation that would shut down Black churches and schools and compromise Black girls getting athletic scholarships to college — at least according to a misleading radio ad that ran during the election and came up short in convincing Black voters to re-elect President Trump.

It was one of several anti-transgender ads aired in the final days of the 2020 election in midwestern swing states. But the campaign tactic — hotly debated in Trumpworld — ended up not paying off: Biden eked out wins in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and consequently the presidential election, throwing cold water on the idea that anti-transgender attacks are effective.

The radio ad — one of several on the airwaves and internet stoking anti-transgender animus and fears about the Equality Act to expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law — aired just before Election Day on 100.7 Milwaukee, a hip-hop station near Milwaukee, Wis.

“As a Christian, I can love the sinner, but these Democrats demand we embrace the sin,” says one Black female voice in the ad, according to a partial recording obtained by the Washington Blade.

“The Democrats have lost their minds,” another Black female voice responds. “Do you really want to go before the throne of grace and say, ‘I didn’t like how Trump talked, so I voted for Sodom and Gomorrah?’ because I won’t.”

A male voice at the end of the ad indicates it was paid for by Black Americans to Re-Elect the President, a Super PAC run by Vernon Robinson, a Black conservative based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Black Americans to Re-Elect the President ran an anti-trans ad in Wisconsin.

(A look at contributions to reported to the Super PAC, however, reveal its major donors are wealthy white men, including Bruce Eberle of the Virginia-based Eberle Communications Group and Foster Friess, a Wyoming-based businessman and supporter of evangelical causes.)

An invoice from iHeartMedia to Black Americans to Re-Elect the President found online at the Federal Communications Commission website, confirms 100.7 Milwaukee charged the Super PAC a total of $11,000 on Nov. 5 to run an ad on the Equality Act that aired multiple times in the days leading to Election Day — sometimes more than once over a course of a single hour.

During floor debate on the Equality Act last year, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who sponsors the legislation, refuted many of the claims made against the measure cited in the radio ad.

“It doesn’t eliminate women’s colleges, fraternities or sororities or other non-discriminatory sex segregated programs,” Cicilline said. “The Equality Act doesn’t prevent parents from having control over their children’s medical decisions or force doctors to provide treatment against their best judgment or religious beliefs, and the Equality Act doesn’t eliminate women’s sports. The Equality Act doesn’t force churches to act as public accommodations or eliminate the ability of religious institutions to accept federal money.”

Milwaukee turnout in 2020 was virtually the same — and slightly worse in Black-majority wards — as in 2016, when turnout was considered poor and hurt Hillary Clinton, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But at the end of the day, despite going to Trump’s column in 2016, Wisconsin went to Biden in 2020 thanks in part to Black voters and Wisconsin’s record turnout of 3.2 million voters in a presidential election. If the goal of the anti-Equality Act ad was to ensure Trump would win in Wisconsin thanks to Black voters, that didn’t happen.

Vivian Topping, a transgender advocate and director of advocacy and civic engagement for the Equality Federation, said the anti-trans ads weren’t effective because a majority of Americans believe “these attacks on transgender children only increases the bullying and harassment they experience.”

“I think folks could see through the fact that this was an ad buy that was a desperate political tactic done on behalf of a group that knows that they can’t win on the issues that voters care most about like ending the coronavirus pandemic and stabilizing the economy,” Topping said.

The American Principles Project, an anti-LGBTQ group chaired by Terry Schilling, ran similar Facebook ads in Michigan stoking fears about transgender kids in girls’ sports, advising voters to reject Biden and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) over their support for the Equality Act.

Another TV ad by the American Principles Project in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania criticized Biden for telling a mom of a transgender kid he’d “flat-out change the law” to protect LGBTQ rights, falsely accusing him of saying he supports gender reassignment surgery for children when he didn’t say that.

Here again, the ads didn’t succeed in turning Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, all of which went to Trump in 2016, back to his side in 2020, nor did they succeed in convincing Michigan voters to elect Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James over Peters.

Lucas Acosta, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign said the failure of the ads to win states for Trump demonstrates “it’s 100 percent clear this election that APP did no favors to their anti-equality allies.”

“The electorate is actually highly supportive of trans people’s rights to live freely and openly and is incredibly supportive of trans people’s rights to have equal and fair access to health care, right?” Acosta said. “And so these types of attacks what they did is they just reaffirmed what voters knew that Trump, and in the case of Michigan, that John James was just completely anti-equality, which turned them off.”

Acosta pointed to polls finding a majority of Americans support access to health care for transgender people and close to a majority of voters in swing states would actually be turned off by a candidate who opposes equality for LGBTQ people.

“They keep looking for their next marriage equality band like it was in 2004, right?” Acosta said. “But they keep sort of swinging and missing, and that gives me glee. I am always entertained, and love to see groups like this absolutely fail because it reaffirms that our strategy of working to highlight these opponents of equality and what their records are and showing what these pro-equality candidates are advocating for us to do is the exact right strategy for this moment.”

For the American Principles Project, social media played a role in vetting the ad. Facebook placed a notice on the ad stating the Equality Act would allow boys to compete in girls’ sports, although the notice didn’t explicitly say the ad was false.

Acosta commended social media companies for flagging these ads, but said he wished they were “more vigilant about what those groups who were promulgating misinformation were attempting to do by slightly altering their content in order to get around their regulations.”

“I would hope that in the future that everyone, including HRC, learned exactly what type of attacks and the type of things, and the type of strategies that groups like APP are going to be doing on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, and that we reevaluate our strategies in approaching them moving forward,” Acosta said.

One exception to the rule anti-trans ads didn’t pay off was the race to represent Texas’ 23rd congressional district in the U.S. House.

The National Republican Congressional Committee ran ads mocking Democratic candidate Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian, for supporting access to transgender surgeries for U.S. service members. Jones ended up losing the race to Republican candidate Tony Gonzalez by nearly four points, 46.5 to 50.7 percent.

Acosta pointed out Jones was running during an election year that was bad for House Democrats and the anti-trans attacks, as well as the NRCC pointing out she had a same-sex partner on its website, ended up allowing her to raise money for her campaign.

“I think there were a lot of voters this cycle who were able to not vote for for President Trump and take that frustration out on him directly by voting for Joe Biden but were always leaning a little bit right and were always leaning a little bit more Republican, so they supported a Republican in the House,” Acosta added.

Topping said the anti-trans ads against Jones were consistent with other anti-LGBTQ attacks against openly LGBTQ candidates in the election.

“What I can say is that race was always competitive, and I think that the track record that we saw from these ads was that in states where they did run in Michigan and Wisconsin — and even in Kentucky the year before when they were running in the governor’s race — it didn’t sway the race,” Topping said.

The American Principles Project and Black Americans to Re-Elect the President didn’t respond to multiple requests from the Washington Blade to comment for this article.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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