The Pro-Trans Activists Buying Up Ad Space Across Right-Wing Media

Activists recently launched a TV campaign to convince Republican state lawmakers not to demonize or target trans people — using conservative cable news channels to spread a message that attempts to appeal to politicians’ basic human decency.

“This is our home — and here’s us at work,” says a narrator. “This is what freedom feels like, what beauty looks like. This is just us.” The ad features a series of photos of trans people, with written text overlaid: “We are brothers. We are sisters. We are careworkers. We are firefighters. We are workers. We are trans. We are HUMAN.”

No one should have to prove their humanity to anyone — but we live in dark times, where politicians peddle hate to distract people from issues that actually affect their lives. After years of attacks from right-wing politicians, the team behind the Trans Safe Action Fund is working to persuade moderate Republicans to oppose anti-trans legislative efforts — starting in Kentucky.

“We’re not who they say we are — this is who we are,” Jane VanMeter, the organization’s president, tells Rolling Stone. “That was very important to get that across and to combat some of this legislation.”

The Trans Safe Action Fund’s admaker, Democratic political consultant Bill Hyers, says the point of the campaign is to show to Republicans that “trans people are just normal humans that just want to go about their daily lives, want to be left alone, want to just be productive members of society” — and that “there’s no reason to go out of your way to pick on them.”

Hyers says that the Trans Safe Action Fund has spent about $75,000 so far on ads in Kentucky around the legislative session — with those ads “mainly” running in conservative media outlets, including Fox News and Newsmax.

Those conservative cable channels have frequently targeted trans people. Both Fox and Newsmax have devoted significant coverage, for example, to the fake controversy over President Joe Biden recognizing the “Transgender Day of Visibility” on March 31, as has been done every year since 2009, because Easter also happened to fall on that day this year.

The Trans Safe Action Fund’s ad campaign and its lobbying in Kentucky have been about reaching out to moderate lawmakers, specifically moderate Republicans.

“We’re targeting moderate Dems, moderate Republicans, leadership, people who have influence over these bills,” says Hyers. “We’re not trying to back people in corners and say, ‘You’re an evil person.’ We’re just trying to show them that trans people are good people and productive members of our society — so we’re not as in your face as sometimes I am normally.”

VanMeter, who describes herself as a moderate, says the group need help from moderate Republicans. “It’s just reality: They have a supermajority,” she says, adding, “If they really wanted to get mad and be real a-holes about it, they could run the table.”

That’s what happened last year: Republican lawmakers passed sweeping legislation banning trans youths’ access to gender-affirming health care and restricting the bathrooms they can use.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who was up for reelection at the time, vetoed the bill, stating: “My faith teaches me that all children are children of God, and Senate Bill 150 will endanger the children of Kentucky.” Republicans voted to override the veto by wide margins.

One measure of concern in Kentucky this year would allow doctors and hospitals to refuse, based on religious grounds, to “participate in or pay for any medical service which violates his, her, or its conscience.” VanMeter worries this would allow doctors to deny necessary or emergency medical care to trans patients, and is hopeful it won’t pass.

VanMeter flagged another bill, which has not advanced out of committee, that would create the “Kentucky Women’s Bill of Rights.” In reality, she notes, the legislation is simply about “defining male and female in terms of biological sex assigned at birth.”

The Trans Safe Action Fund’s central goal is to block overtly dehumanizing legislation. Top of mind for VanMeter is the unsuccessful bill last year in neighboring West Virginia that would have criminalized having obscene material anywhere near schools — and included “transgender exposure” in its definition of obscene material.

“It isn’t that I have obscene material — I am obscene material. So they have othered me in that legislation,” she says. “That’s why it’s the most dangerous, is it makes us non-human. The other ones are bad. But this one makes us non-human, and really makes us unable to move. And really one of the biggest worries is not being able to live a life, you know?”

The Trans Safe Action Fund’s campaign is personal for Hyers, too. He notes his brother is one of the many people featured in its first ad.

“My most boring white guy relationship is [with] my brother,” says Hyers. “He talks football, we talk about yard work, we talk about his dog. He’s married, has a couple step kids. I don’t really follow football much anymore, but I have to to keep up with my brother. … That’s what he wants to do. That’s his life. And so that’s what we’re kind of highlighting.”

Hyers says he hopes the organization will be able to expand its efforts to other Republican-led states and “have them ignore these bills — just don’t pass any fucking bills — and try to take the steam out of their campaign to demagogue trans people.”

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