In an act of concern over accuracy and fairness, Facebook rejected a controversial political ad targeting transgender high school athletes. In addition to not running the ad, it will also attach a “fact-check” label if it’s posted organically by social network users.
The ad in question, created by conservative group American Principles Project (APP), features a male runner effortlessly winning a race against female competitors. It takes aim at The Equality Act, passed in the House, that seeks to bar discriminations on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.
The ad erroneously states that the act would “destroy girls sports.”
Gillian Branstetter, a transgender advocate and spokesperson for the National Women’s Law Center, told NBC News that this ad is part of a larger “misinformation campaign targeting trans youth” that exists on social media platforms such as Facebook.
APP Targets Trans Minors
The APP, a Michigan based group, is running a deliberate campaign against trans youth, still legally considered children. APP has invested $4 million in this campaign, which includes two other ads.
“These ads perpetuate dangerous stereotypes, traffic in misinformation, and put the lives of transgender people at risk,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “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.”
Participation Depends on Location
Because The Equality Act has not (and probably will not) come up for a Senate vote, policies regarding high school trans athletes are left to individual states. This national hodgepodge of regulations means that, if you’re a trans athlete, it’s better to live in California than in, say, Idaho.
According to the site TransAthlete.com, only 16 states are completely inclusive of trans/non-binary/GNC (gender non-conforming) students in high school athletics. Some states, like Hawaii, have no official policy. And some, like Idaho and Kentucky (along with 9 other states), have policies that are discriminatory.
Idaho is among the worst. In March 2020, Idaho became the first state in the country to make a law to prevent the participation of high school and college athletes who are transgender. The “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” (known as HB500) requires transgender athletes to make a medical transition and allows for participation with very stringent and invasive medical oversight.
These laws are couched in terms of protecting girls’ rights and sports, but the ACLU sees it quite differently. There’s no advantage to being transgender in a high school setting. Women and girls who are transgender face discrimination and violence that makes it difficult to even stay in school. According to the US Trans Survey, 22% of trans women who were perceived as trans in school were harassed so badly they had to leave school because of it. Another 10% were kicked out of school.
There’s also no evidence that being a trans athlete carries a physical edge, either. “A person’s genetic make-up and internal and external reproductive anatomy are not useful indicators of athletic performance,” according to Dr. Joshua D. Safer on the ACLU website. For a trans woman athlete who meets NCAA standards, “there is no inherent reason why her physiological characteristics related to athletic performance should be treated differently from the physiological characteristics of a non-transgender woman.”
For advocates like Branstetter, Facebook’s willingness to reject the APP’s ad is a beginning.
“Certainly it is good that they have taken the extra step of calling out this particular ad with its spurious claims and misleading nature,” Branstetter said. “One hopes that Facebook takes a larger responsibility for a wider swath of anti-trans misinformation that exists on their platform, including and especially lies about transition related health care.”