The American Principles Project ran TV ads in Kentucky this year warning residents a vote for a Democratic governor could lead to transgender youth openly participating in sports.
The man behind the conservative think tank is Terry Schilling, son of 2nd Congressional candidate Bobby Schilling. Schilling is in a two-way Republican primary for the open seat, currently held by Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack.
Ahead of nationwide votes Nov. 5, the New York Times reported on the American Principles Project and its efforts to see whether social issues like transgender rights could help fire up supporters of President Donald Trump.
So far, the ads only have run in Kentucky. But, according to APP’s executive director, “We’re going to be expanding this campaign into 2020.”
“We’ll be focusing primarily on key presidential and swing states,” said Terry Schilling, in a conversation with Starting Line.
After requesting comment from Bobby Schilling’s campaign about the APP ads, Terry Schilling reached out to Starting Line directly.
Because of his father’s congressional bid in Iowa, Schilling said the organization had “no plans to get involved in his congressional race here.”
Even if APP ads stay out of the 2nd District, the organization won’t be entirely absent from Schilling’s campaign. Jon Schweppe, director of policy and government affairs at APP, is a spokesman for Bobby Schilling’s congressional bid.
When asked to respond to the ad campaign and Terry Schilling’s role in it, candidate Bobby Schilling said in a statement: “No, I don’t think men and boys should be competing in women’s and girls’ sports.”
In one ad, titled “Wrestling,” the announcer claims “Democrats support the Equal Rights Amendment, which forces girls to compete against boys in sports. This means less scholarships for girls for college. That’s not fair. On Tuesday, Nov. 5, vote against Democrats and their unfair, radical policies for high school sports.”
Though the ads have not run in Iowa, transgender rights have been at play before in political campaigns.
In 2017, in a special election race for House District 82 in Fairfield, Democrat Phil Miller was targeted for his vote as a school board member to affirm the rights of transgender children.
The ads, run by the Republican Party of Iowa and Republican candidate Travis Harris, called Miller an “elitist, out-of-touch liberal.”
Transgender rights were a flashpoint locally in 2016 and throughout the special election, in the wake of vandalism and the suicide of a transgender 13-year-old from Fairfield.
Miller went on to win the race by 10 points, in a district Donald Trump carried by 22 percentage points in 2016. In Jefferson County, home to Fairfield, Miller won by 39 percentage points.
“Hate-filled campaigns against trans youth is the lowest form of politics,” said Nate Monson, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools. “Not only do they have a history of losing; they cause irreparable harm by increasing risk for hate crimes and suicide of youth.”
Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, claimed the organization was not “anti-gay” or “anti-trans,” but it wanted to “pump the brakes on the rush to put gender identity into civil rights law.”
The Supreme Court is in the midst of a pair of cases dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity. The central question is whether the Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender Americans from workplace discrimination, a right already extended based on sex, religion and race.
In states that have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Schilling said, “You’re seeing boys identify as girls and then go join the women’s track team, and they’re destroying women’s sports. I mean, they are destroying the competition. They’re taking championships away from girls.”
Iowa is one of 22 states to have anti-discrimination laws protecting sexual orientation and gender identity. There is no evidence to suggest the participation of transgender children in sports is a widespread issue affecting the fairness of play.
The American Principles Project, Terry Schilling said, was “focused on the family and human dignity.” In the case of transgender participation in sports, Schilling saw his efforts as helpful to women.
“That’s what we’re really concerned about, is any consequence that would really hurt women,” he said. “It’s tough … by putting gender identity into civil rights law, you really start to erase protections on the basis of sex.
“If you’re going to ask me, should we err on the side of transgender rights here or women’s rights, I’m going to side with women,” Schilling said. “I imagine my dad would side with women as well.”
But for Monson and other LGBTQ advocates, APP’s campaign was only the latest in a series of attempts by conservatives to stoke fear of transgender people.
“Trans youth are up to 10 times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide due to the rejection and isolation they experience,” Monson said. “Targeting trans youth like this is not Iowan and any campaign associated should be ashamed for harming the most vulnerable children in the state.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
Main photo via “Jim” on Flickr