W.Va. Gubernatorial Campaign Attack Ads Vilify Transgender Children

As the primary race for governor enters the home stretch, some candidate’s negative attack ads running endlessly on broadcast and social media target a minority group — transgender children.

Voting booths with transgender flag and ballot box. A 3D rendering. The transgender flag is blue, pink and white.

As the primary race for governor enters the home stretch, some candidate’s negative attack ads running endlessly on broadcast and social media target a minority group — transgender children. 

But what is the fallout from these ads for this vulnerable group? And West Virginia children and families, in general?  

The ads bombard us non-stop. The most vitriol is coming from political action committees in support of two of the Republican candidates for governor; Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and businessman Chris Miller. 

The messages center on who is more pro-former President Donald Trump, and who is more anti-transgender. The campaign mantra focuses on not letting biological boys on girls sport teams, in girls school bathrooms or girls locker rooms.   

West Virginia Public Broadcasting reached out to Morrisey and Miller to get their personal thoughts on transgender people and their campaign ads. Miller’s campaign office declined comment, Morrisey’s campaign headquarters did not answer repeated requests for comment. 

This Chris Miller campaign ad attacking opponent Patrick Morrisey is one example of the recent anti-transgender ads circulating broadcast television and online.

Studying sex education and gender identity for more than 40 years, award winning author and filmmaker Mark Schoen said modern science shows gender identity is not a choice, but a biological cause and effect.

“It’s like, you don’t choose your race, you don’t choose your ethnicity, you don’t choose your gender identity,” Schoen said. “And to be persecuted for some biological factor. It’s like racism.”

Billy Wolfe with the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a co-founder and organizer of the Appalachian Queer Youth Summit, a summer camp for West Virginia teens who are either LGBTQ+ or come from LGBTQ+ families. Wolfe said the majority of campers fall under the trans and non-binary umbrella, and the summit offers them a refuge.

“Some of them are 18, 19 years old, and it’s the first time they have felt safe,” Wolfe said. “While it’s wonderful to be part of something that makes young people feel safe and empowered. The truth is, our camp shouldn’t have to exist. These kids should be experiencing the same base level of safety and respect that any other young person experiences.”

Wheeling city council member Rosemary Ketchum is running for Wheeling mayor. Ketchum is a transgender person who said a campaign ad attack that claims “He’s for they/them, not for us,” diminishes any safety and respect for transgender people in the name of base politics.  

“I think it is exploitative to children,” Ketchum said. “Ultimately, those ads are not for West Virginians, those ads are for funders. It is a very popular and successful fundraising strategy to attack marginalized communities. And they’re looking to pull money from California and Florida and other states to fund their elections here in West Virginia. They’re talking about our kids, our children, and they’re putting them on television and parading them around to look like clowns.”

One TV ad funded by a political action committee shows a young boy, about 10 years old, in bib overalls, wearing heavy makeup and a big grin. Schoen said that representation smacks of discrimination.

“It would be like, if you said that dark, Black people should be discriminated against but light, Black people are OK,” he said. “You’re discriminating against the child who’s just being themselves.”

Wolfe said the anti-trans ads, by their frequency and nature, vilify a minority of children.   

“Their campaigns are built on demonizing people, and villainizing people to score cheap political points,” Wolfe said. “We know that this kind of rhetoric not only affects young people, it also leads to legislation that causes real harm. These messages are damaging. Studies show that this rhetoric is extremely harmful. It can lead to suicidal ideation and worse.”

Wolfe said the rhetoric in these ads can compound already fragile social situations.

A lot of these kids are struggling, but they’re not really necessarily struggling just because they’re trans,” Wolfe said. “They’re struggling because of how people who are not trans are treating them. They are being treated like a threat, even though they are the ones who are at risk for violence.”

Ketchum said living in a West Virginia border city, she hears from potential West Virginians that these political transgender attack ads could actually stunt any state growth and progress.

“They say, ‘Rosemary, do you feel it’s safe for me to live in West Virginia?” Ketchum said. “Should I pull my kid out of public school if these politicians are going to pass laws that potentially make them criminals? Rosemary, should I move to West Virginia, or should I think about Ohio or Pennsylvania?’”

As to transgender students on sports teams, in bathrooms and locker rooms, Schoen said it should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

“There was an instance where a female, someone who transitioned from male to female, and then the next day switched swimming teams,” Schoen said. “I think we have to look at issues on an individual basis, we can’t just make a blanket statement about all transgender people.”

Wolfe said just a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine so many states banning evidence-based gender affirming medical care. He said political attack ads that vilify transgender children take the voting public further away from considering the real issues that affect our daily lives.

“It would have been hard to imagine that the state would sink so many resources into passing and defending a law banning one single 13-year-old girl from being on her middle school’s track team, up to and including, I might add, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to treat the matter as an emergency, something on par with national security and terrorism,” Wolfe said. “But this is where we are, because we aren’t seeing ideas-based campaigns or solution-based campaigns. We are seeing people say vote for me. I don’t like the same people that you don’t like.” 

Author: Randy Yohe

Randy is WVPB's Government Reporter, based in Charleston. He hails from Detroit but has lived in Huntington since the late 1980s. He has a bachelor's degree from Michigan State University and a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Missouri. Randy has worked in radio and television since his teenage years, with enjoyable stints as a sports public address announcer and a disco/funk club dee jay.

Exit mobile version