Oct 6, 2022 - News

Iowa Republicans use transgender people in negative political ads

Illustration of an old TV with the trans flag as a TV test pattern.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Iowa Republican candidates are using transgender people in their television and social media advertisements to villainize their Democratic opponents.

Driving the news: In a new Facebook ad sponsored by Iowa Sen. Jake Chapman’s campaign, the Republican accuses Democrat Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott of being a "radical activist" and "voting to allow biological males to compete in girls sports."

  • The ad references a new law passed earlier this year that bans transgender girls from playing in K-12 and collegiate sports that align with their gender identity.
  • Trone Garriott voted against it, while Chapman was a vocal leader for it.

What they're saying: In a statement to Axios, Trone Garriott said Chapman is "resorting to misleading and mean-spirited attacks to distract from his voting record in the Iowa Senate, which includes writing bills to jail teachers, criminalize abortion and defund our public schools."

What's happening: Brenna Bird, a Republican running for Iowa Attorney General, accused incumbent Tom Miller of freeing a sex offender in a new television ad "because the man had a sex change."

  • The ad references Josie Smith, an Iowa sex offender who identified as a man when she was convicted of sexual contact with a 3-year-old girl in 2012 and a 10-year-old boy in 2013. Smith was paroled in 2020 — after transitioning— but the state tried and then abandoned efforts to to commit her to a treatment program for sex offenders upon release.
  • Smith was sent back to prison this year after obtaining child pornography, according to the Storm Lake Times.

Meanwhile, Miller said Bird's ad is "enormously deceptive."

  • The AG's office attempted to commit Smith to a treatment facility for sex offenders upon her release, but a state expert determined she did not meet the criteria to be a "sexually violent predator" because she started transitioning in 2017 and had lower testosterone levels.
  • By having lower testosterone, the state expert said that lowered her probability of reoffending.

The other side: “This ad isn’t about transgender people, it’s about protecting children. It’s about a sexual predator allowed free by Tom Miller. He can try to change the subject all he wants, but the facts speak for themselves.” Marshall Moreau, Bird for Iowa Campaign manager, said in a statement.

The big picture: Using transgender people in negative campaign ads is on the rise nationally, said Keenan Crow, spokesperson for One Iowa, an LGBT advocacy group.

  • "The Brenna Bird thing is trying to maximize on the groomer myth that we're seeing all across social media and going back to archaic myths about LGBTQ people being more likely to be sex offenders, which we know isn't true," Crow said.
  • "It's incredibly destructive and wrong to weaponize rhetoric against marginalized communities."

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