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Restricting transgender rights now a focal point in GOP politics

Political strategists and activists say transgender rights will become a focus for GOP primary battles that will push candidates further to the right.
Restricting transgender rights now a focal point in GOP politics
Posted at 8:08 PM, May 04, 2023

It's a scene becoming more common outside state capitol buildings across the country: Protesters outraged as legislators inside move to pass new laws restricting transgender rights.

So far this year, 54 bills restricting transgender rights have passed in 18 states, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker.

Most of those bills limit gender-affirming care for transgender youth and restrict their participation in school activities, like sports.

Despite the viral scenes of protest, a new Scripps News/YouGov poll shows Americans largely support these types of laws.

The poll found 44% of Americans support laws restricting transgender care for minors, compared with 34% against. It also showed 75% of Republicans support the more restrictive laws, as do 45% of Independents. On the other hand, 60% of Democrats are opposed.

"They're seeing that people are responding strongly to the framing of this as about protecting our kids," said Mike Ricci, a partner at Seven Letter Strategies and former communications director for two politicians.

Political strategists and activists say that school shutdowns during the pandemic led more parents to become involved in schools and local politics.

Then in 2021, Republican Glenn Youngkin won the gubernatorial election in Virginia after campaigning heavily on parental involvement in school decisions.

SEE MORE: Scripps News poll: Americans largely support restricting trans rights

Conservative activists say the Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022 also removed a traditional talking point used by Republican candidates to woo socially conservative voters, leading many candidates to home in on gender identity and so-called "woke culture."

Conservative grassroots organizations like the American Principles Project are helping to give candidates who support anti-trans laws a boost.

"We bill ourselves the NRA for families," said Jon Schweppe, director of policy at American Principles Project. "We want to fight to make the family the most powerful special interest group in the country."

The group spent over $15 million in the 2022 campaign cycle on ads in battleground states. One ad the group sponsored in Georgia proclaimed that "Joe Biden and the Democrats are going to teach critical race theory in our schools, put men in girl's sports, and even push sex change surgeries on kids."

Schweppe says the group's biggest contribution in the election cycle "has been showing these politicians how to fight on this issue and win."

According to our Scripps News/YouGov poll, most Americans support a federal ban on transgender females competing in school athletics. That includes a majority of Republicans at 83%, a a majority of Independents at 58% and 1 in 3 Democrats.

Now some of the top Republicans eyeing the White House in 2024 are mounting campaigns built, in part, on anti-trans pledges.

SEE MORE: Biden proposal would bar full ban on trans athletes, with exceptions

Speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation's 50th anniversary leadership conference in April, Florida Republican Gov. Ron Desantis said, "It is wrong to teach a second grader that they may have been born in the wrong body. It is wrong to teach students that gender is a choice."

In January, former President Donald Trump released a video on his social media platform Truth Social outlining his plan to "protect children from left-wing gender insanity." If re-elected president, Trump said he would sign an executive order to withdraw Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement for any doctor's offices or hospitals that provide gender-affirming care to minors.

Trump also claimed he would "ask Congress to pass a bill establishing that the only genders recognized by the United States government are male and female and they are assigned at birth."

Ricci says this issue will likely push Republican primary candidates further to the right.

"You're going to continue to see it as a race to, you know, who's fighting wokeness the most, who's protecting our kids the most," he said.

Schweppe says conservative activists are ready to go all in for the candidate who wins that race.

"If we get a nominee that supports where we're at on this, we intend to spend as much as we possibly can in the general election in swing states," he said.

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