Politics & Government

‘Scare tactic.’ Outside group brings transgender rights into Kentucky governor race.

A national group supporting Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin in his reelection effort launched a transphobic ad Monday, claiming Attorney General Andy Beshear supports “allowing biological males to compete on women’s sports teams.”

The Campaign for American Principles said it is spending $250,000 on a digital ad that features a group of young women running a race and then being overtaken by a young man, while showing articles about transgender athletes.

“All female athletes want is a fair shot in competition — at a scholarship, at a title, at victory,” a narrator says. “What if that shot was taken away by a competitor that claims they’re a girl but was born a boy? Andy Beshear supports legislation that would destroy girls’ sports. He calls it ‘equality.’ Maybe. But is it fair?”

The ad highlights a conservative argument that if the federal government barred discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, that men would pretend to be women in order to get a competitive advantage in sports. There are no recorded examples of a boy pretending to be a girl to join a girl’s sports team, according to congressional testimony by Sunu Chandy, the legal director at the National Women’s Law Center.

“This is a shameful and false attack from a shady group that will lead to bullying of our kids. Andy opposes discrimination,” said Sam Newton, a spokesman for Beshear’s gubernatorial campaign. “Matt Bevin is an unhinged failure who is hurting our students by seeking to tear down public education. He even blamed teachers, without evidence, for the sexual abuse of children.”

Paul Dupont, a spokesman with the Campaign for American Principles, referenced a Facebook post on Beshear’s Facebook page where he said he would “stand up for equality” as the basis for the ad.

“This has been commonly used to indicate support for the Equality Act and legislation like it, which would, among other things, allow men who identify as women access to women’s sports,” Dupont said in an email.

The Equality Act is a federal bill designed to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives this year, but stalled in the U.S. Senate. The law did not address athletics in schools or change Title IX, which prevents discrimination in education based on sex, but could give transgender students a legal basis to assert their right to compete on a team that matches their gender identity.

The Kentucky High School Athletics Association has guidelines to determine whether transgender students can participate in sports based on their gender identity. The policy says they must participate based on “the gender on their birth certificate, unless they were legally reassigned.”

Chris Hartman, the executive director of Kentucky Fairness, said the involvement of transgender students in athletics has not been an issue in Kentucky, but the issue has come up in other states, such as Connecticut, where two transgender girls qualified for the national track and field tournament.

“This is an obvious, really despicable down and dirty scare tactic,” Hartman said.

Beshear has not made public statements regarding the Equality Act, but he has offered his support for a statewide fairness ordinance, similar to the ones 13 Kentucky cities already have. Fairness ordinances proposed in Kentucky would only apply to discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Bevin’s campaign did not respond when asked if the Republican governor supports the message in the ad.

LGBT issues, however, have played a role in Bevin’s campaign. In August, he signed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against three people who claim they were fired for being LGBT. His administration also joined a lawsuit that challenged federal guidelines for accommodating transgender students in their use of the bathroom.

He had previously said he had no interest in laws about gender neutral bathrooms.

“Why would anybody need it?” Bevin said in 2016. “Is it an issue? Is there anyone you know in Kentucky who has trouble going to the bathroom?”

In 2015, Bevin vocally supported former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis as she denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples following the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in Kentucky.