Facebook axes political ad saying trans athletes will ‘destroy girls sports’

A political ad that takes aim at transgender participation in high school sports has been rejected by Facebook as a paid advertisement and will have a “fact-check” label applied to it if posted organically on the social platform.

The move comes after LGBTQ rights groups condemned the ad, along with two others run by the conservative American Principles Project, and PolitiFact, an independent fact-checking project within the nonprofit Poynter Institute, said that the sports ad in particular was “missing context and could mislead people.”

The ad features a male runner easily winning a race against female competitors, in an apparent swipe at transgender inclusion policies, while decrying the support of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., for the Equality Act, which the ad says would “destroy girls sports.”

The Equality Act, which passed in the House but has not received a vote in the Senate, seeks to amend existing federal civil rights legislation to bar discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.

The sports ad is part of a larger $4 million campaign from the Michigan-based American Principles Project, or APP, that featured two additional spots denouncing access to gender-affirming health care for people under the age of 18.

Currently, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommends a professional diagnosis before providing puberty suppression or hormone replacement therapy for minors with gender dysphoria.

Facebook confirmed to NBC News that the ad will no longer be able to run as a paid advertisement because of the rating from independent third-party fact-checkers. The ad can still be posted organically, but it will carry a fact-check label.

Paul Dupont, a spokesperson for APP, said the group was told it “would need to modify the ads in order to have them reinstated” on the social platform — both as paid ads and as organic posts without “fact-check” labels — though he said the group has not been given “guidance as to what changes would add the necessary ‘context’ that they are supposedly missing.”

Gillian Branstetter, a transgender advocate and spokesperson for the National Women’s Law Center, told NBC News that this ad is part of a larger “misinformation campaign targeting trans youth” that exists on social media platforms such as Facebook. Given the platform’s reach to billions of people worldwide, Facebook, she said, has a responsibility to prevent people from being funneled toward dangerous information, which could prove harmful for young people exploring their gender identity and their parents.

“Certainly it is good that they have taken the extra step of calling out this particular ad with its spurious claims and misleading nature,” Branstetter said. “One hopes that Facebook takes a larger responsibility for a wider swath of anti-trans misinformation that exists on their platform, including and especially lies about transition related health care.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group, lauded Facebook’s decision to apply a “fact-check” label to organic posts of the ad, saying the APP is “misrepresenting the transgender community.”

“While this is a great first step, we will continue to dialogue with Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms to ensure that APP and their misleading advertisements are labeled for the misinformation they are or removed entirely,” the campaign’s president, Alphonso David, said.

High school sports have become a national conservative talking point after the families of three high school girls in Connecticut sued in federal court to block transgender participation on the basis it denies scholarships to cisgender women. Regulations allowing for transgender high schoolers to participate on sports teams that align with their gender identity vary from state to state, according to TransAthlete.com.

Idaho, for example, recently passed a bill banning transgender high schoolers from competing in school sports according to their gender identity, but a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction halting the law from taking effect, as it is being challenged in court.

A number of conservative groups say transgender girls have an innate advantage in sports because of being assigned male at birth, despite rules in place by both the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the International Olympic Committee that allow trans athletes to compete without restriction after medically suppressing testosterone levels.

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