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TV Ad in Ohio Tries to Scare Voters With Drag Queens to Thwart Abortion Rights

“Transphobia is a threat to democracy,” says communications strategist at the ACLU.

A screenshot from a TV ad from Protect Women Ohio, a group opposed to abortion rights, shows a clip of what appears to be a drag queen story hour.

In response to a ballot initiative that would enshrine abortion rights in Ohio, the GOP has called a special election to take place in August as a last-ditch effort to raise the threshold for any ballot measure to pass from a simple majority to a supermajority. Protect Women Ohio, a group which aims to thwart the ballot measure on abortion, recently released its first TV ad, which doesn’t mention the word “abortion,” but instead shows a drag queen story hour and a “gender unicorn” in an attempt to scare voters into voting “yes” on the anti-democratic amendment.

“When I say transphobia is a threat to democracy, I mean anti-abortion activists are using drag queens to scare Ohio voters into making it harder to amend the state [Constitution] and protect abortion rights,” Gillian Branstetter, Communications Strategist at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and LGBTQ & HIV Project, said on Twitter in response to the TV ad.

The ad, which cost the group $2 million on top of the $1 million already spent on radio and online advertising, opens with a young girl being tucked into bed. The female narrator warns that “out-of-state special interests that put trans ideology in classrooms and encourage sex changes for kids are hiding behind slick ads” and that the viewer can “keep the madness out of Ohio classrooms” by voting “yes” at the special election.

The ad does not mention the abortion amendment, which would give individuals the right to “to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.” Ohio abortion advocates have collected more than 700,000 signatures so far in hopes of getting the abortion measure on the ballot in November.

This legislative session, the Ohio House passed bills that would prevent doctors from providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth and ban transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports. Neo-Nazis have also targeted multiple drag queen events in the state since March, with non-affiliated protesters standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hate groups such as the Proud Boys and the Patriot Front.

The attacks on transgender lives and drag queen cultural events are inherently connected to draconian bans on abortion and, in many cases, are being drafted and lobbied for by the exact same conservative groups. One of these right-wing groups, Moms for Liberty, has been named an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

As Moira Donegan explained in The Guardian,

The bills are part of the same project by conservatives, who have been emboldened in their campaign of gender revanchism in the wake of Dobbs. Both abortion bans and transition care bans further the same goal: to transform the social category of gender into an enforceable legal status, linked to the sexed body at birth and to prescribe a narrow and claustrophobic view of what that gender status must mean.

Despite the transphobic fearmongering by Ohio conservatives, abortion advocates refuse to back down.

“Grassroots leaders in Ohio are fighting every day to protect the integrity of our democracy in Ohio. We will not tolerate a narrow vision of the U.S. that embraces just one community or one perspective,” Prentiss Haney, co-director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, wrote for Truthout. “All must be welcome here.”

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