Kentucky was a logical place for the group to use as its test market. The election on Tuesday is one of the few statewide elections taking place before 2020. It leans to the right. And Mr. Bevin, the Republican incumbent governor, has had difficulty shoring up his conservative base. The group says it is spending six figures on the campaign. Under law, it is not required to disclose its donors.
The campaign is an acknowledgment of a disappointing reality for social conservatives. The messages they have relied on to halt progress on transgender rights — mostly dire-sounding warnings about predatory men being allowed into girls’ locker rooms and women’s restrooms — have not done all they had hoped.
And despite efforts by Republican politicians across the country to deny transgender individuals legal protections, conservatives have been unable to make transgender people an effective focal point in their push to preserve traditional notions of gender, sexual orientation and marriage.
JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, said she believed the new ads revealed a sense of desperation among social conservative activists.
“This is where they had to land because none of the rest of it worked,” Ms. Winterhof said. “At what point do they get the memo? The ground has shifted underneath them across the country.”
Since 2013, Republican legislators in dozens of states — from Alaska to Texas to Tennessee — have introduced bills that would enact a wide assortment of limitations on transgender rights. This includes legislation to restrict what bathrooms people can use based on their sex at birth, prevent public funds from being used for any gender reassignment surgery, and pre-empt counties and municipalities from enacting transgender protections of their own.
Nearly all have failed or stalled. If anything, the tide has even turned among Republicans. The former governor of South Dakota, Dennis Daugaard, vetoed a 2016 bill that would have created a law stopping transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. And when lawmakers tried again the next year, he threatened another veto. In Texas last year, Gov. Greg Abbott backed away from supporting a “bathroom bill,” as the proposals are known, even though he had pushed for one the previous year.
In its research, the American Principles Project found that people mostly shrugged when asked whether there was such danger in allowing transgender women to use their preferred bathrooms that new laws ought to be passed.
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