“A crucial vote is taking place today,” said Fox News’ Dana Perino, before welcoming a spokeswoman from Protect Women Ohio who warned that voting against the state’s Issue 1, a ballot measure raising the vote threshold for constitutional amendments to 60%, would open the door to “allow minors to get abortions and even sex-change procedures without parental notification or consent. So we are talking about completely wiping parents out of the conversation.”
It was a dire prediction in line with the recent campaign strategy of tying abortion with gender-affirming care. And once again, it ended in failure in a state where Donald Trump won a majority in 2020.
Starting with a March op-ed in National Review, right-wing media provided a venue for the argument that Issue 1 was actually about stopping easy access to what they called “sex-change surgeries” for minors — an archaic label that Fox News and other outlets have increasingly substituted for gender-affirming care.
“If they haven’t gotten to your state yet,” warned radio host Steve Deace, “this is coming.”
A multimillion-dollar ad campaign attempted to sell the same point, arguing alongside videos of drag queen story hour that voting “Yes” on Issue 1 would prevent “out-of-state special interest groups” from being able to “enshrine late-term abortion in our constitution and abolish parental rights so someone can take your child to get an abortion or sex change operation without your consent.” (Drag queens do not typically get something that might be considered a sex change operation and in no state is it legal for a child to have gender-affirming surgical procedures without the consent of their parents; such procedures for minors are also extremely rare.) Another ad fearmongered about “sex-changes for kids,” telling parents they had a chance to “keep this madness out of Ohio classrooms,” while a mailer attacking the group running the campaign to vote “No” included a fake mission statement to prevent schools teaching children “that there is such a thing as biological sex.”
In the days leading up to the vote, the oddly named advocacy group Catholics for Catholics held a “Prayer Rally to Save Ohio’s Children” that urged support for Issue 1, bringing in ex-trans speaker Chloe Cole to tell attendees that “you and I are the only thing standing in between this attack on children.” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins encouraged his Twitter followers in Ohio to “help protect parental rights, unborn babies, and gender-confused minors.”
“The left is melting down,” declared a smug Steve Bannon on the morning of the election. “They’re saying they’ve got to win this or it’s the end of democracy as they know it.” His guest, conservative Ohio author Jonathan Jakubowski, then declared it the most important election of his lifetime and claimed that the ballot amendment was part of “diabolical plans” for 11 states “to pass things that are going to abrogate parental rights.”
At this point, you may recognize the contours of a familiar story. In 2019, right-wing strategists attempted to convince Kentucky voters that their governor’s election was a referendum on trans issues. The Democrat won. In 2020, 1 million Pennsylvania voters received text messages warning them that Joe Biden backed “sex change operations for children as young as 8.” The Democrat won. On the morning of the 2022 midterm elections, Daily Wire podcaster Matt Walsh stunningly and bravely predicted that “there’s no doubt that the Democrat Party was partly doomed by its decision to go all in on gender ideology.” They weren’t. In the Georgia Senate runoff, right-wing strategists praised Republican nominee Herschel Walker’s decision to lean into anti-trans attacks. The Democrat won.
There is no evidence from the ballot box to suggest that voters are clamoring for the eradication of their transgender family members, co-workers, neighbors, and friends. But like Wile E. Coyote grimly hoisting a grand piano into the sky, candidates for president have continued to campaign on anti-trans messaging. The results that will follow should be similarly easy to predict.