Misleading Anti-Transgender Newspaper Ads Spark Outrage in Minnesota

A controversial ad that ran in three Minnesota newspapers this weekend opposing a statewide transgender rights school policy is being criticized for misleading readers with false, fear-based claims about student treatment.

The full-page ad, placed by the Minnesota Child Protection League, depicts a female ballplayer with the headline: “THE END OF GIRLS' SPORTS?”

The MCPL, an anti-LGBT organization focused on education, is targeting a new proposed policy that would allow transgender high school student athletes to play on the teams that correspond to their gender identity if they provide sufficient documentation that they either intend to transition or are currently transitioning. 

Their ad warns that under the policy, “your 14-year-old daughter just lost her position on an all-girl team to a male... and now she may have to shower with him.”

The ad appeared in The Star-Tribune of Minneapolis, the St. Cloud Times and the Duluth News Tribune.

The policy, which is under consideration by the Minnesota State High School League, is set to be considered at a public meeting on Thursday.

The ad has sparked opposition from several LGBT equality groups, including Outfront Minnesota, which issued a call for protest that criticized the ad for spreading “misinformation and fear” and stated, in part: “Trans students deserve full affirmation and support, including the chance to compete in sports with their peers.” 

Other local activists termed the ads “misleading,” “hurtful,” and based in “ignorance.”  

The Star-Tribune and the St. Cloud Times did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But Matt Mazzio, advertising director for the Duluth News Tribune, said his paper ran the ad as a business decision and based on First Amendment rights.

“We had an internal discussion. But just like any other political advertisement, we do believe in the First Amendment rights,” he said. “Everybody's got a viewpoint and if they want to reach the largest audience in this area, they know the newspaper is the way to go.”

Asked about the ad's misleading information and if that should keep it from being published the same way misleading information in a political ad would be grounds for not publishing, he said, “I'd have to defer that to attorneys.”

Mazzio pointed out that the newspaper ran an unusual publisher's note on the page facing the ad that appeared to make clear the newspaper did not endorse the ad's position.

The note stated:

Neither the News Tribune nor its ownership company, Forum Communications, necessarily agrees with or endorses opinions expressed by advertisers. Recognizing the responsibility of a free press to uphold the First Amendment right of free speech, the News Tribune and Forum provides space for a diversity of viewpoints.

A similar ad from the MCPL ran in the Star Tribune on September 28. This one offered an image of a shower and the claim, “A male wants to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter. Are YOU okay with that?”

At that time, Star Tribune vice president of marketing and public relations Steve Yaeger told Minneapolis City Pages, “The ad in question met all the requirements of our ad policy.”

Yaeger did not respond to several requests from Media Matters for comment on the latest ad.

The Star Tribune has supported the proposed student athlete policy on its editorial page, stating in an October 1 editorial that:

Contrary to a misleading campaign by opponents, MSHSL board members will vote on sensible guidelines that promote a safe, nondiscriminatory environment for transgender athletes in the organization's nearly 500 member schools. They should approve the proposal.

In addition to being the fair thing to do, the policy recognizes that the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights prohibits discrimination against transgender student-athletes under Title IX -- the federal provision that's best known for requiring gender equity in sports and other school activities.

Below is the ad that ran in the Star Tribune over the weekend: