Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate was bad politics and bad journalism, says GLAAD.
“The debate did not include any substantive questions that address the safety and freedom of LGBTQ Americans and instead devolved into a competition between candidates — and between candidates and one moderator — as to who could prove the most transphobic,” says a GLAAD analysis.
The debate, held at the University of Alabama and televised by NewsNation, featured Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. It was moderated by Megyn Kelly and Elizabeth Vargas of NewsNation and Eliana Johnson, editor in chief of The Washington Free Beacon.
“Last night’s debate was a failure of leadership and of journalism, full of unchecked disinformation about LGBTQ Americans and their families,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in the organization’s release. “In a few instances, a moderator was the one fueling the disinformation and egging on the candidates for shameful pile-ons of transgender people. GLAAD asked the moderators to ask questions about how to keep Americans safe, including LGBTQ Americans who are facing unprecedented violence and harassment. Moderator Megyn Kelly chose instead to grossly mischaracterize life-saving health care and bait candidates into outdoing one another in anti-transgender fear mongering. This debate was an embarrassment for the candidates, for the host, and for the American people looking for real answers to actual problems, not more bullying of vulnerable people and lying about who they are. Voters, responsible reporters, and viewers can take note of last night and all that it revealed about the desperate candidates and a grandstanding moderator and how they failed to deliver information that advances our democracy and the safety of all Americans.”
The transphobia began with the candidates’ opening remarks, GLAAD notes, with DeSantis asserting that he stopped the “gender mutilation of minors” with a bill he signed banning gender-affirming care for trans youth. His language is “an inflammatory and false characterization of health care backed by every major medical association,” GLAAD points out. Doctors do not generally recommend genital surgery for minors, and DeSantis also claimed that the effects of puberty blockers are irreversible, which is not true, and called gender-affirming care “child abuse.”
Later, Kelly used similar language when asking Christie, who was less transphobic than the others onstage, about his positions on trans issues. “You do not favor a ban on trans medical treatments for minors, saying it’s a parental rights issue,” she said. “The surgeries done on minors involve cutting off body parts at a time when these kids cannot even legally smoke a cigarette. Kids who go from puberty blockers to cross-sex hormones are at a much greater likelihood of winding up sterile. How is it that you think a parent should be able to OK these surgeries, never mind the sterilization of a child, and aren’t you way too out of step on this issue to be the Republican nominee?”
Again, surgeries for minors are rare, and puberty blockers do not cause sterility, GLAAD emphasizes. Christie said he did not approve of these procedures for minors but added that he can make decisions only for his children, not for anyone else’s.
Kelly then asked if he had undermined parental rights by signing a bill into law on guidelines for public schools in dealing with trans students. The guidelines advise schools to recognize students’ gender identity and do not require parental notification. Christie distanced himself from the matter, saying the guidelines took effect when he was no longer governor. He did sign a bill into law in 2017 requiring the New Jersey education commissioner to develop guidelines for treatment of trans students, but the guidelines weren’t issued until the following year, when he was out of office.
The debate also featured DeSantis claiming Haley opposed legislation that said, in his words, “that men shouldn’t go into girls’ bathrooms,” something Haley denied. But “in fact, transgender girls are not ‘men,’ and there is no evidence that trans students are a threat to other students,” GLAAD says. The organization further notes that trans students face danger when they don’t have access to the restrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity.
Then there was Ramaswamy’s remark that “transgenderism is a mental health disorder.” However, “the term ‘transgenderism’ is used by anti-transgender activists to dehumanize transgender people and reduce who they are to ‘a condition’ or a ‘dangerous ideology’ and medical consensus states that being transgender is not a mental health condition,” GLAAD comments.
GLAAD had submitted questions to the moderators, but none of them were used. These included asking DeSantis about the effects of Florida’s “don’t say gay” law on gay students and whether he’d take the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies nationwide if he became president; Ramaswamy about his support for a national ban on gender-affirming care for minors, even though every major medical association supports this care; Christie about why he signed trans-supportive legislation; and Haley about where she’s getting the information that led her to blame trans young people for teenage girls’ mental health crises. The organization also suggested asking all candidates about marriage equality, book banning, and how they’d support and protect LGBTQ+ people instead of politicizing them.