Milo Marquez felt his stomach sink when he saw what was printed on a political postcard mailed to his mother earlier this month.
“JOE BIDEN Y SUS ALIADOS DE IZQUIERDA ESTÁN ADOCTRINANDO A SUS HIJOS,” it said in large bold type.
Translated, it read “Joe Biden and his political allies are indoctrinating your children.”
Stock photo images of children inside doctor’s offices covered part of the card. Paragraphs of text accused Democrats of “pushing” gender-affirming care on all children by blocking puberty with hormone supplements and removing genitalia.
“It’s very vile and disturbing and definitely misinformation being pushed on our Spanish-speaking community,” said Marquez, director at the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization, or CLLARO.
Marquez and other prominent advocates are now speaking out against the postcards and a series of similar radio spots airing on local Spanish-language radio stations.
They say the ads have been targeted at predominantly Latino neighborhoods in an attempt to scare voters by promoting incomplete and false information about health care for transgender youth. Residents of the Denver metro area and as far north as Weld County have reported receiving them.
What is the American First Legal Foundation
The group funding the ads, Washington, D.C.-based America First Legal Foundation, is a private nonprofit. It was founded by Stephen Miller, a top advisor to Donald Trump on immigration during his time in the White House.
The number of mailers it sent out to Colorado voters remains unclear, but similar ad campaigns in English and Spanish have been reported in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Voters have shared images of the postcards — both in Spanish and English — on social media.
A spokesman for America First declined an interview request and referred CPR News to statements it posted on Twitter, which echo the mailers.
The nonprofit has bankrolled divisive ad campaigns on various issues in at least 25 states ahead of the 2022 midterms, according to reporting from OpenSecrets. Since it’s a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, America First isn’t required to reveal its donors.
It also isn’t supposed to pay for advertising that suggests recipients vote for or against a particular candidate or party. The postcards, which CPR News reviewed, mention President Biden by name, but he isn’t on the ballot this fall.
The mailers also feature an image of Rachel Levine, Biden’s appointee as assistant secretary of health in the Department of Health and Human Services. Levine was the first transgender federal official to receive Senate confirmation.
The postcards claim Levine has promoted the “castration of boys and girls,” which she and other Democrats say is false.
“This is very suggestive political language, but not enough that they can get in trouble for an FEC violation,” said state Democratic Rep. Brianna Titone, who reviewed the fliers. “It seems they’re trying to capitalize on the religious leanings of parts of the Latino population.”
The mailers and radio spots come amid increased anti-LGBTQ and transphobic rhetoric on the campaign trail
America First’s mailers and radio spots are hardly the first misinformation campaigns to frame LGBTQ issues as a threat to families, said Titone, who is Colorado's first openly trans legislator.
Citizens for Sanity, another nonprofit led by Stephen Miller, paid for anti-trans television ads this summer in multiple western states, including Colorado. They called for an end to the “woke left’s war on girl’s sports.”
Last year, Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert posed the possibility of girls getting their skulls crushed by trans athletes at school. Boebert repeated the comments in a string of speeches decrying the Equality Act, a piece of federal legislation meant to protect LGBTQ people. If signed into law, it would keep someone from being fired or denied housing just because they’re gay or transgender. It would also allow young trans athletes to compete as the gender they identify with, as opposed to the one assigned to them at birth.
Meanwhile, Heidi Ganahl, Colorado’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, has argued that schools are “going too far” on LGBTQ topics generally. She has also repeated exaggerated claims that school districts are encouraging students to “identify as cats."
That sort of conservative rhetoric has become common in recent years because the LGBTQ community is more visible in mainstream media, Titone said.
“There is a nonstop attack on trans people that never seems to go away,” Titone said. “Right-wing groups are now trying to influence a very specific group of people, which are Latinos.”
Democrats are especially concerned about the mailers’ potential impact on voters in Colorado’s 8th congressional district. Latinos make up 40 percent of the district’s population, and the race is considered a toss-up between Republican state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer and Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo.
“Everyone is going after Latinos because we’re the fastest growing demographic,” Marquez, the CLLARO director, said. “It’s fine to come and provide information to our community, but when you’re telling us lies we have a problem.”
Latino and LGBTQ advocates are working to debunk the false claims
Advocates in the LGBTQ and Latino communities have launched efforts to combat election misinformation in the fliers and radio ads. During an Oct. 27 news conference in Denver, speakers called the campaigns transphobic and debunked several false claims.
“You can’t do operations on prepubescent kids,” said Ruby Lopez, a coordinator with Out Boulder County, in reference to the mailers’ misinformation about irreversible surgeries. “And there are aspects of gender-affirming care that are reversible.”
Lopez, a trans woman, said scare tactics like the ones used by America First could shape the perspectives of parents who don’t verify the information on them.
“This type of care can save trans kids' lives,” Lopez said. “I feel for these kids who are afraid to come out to their families who are silenced even more by messaging like this.”
Lopez said parents should seek information from scientifically-backed resources such as the American Medical Association, which labels gender-affirming care as medically necessary.
The World Health Organization defines it as an umbrella term for a range of social, psychological, behavioral, and medical practices meant to affirm someone’s gender identity when it conflicts with the one they were assigned at birth. Types of care can range from name changes to medication to surgery.
Treatment should be catered to an individual's wants and needs, according to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
Research has found gender-affirming care to be beneficial. In one survey, young trans patients who received gender-affirming medications, including puberty blockers and hormones, had a significantly lower risk of depression and anxiety. Youth in one study who received medications had a 73 percent lower risk of suicidality than those who did not take medication.
Critics of America First’s postcards say they leave out that vital information.
“We shouldn’t blindly believe what’s coming to us over the internet or in the mail as truth,” Lopez said. “They’re typically trying to gin up fear.”
In response to the mailers, advocacy groups across Colorado plan to step up educational efforts in the remaining days before the election. That includes hosting a series of online webinars about media literacy for Spanish speakers, said Marquez.
“We're going to teach them how to detect misinformation and disinformation in social media and in mailers,” he said. “And then we're looking at more long-term solutions because we know this type of misinformation will keep coming.”
CLLARO is partnering with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials to offer the “Defend La Verdad” webinars. Slots are available for Nov. 1 and 3. A sign-up form is available online.
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