The commercials that play during coverage of the party conventions make a good case for the fast-forward button. Ads that run in this kind of programming typically tout shady products, iffy apps, and services that you hope you’ll never need to take advantage of. But on Thursday night, during Fox News’ primetime coverage of the Republican National Convention, right around the time when presidential nominee Donald Trump is expected to speak, a spot will run that could cause viewers to hit pause and maybe even rewind. Created by the Movement Advancement Project and funded by Fairness USA, the ad is intended to communicate the challenges transgender people face using public restrooms in the age of anti-trans bathroom bills.
The ad features a transgender woman from North Carolina, home of HB2, a rabidly anti-LGBTQ law that my colleague Mark Joseph Stern described as “vicious, shameful, and unconstitutional.” Among other nasty provisions, HB2 prohibits trans people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. This is such a barbarous restriction that it’s tough to imagine what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of that message. The commercial attempts to convey exactly that.
“It can be hard to understand what it means to be transgender, especially if you’ve never met a transgender person. In most states our laws don’t protect transgender people from discrimination in public places, or when it comes to using the restroom, something we all need to do every day,” the narrator says, as we watch her socializing with friends in a coffee shop.
The ad then makes a theoretical danger frighteningly real. Forcing women to use male facilities “puts me at risk for harassment and violence,” the narrator notes as we see a restaurant worker “clock” her as trans and make a scene when she tries to use the bathroom. He bars her path to the women’s room and indicates that she should use the men’s facilities, an option that seems unthinkable when she sees the hostile looks from guys glowering out at her from inside the door. Fortunately for the woman in the ad, some female customers notice the scene and overrule the clipboard-wielding toilet-policer, finally leading her into the women’s room.
Why air the spot around the time of Trump’s acceptance speech? Because that’s when people will be watching. “We knew that airing the ad on Fox News during the Republican National Convention would be an incredible opportunity to spark a national conversation about the need to protect transgender people from discrimination,” Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project, told me via email. One thing’s for sure, Fox News viewers need to hear this message, and if you’re going to spend money to broadcast it, there’s no point preaching to the choir.