Democratic candidate for Mississippi governor Brandon Presley has never expressed support for gender-affirming surgeries for transgender minors, despite repeated assertions to the contrary from Mississippi Republicans and incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves’s reelection campaign.
In a Reeves ad that launched on Sept. 14, for example, the governor’s campaign claimed that “Brandon Presley supported sex changes for children.”
As the source for its claim, the ad quoted a June 20 Mississippi Free Press article. Neither that report nor any other from this publication, however, has ever claimed that Presley supported gender-affirming surgeries for trans minors.
The story Reeves cited was about Presley’s response when a reporter asked him whether he supported a bill Reeves signed into law earlier this year banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors. The law bans not only gender-affirming surgeries—which were never available to adults or children in Mississippi to begin with and are exceedingly rare nationwide—but also common, nonsurgical gender-affirming treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy.
Reeves signed the law two years after signing an anti-transgender sports bill that barred young trans athletes from participating on school sports teams that align with their gender identity. Opposing transgender rights has become a rallying cry among Republicans nationwide in recent years.
Presley: No Gender Surgeries For Minors
At a Mississippi Press Association event on June 16, reporters asked Presley if he would have signed the ban on trans care into law. “I trust families—I trust mamas, and I trust daddies to deal with the health care of their children first and foremost, period,” Presley replied, as the Mississippi Free Press reported in the June 20 story Reeves’ ad cited. “… I’ll leave parents to control the health care of their children, period.”
After that story ran, the Reeves campaign began citing it and a June 20 tweet from Mississippi Free Press News Editor Ashton Pittman that said “Presley opposes the state’s ban on care for transgender minors” as evidence for its claims that the Democratic candidate supports gender-affirming care, including surgeries, for Mississippians under 18. He has never said he backs such treatments for minors, however.
Despite suggesting he had misgivings about taking away parents’ rights to control their children’s health, Presley later told Mississippi Today on May 3, that he would not try to reverse the state laws restricting transgender healthcare in Mississippi. “Tate Reeves knows that I won’t work to overturn these laws, and this issue is settled in Mississippi, but he’s busy pushing the same old false political attacks to cover up his career of corruption.”
Later, in a campaign statement Presley on Aug. 31, Presley further clarified his position. “As a man of faith who is pro-life. I’ve never had an issue disagreeing with my party when they’re wrong, so I’ll be clear. I don’t think boys should be playing against girls, and girls shouldn’t be playing against boys. I don’t think minors should be getting surgery to change their gender.”
The statement did not address Presley’s position on nonsurgical procedures such as puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy, however, and his campaign has not responded to requests for comment for this fact check.
Though the incumbent governor signed the law banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, Reeves suggested at a press conference on Feb. 28 that he would not support banning gender-affirming care for adults.
“I’m highly against 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds getting these types of surgeries, but the Libertarian in me tells me if that’s what you want to do with your body, then OK,” Reeves said.
GOP Mailer Includes Fake MFP Quote
Brandon Presley’s stated position against gender-affirming surgeries has not stopped Mississippi Republicans from continuing to claim he does.
This month, the Mississippi Republican Party sent out mailers to voters with a photoshopped image of Presley sitting at a desk with President Joe Biden to his right and former President Barack Obama to his left. In front of the Democratic candidate sits four fake books with the following titles on their spines: “What Happens At School Stays At School”; “TransSport”; “Gender is Fluid”; and “Boys Can Be Girls.” The back of the mailer refers to Presley as a “lying liberal” who “supports sex changes for children.”
The mailer includes a quote in quotation marks attributed to “MS Free Press” that says, “Brandon Presley opposed Mississippi’s law that prevents sex change surgeries for minors.” Those exact words never appear in any published Mississippi Free Press story, however.
The Mississippi Free Press asked the party where the quote came from and received the following response from Mississippi Republican Party Executive Director Tate Lewis after this story’s publication: “While there is certainly no shortage of disagreement between Mississippi Free Press and Mississippi Republicans, you have been admirably clear in your reporting on Brandon Presley’s opposition to Mississippi’s laws regarding youth transgender procedures. Mississippi Free Press refers to it as gender-affirming care, while Mississippi Republicans prefer what we see as a more accurate term: sex change surgeries for children. This was a paraphrase citing Mississippi Free Press’s broad reporting on the issue, not a direct quote.”
This publication’s June 20 story did note that the Democratic nominee “suggested” that “he would not have signed legislation that outlawed gender-affirming care for transgender minors such as puberty blockers.” But nothing in that story said he affirmatively supported transgender health care for minors.
Reeves’ own campaign has also sent out mailers this month attempting to tie Presley to the transgender-rights movement even though he has not embraced it in any of his policy proposals.
One door hanger the governor’s campaign has started putting out, for example, features photoshopped images of Presley with President Biden and Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s only Black member of Congress.
A trans-pride flag below their faces includes the words, “More Welfare – Liberal Values – Flip Mississippi Blue”—positing the Democratic candidate as a frightening alternative to Reeves for conservative voters.
At the Mississippi Press Association event in June, Presley expressed his views about why Reeves has focused so much of his campaign on trans rights.
“Tate Reeves brings up this issue for one reason: It’s a smokescreen. Before this campaign is over with … he will say that Martians have landed in Montgomery County to divert your attention,” the Democratic candidate said.
Ashton Pittman contributed to this report.