May 22, 2024  |  
 | Remer,MN
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Valerie Richardson

NextImg:USA Today defends ‘Women of the Year’ honors for transgender legislator Leigh Finke

USA Today stood by its decision to honor male-born legislator Leigh Finke as one of its 2023 Women of the Year as critics on the right decried the move as the latest example of male-to-female transgender individuals usurping awards intended for girls and women.

“USA TODAY’s Women of the Year honors extraordinary women across the nation with varying backgrounds without discrimination,” said USA Today Editor In Chief Nicole Carroll in a statement to The Washington Times.

“Inclusivity is core to our values and we are proud to recognize the 2023 honorees and their many accomplishments. These honorees champion equity and reflect the strength of our nation,” said Ms. Carroll, who is also president of Gannett’s news division.

The decision last week to recognize Leigh Finke for Women’s History Month reignited the uproar over fairness versus inclusion, a debate that played out last year over the Gannett newspaper’s decision to list Health and Human Services assistant secretary Rachel Levine as one of its 2022 Women of the Year.

The Biden administration official reportedly transitioned in 2011 from male to female, while Leigh Finke did so in 2017.

Leigh Finke was honored as the Woman of the Year from Minnesota, which critics called a slap in the face to Minnesota women.

“USA TODAY would have us believe that there is not a single woman in the entire state of Minnesota who is as accomplished and worthy of honor as a trans-identified male, said Jennifer Braceras, director of the Independent Women’s Law Center. “This is a misogynistic slap in the face to every single woman and girl in the North Star State. Thanks, USA TODAY.”

Riley Gaines, a 12-time NCAA All-American swimmer, asked: “Was it that difficult for USA TODAY to recognize 1 exceptional woman in the state of Minnesota that they chose a male?”

“When we give a male the recognition and celebration rightfully designated for a female, we send a message to every girl and woman,” she said. “It’s a message that they should smile and step aside for men and that they don’t matter.”

She disputed the contention that recognizing Leigh Finke promotes inclusivity.

“USA TODAY is trying to show ‘virtue’ by displaying ‘inclusivity’, but this charade is not inclusive. It’s actually exclusive to the very people the award was created to honor,” said Ms. Gaines, a spokeswoman for the right-of-center Independent Women’s Forum, in a statement.

The conservative Minnesota Family Council tweeted: “Apparently someone needs to say it so we’ll say it. Representative Leigh Finke is a man.”

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The Democrat Finke, who was elected to the Minnesota House in November, brushed off the criticism.

“Since the USA Today announcement I have received incredible support, love, and encouragement to continue the important work we are doing in Minnesota,” Leigh Finke tweeted. “And, yea, the hate has increased exponentially, too. But do not worry about their words. We are fighting for good, and it shows.”

Minnesota House Majority Leader Jamie Long, a Democrat, praised the first-time legislator when asked about the recognition.

“Leigh Finke is a treasure to the state of Minnesota and deserves every recognition she gets and I think we are all incredibly proud of her and the recognition that she got,” said Mr. Long at a press conference.

USA Today honored 62 individuals and two groups – the US women’s soccer team and the women of the 118th Congress – in its annual award for Women’s History Month.

The Babylon Bee, a conservative Christian satire site, was locked out of Twitter in March 2022 after naming Rachel Levine its satirical “Man of the Year,” as were a host of conservative accounts that retweeted the jab.

Billionaire Elon Musk, a prominent fan of the Babylon Bee, bought Twitter in October for $44 billion, promising to make it a haven for free speech, and reinstated the Bee’s account in November.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at