'Survivor' Winner Nick Wilson — Now a State Lawmaker — Addresses Backlash for Controversial 'Anti-Trans' Bill

·7 min read

The reality star-turned-politician faces sharp criticism for supporting a bill that critics describe as being "hateful and discriminatory"

Robert Voets/CBS via Getty  Nick Wilson
Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Nick Wilson

On the evening of March 16, both chambers of Kentucky's Republican-majority legislature passed SB 150 — a bill that begins with the words "an act relating to children."

Initially, the bill allowed teachers to use pronouns aligned with their students' biological sex, even if the student didn't identify with them. But as the debate went on, the bill was expanded to include additional provisions.

Among other things, the bill includes a ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth. Doctors would be required to set a timeline to detransition children already taking puberty blockers or undergoing hormone therapy.

The bill also prohibits schools from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with students of any age, and prohibits discussing human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases before the sixth grade.

While critics say that the provisions are dangerous to the LGBTQ+ community, proponents say that the bill gives parents the right to make decisions for their children, and lets parents choose what — and when — to teach their children about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The controversial bill easily passed the Senate by a vote of 30-7, but one of the freshman lawmakers in particular has received considerable national attention — and backlash — for supporting it: Rep. Nick Wilson. Before he took office, Wilson was a reality star on America's longest-running reality TV show.

Wilson, 32, won Survivor: David vs. Goliath in 2018 and returned for 2020's Survivor: Winners at War.

After the bill passed, Wilson's name began trending nationwide on Twitter, with reality contestants and fans directing frustration at Wilson — despite the fact that he was not a sponsor of the bill.

Scott Wintrow/Getty, Robert Voets/CBS via Getty
Scott Wintrow/Getty, Robert Voets/CBS via Getty

Backlash in the Survivor Community

For many of Wilson's former castmates, the legislation feels like a personal betrayal by a contestant who they knew as being affable and down-to-earth. CBS started a new diversity campaign in 2020, and Survivor now includes more contestants of color as well as nonbinary and transgender contestants. At least seven contestants who played the game with Wilson have publicly criticized him on social media, and several tell PEOPLE that his support of the bill is friendship-ending.

"I am heartbroken and ANGRY at the way trans people and especially trans children are being discriminated against all over this country," tweeted Adam Klein, who competed against Wilson in Winners at War. "We are going so, so backwards. If you take away gender-affirming care from a kid who needs it, you are on the so, so, so wrong side of history."

Ricard Foyé, who competed on Survivor 41 and is part of a long-term queer couple tells PEOPLE that he first met Wilson at a charity event, and they immediately hit it off. "I valued what I thought was an authentic relationship that we had built despite our differences," he says.

But Foyé now sees the friendship differently.

"It is hard to feel so understood, so seen, by a person while I shared the transitioning process, healthcare woes, and the lack of humanity we experience just being queer and living in this world, "Foyé continues. "And then after all of that for that person to turn around and vote for essentially criminalizing being trans. I am not a lesser human for who I am nor is my husband. However, Nick Wilson is a lesser human for not treating the people of this country and especially the amazing trans youth of Kentucky as human beings and using their rights and freedoms as a means of gaining popularity in his political ventures."

"Targeting trans youth is the most dangerous and cowardly way to score political points, but I don't believe that's what Nick Wilson was trying to do," he says. "I believe he wants trans youth to suffer and trans people to cease to exist. He is a bad person. Kentucky youth, and all trans youth, deserve so much better."

Two-time Survivor contestant Eliza Orlins, who ran for district attorney in Manhattan in 2020, also expressed her outrage at the bill — and at Wilson.

"Nick Wilson is a bigoted, cruel person who is using his Survivor platform to harm kids and families in Kentucky," she tells PEOPLE. "It's disgusting to see him not just vote for, but in fact sponsor horrific transphobic legislation. It's hateful and discriminatory. As someone who ran for office myself, to watch Nick use his voice and his political position to actively hurt people is awful to witness."

Other Survivor alums provided helpful resources. "Gender-affirming care is a lifesaver for transgender youth," tweeted Christian Hubicki, a professor who competed against Wilson on David vs. Goliath. "So says the scientific evidence, as major medical associations have recommended access to comprehensive gender-affirming care for its use." The Twitter thread then lists resources for more information.

'I Cast My Vote Out of Compassion'

For Wilson's part, he insists to PEOPLE that he was trying to protect children, not discriminate against anyone — and that his vote was intended to block unnecessary surgeries on minors. He says he finds similarities to the OxyContin epidemic that hit Appalachia, causing thousands of deaths before doctors had all the facts.

"This is a bill that pertains only to children," he says in a statement. "This is not 'anti-trans' or 'anti-LGBTIA+ legislation.' SB150 is a bill aimed at protecting children from making life-altering decisions at too young of an age. If you're a Kentuckian over the age of 17, then your rights are not affected by this bill whatsoever.

"I am shocked by the collective outrage and the number of people who believe this topic is black and white, without room for debate. I didn't cast my vote out of hate, but out of compassion. We heard from families on both sides of the issue, and heard stories of detransitioning. A lot of the research being relied upon right now is self report data, which can be unreliable. It is not a human right to do this to our children."

"I have compassion for these families and children, but we need to be cautious about what decisions we allow our children to make at a young age," he says. "There are many things that we do not allow a child to do, even with a parent's permission or consent — tobacco, alcohol, drugs, tattoos. Where should a surgical sex change rank among those?"

Kentucky Legislative Research Commission
Kentucky Legislative Research Commission

The bill was vetoed by Governor Andy Beshear — but the GOP-led house voted on Wendesday afternoon to override the veto. The bill is now law in Kentucky.

Wilson tells PEOPLE that he voted to represent his small district, which he says is often underappreciated and overlooked. "I don't care if I'm liked if it means I am not allowed to stand up for our children," he says.

"It's great that awareness has been brought to an issue that has been controlled by the polarizing extremes," Wilson says. "We always must stay in dialogue with people, even if we have different beliefs or opinions. It is easy to think and do exactly as told. It is hard to be ridiculed. It is hard to stand your ground. It is hard to have hard conversations. I hope that many hard conversations will be had with patience, compassion, and understanding."

For Further Help

If you or someone you know needs trans peer support, you can call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or visit their website. LGBTQ+ youth can get support from the Trevor Project by calling 866-488-7386 or visiting their website.

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Read the original article on People.