It’s OK if Bruce Jenner is a Republican, but not for the reason she gave

Friday saw the airing of Diane Sawyer’s landmark ABC interview with Bruce Jenner, who confirmed tabloid speculation that the former Olympic gold medalist identifies as a woman. The interview offered a glimpse into Jenner’s life and identity, deconstructing the oft-blurred distinctions between gender and sex, and between gender identity and sexual orientation.

The interview represented massive progress for transgendered people and their struggle for acknowledgement, let alone acceptance, in American society. The ABC interview noted that there are an estimated 700,000 transgendered Americans, and the stigma associated with not identifying with the gender assigned to the one given at birth contributes to an attempted suicide rate over eight times the national average in the gender nonconforming community. Additionally, while Sawyer reported that 85 percent of Americans say they know someone who identifies as gay, only 8 percent of Americans say they know someone who identifies as transgendered.

So the fact that someone who previously held the title of greatest athlete in the world identifies as a woman is a big step in assuring transgendered Americans — especially kids who aren’t accepted at home — that they are normal; they don’t need to feel ashamed of who they are.

However, the disclosure in the interview that is perhaps hardest for many in the LGBT community to wrap their head around is that fact that, aside from identifying as a woman, Jenner also identifies as a conservative Republican.

As Jenner said, “Neither party has a monopoly on understanding.” When encouraged by Sawyer to reach out to Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner to push for legislation protecting transgendered Americans from discrimination, Jenner replied, “I think they would be very receptive.”

Those statements are nowhere close to correct.

To be clear, the LGBT community is no monolith, and many within it identify as conservative and Republican. LGBT Americans care about more than marriage equality and non-discrimination; they care about jobs, the economy, education, health care, etc. just like everyone else. So if Jenner had said that she identifies as a Republican because she’s massively wealthy and the GOP wants to cut her taxes, that would make sense. But to suggest that Republican leadership would be open to not only voting for but sponsoring legislation that affirms Jenner’s identity is to be willfully ignorant of the current climate in American politics.

As pointed out in Newsweek, the Republican Party is less than indifferent to the concerns of transgendered Americans; it actively works to exacerbate them:

Earlier this month, Colorado Senate Republicans axed a bill that would enable people to amend gender listings on their birth certificates without requiring surgery, reports CBS Denver. In January, Kentucky Republican Senator C.B. Embry Jr. proposed a bill that would stop trans-inclusivity in bathrooms, and those who reported a “person of the opposite biological sex” in a stall or bathroom could be given up to $2,500 as a bounty.

Most recently, two Republican delegates from Virginia, Bob Marshall and David LaRock, publicly opposed a proposal that would protect transgender students and staff members in the Fairfax County’s school system’s official non-discrimination policy measures, reported The Washington Post on Friday.

The GOP is also responsible for initiatives on the state and local level that would regulate the bathrooms that transgendered citizens can and can’t use, initiatives that serve no purpose other than to shame and delegitimize transgendered people and their identity.

Bruce Jenner, via Newsinc / Creative Commons

Bruce Jenner, via Newsinc / Creative Commons

Republicans provide nearly all of the support for legislation that hurts transgendered citizens, and provide nearly all of the opposition to legislation that helps them.

Furthermore, the major organizations for Republicans who don’t hold a heteronormative gender identity and/or sexual orientation, GOProud and Log Cabin Republicans, consistently have to struggle for recognition, to say nothing of acceptance, in the Republican Party.

When members of the LGBT community come out and identify themselves as such, it is always important to, out of a necessary concern for avoiding delegitimizing them, let them do so on their own terms. It isn’t OK to tell them they’re wrong, and it isn’t OK to tell them to change. But if the Republican Party had their way, American culture would not be accepting of Bruce Jenner’s decision to publicly affirm her own gender identity. In other words, the interview that aired on Friday may never have happened.

If Bruce Jenner wants to identify as a Republican, that’s her prerogative. There are plenty of reasons why she could and even should. But it’s simply incorrect to say that the Republican Party identifies as a party that accepts Bruce Jenner for who she is. Despite what should be the case, right now one party really does have a monopoly on acceptance.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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