In opening scene of I Am Cait, we see an anxious Caitlyn Jenner, well awake in the middle of the night, wondering about her place in an important movement that she’s elected to serve as a new face for.
She begins by sharing, “It’s 4:32 a.m. in the morning and I can’t sleep. In the monitor, I look crap, but anyway.” Reflecting on trans teens across the country being bullied across the country, and the trans women—notably black trans women—being murdered, Jenner explains, “I feel bad that people, especially young people, are going through this difficult time in their life. We don’t want people dying over this, we don’t want people murdered over this stuff. What a responsibility I have towards this community.”
By virtue of her celebrity and choosing to share her transition with the rest of the world, Jenner will change the minds of many about those who have struggled with gender identity. Likewise, the more she speaks and the more she lives, I imagine many of us will also continue to realize how detrimental it can be only seeing male and female so linearly. Nonetheless, my immediate reaction to Jenner’s wrestling with the weight of being a role model was: “Yeah, but you’re a Republican.”
When she still lived publicly as Bruce Jenner, the Olympian and reality TV star was quick to note allegiance to the GOP, quipping, “I believe in the Constitution.” Such a loaded remark is customary of select conservatives, though one wonders whether Jenner now equally wrestles with whether or not the Republican Party believes in her and the struggles for which she now lends voice to. At the time, Diane Sawyer asked Caitlyn whether or not there would be a willingness to engage Republican congressional leadership to support LGBT issues.
When Sawyer asked Jenner if he would be willing to ask the Republican congressional leadership to support LGBT issues. “In a heartbeat, why not?” Jenner answered. “And I think they’d be very receptive to it.”
Tax hawk Grover Norquist—who has remarkable sway to say the least over many Republicans—tweeted in support of Jenner around the time of that interview, using the phrase “solid Reagan Republican” as a descriptor.
And yet, recently, Republicans had an opportunity to lend protection to the rights of LGBT youth at a critical time and failed to do so. The Senate failed to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act—a bill that would have prohibited public schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) offered SNDA as an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act. The amendment failed on a vote of 52 to 45 in a GOP-controlled Senate.
It’s nice to read the somewhat respectful comments a few GOP figures have made in relation to Caitlyn Jenner, but the proof of real acceptance and tolerance is in the policy. The value of verbal statements fall when you don’t support policy that is far more meaningful. Whether or not it is fair to ask if Caitlyn Jenner remains a Republican has been up for debate.
I think it is, because while a few of have said Jenner is “welcome” in the GOP, how good is a welcome if it party platform dictates that those just like you have no legal protections–even as children? Moreover, it’s a party where your detractors can be vile and dismissive of your identity and the struggles to forge it and remain unschooled. Lower taxation can be great, but in this instance it comes at the cost of your community.
If there’s any time for Jenner to take on that call to speak to GOP leaders, the time is now. It’s worth trying, but if all else fails, the only candidates that want to uplift people like Caitlyn Jenner exist on the other side. Maybe she can influence the party, or perhaps, she’ll do about as well as others have on influencing Republicans on their sensitivity to issues relating to race, sexual orientation, immigration, and reproductive rights.
But if she can’t, wouldn’t it be time to leave?