Mike Huckabee's creepy transgender 'joke'

Story highlights

  • Mike Huckabee made crass comments that were insulting to transgender people, Sally Kohn says
  • She says political figures should either know transgender issues better or keep their mouths shut

Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Apparently, Caitlyn Jenner is a Republican. But maybe not for long, especially if Mike Huckabee keeps opening his mouth.

In comments this past February that were made more widely available this week, the former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate said, "I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE."
Huckabee went on, "I'm pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, 'Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.' "
    Sally Kohn
    Huckabee's comments are not only crass but insulting. Even if he wants to dismiss the basic dignity and rights of transgender Americans, he could at least get his facts straight: Gender identity has nothing to do with sexual orientation.
    Is Huckabee aware that transgender youths are subject to intense levels of bullying and harassment in school and that more than half of these kids who were bullied in school have attempted suicide? Does Huckabee realize that 13 transgender women were murdered in 2014 alone? Does he know that transgender Americans experience poverty at four times the national average, due to employment discrimination and the costs associated with gender transition, combined with a lack of health care coverage? Does Huckabee think it's fun to belittle these people for the sake of juvenile humor?
    Most Americans can be forgiven for not knowing much about the lives of transgender men and women. As more public figures like Jenner come out as trans, and as more of our friends and loved ones do the same, we will hopefully have the opportunity to become more informed, more compassionate and more open-minded.
    Political figures like Huckabee should be held to a higher standard of either informing themselves on such an important issue or keeping their mouths shut.
    Former New York Gov. George Pataki, a recent addition to the GOP presidential field, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "We should give people their dignity and let them make their own decisions. If someone chooses a path that's different than mine, we should respect it as opposed to mocking it or in any way trying to prevent that." There, that wasn't that hard, right? To show that as president you would respect all Americans equally? Even Rick Santorum managed to eke out an expression of compassion, though he called Jenner Bruce, not Caitlyn.
    But Huckabee portrayed bigots as victims: "The fact that we are now, in city after city, watching ordinances that say that your 7-year-old daughter, if she goes into the restroom, cannot be offended -- and you can't be offended -- if she's greeted there by a 42-year-old man who feels more like a woman than he does a man."
    This is the same Huckabee, mind you, who recently defended Josh Duggar's molestation of his younger sisters as "not unforgivable." Voters of good conscience would be right to question Huckabee's definition of "offensive."
    Ironically, Michelle Duggar made similar claims about transgender people as child predators by successfully lobbying to repeal an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In the case of the Duggar family, such fears could not be any more misplaced.
    Meanwhile, the fact is that trans people are far more likely to be victims in public restrooms. One study on the Washington area found that 70% of transgender and gender nonconforming men and women had faced some sort of negative reaction when using a bathroom, despite the city's strong LGBT rights protections.
    Yet Republicans are pouring resources into trying to pass state and local ordinances to ban people from using a bathroom that doesn't correspond to her or his biological sex. So much for being the party of freedom and liberty.
    One thing in all of this is certain: Despite the immeasurable cultural and political hurdles to equality and the rampant violence against trans people, especially trans people of color, society will incrementally but ultimately become more open and embracing of gender nonconformity and a fuller spectrum of gender expressions and identities.
    It's already happening. Women once couldn't wear pants and own property. Men were rarely stay-at-home dads, let alone equally involved in parenting and household duties. As we redefine and expand gender roles, we redefine the notion of gender. A society that allows each of us to be exactly who we are and celebrates individual expression is a society that's truly free. The arc of history may not always bend easily nor quickly, but it is bending for transgender rights and dignity.
    What is not certain is whether transgender Americans and their friends and loved ones will find support from both political parties equally. Republican political leaders have a true opportunity to lead, to join Americans in moving toward equality for all rather than perpetually being dragged kicking and screaming to eventual change.
    Transgender rights are not a joking matter. But if Republicans don't evolve and catch up with the times, the party's prospects will increasingly be a joke.