BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 17:  Caitlyn Jenner attends Rodeo Drive Concours d'Elegance Father's Day Car Show on June 17, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Rodeo Drive Concours d'Elegance)
Caitlyn Jenner says she was wrong about Trump
00:45 - Source: HLN

Editor’s Note: Allison Hope is a writer whose work has been featured by The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate and elsewhere. The views expressed here are the author’s. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

The announcement that reality TV star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, a longtime Republican, would run for California governor – in an expected recall election later this year to replace Democrat Gavin Newsom – is making waves. Jenner, who identifies as transgender, officially filed her paperwork in Los Angeles and announced her bid on her website. With the sales savvy one might expect from a reality TV icon, Jenner’s website already has merch for sale, including typical political swag like yard signs and hats, and a few fun extras like wine goblets and beverage coolers.

Allison Hope

For the transgender community and LGBTQ and progressive advocates specifically, Jenner’s potential gubernatorial run is prompting something less like waves and more like a political and personal tsunami.

While a source involved with Jenner’s campaign told CNN she is planning to run as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, she is working with GOP strategists who ran campaigns for the likes of President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitt Romney, both of whom have touted and actively pushed anti-LGBTQ platforms and policies. Jenner’s advisers (especially Trump’s former 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale) – along with her public silence as the party she’s long-held allegiance to continues to stake appeals to its base on anti-transgender efforts – has many in the LGBTQ community condemning her move into politics.

Jenner supported Trump before publicly denouncing him. And Republicans’ legislative attacks on the transgender community have grown disgustingly pointed. So progressives who are worried about the effects of Jenner’s run have a point. Her lack of understanding of crucial LGBTQ issues is evident as well in her previous statements and positions favoring the wealthy; if translated into executive policy, these would widen inequality, which already disproportionately impacts those most marginalized, including people of color and LGBTQ Americans.

Jenner would likely fail to hold fellow Republicans to account for their disgraceful targeting of the trans community. Still, I also think a Gov. Jenner, who if elected would be the first transgender state leader in America, could have meaningful, positive ripple effects for trans Americans. Jenner’s political stature could project national visibility, further normalizing trans people in positions of power in government. She would be the highest-ranking trans person in US history, adding to an emerging trend of heightened trans representation in government, most recently and notably Sarah McBride’s rise as the nation’s first transgender state senator and Rachel Levine’s appointment as assistant health commissioner in the Biden administration.

We know that the more role models trans kids have in their lives, the better their health outcomes are likely to be. And we know that trans people are more likely to face discrimination across all facets of civic life, and as result, more likely to suffer from depression and suicidal ideation. We also know that increased exposure to lesbian and gay people – in popular culture, in social life, in politics – helped move the needle toward support for marriage equality, especially among straight Americans and those opposed to gay rights.

Lesbian and gay Americans have greater social and political protections now than they did 20 years ago. One reason the same is not true for trans and gender nonbinary Americans is the vulnerability borne from the fact that many people do not know someone in their immediate circle or public life who identifies as trans or nonbinary. Indeed, according to Pew, some nine in 10 people know someone who is lesbian or gay but fewer than one-third know someone who is transgender. Exposure begets acceptance.

While having more trans people in positions of public visibility and power is crucial, my hopes for what Jenner’s candidacy could achieve aren’t limited to her identity alone. Jenner has also shown herself to be open in her positions on certain social issues as she’s exposed to different views. It’s possible that campaigning to lead a liberal state with progressive influences might help her evolve further.

On her reality show, “I Am Cait,” which aired just before Trump came to power, Jenner spent time with, and befriended, leading voices in the trans community, including professor and author Jennifer Finney Boylan and actress Candis Cayne. Jenner also visited local LGBTQ organizations including GLAAD and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

She regularly got called out by her new circle of trans friends on the show, who course-corrected her when her privilege was showing. She didn’t always change her mind or her ways, but she showed a willingness to look hard and question herself. In two seasons, we saw Jenner shift from a position of male-centric Hollywood privilege to a more authentic awareness of herself as trans woman – one who understands the issues that disproportionately impact her community, including violence and discrimination.

In the last episode in the two-season series, Jenner stands with local trans community members in Houston to protest a harmful bill before the Texas state legislature that threatened to repeal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people and deny transgender people access to public bathrooms according to their gender identity. She even crossed party lines (Ted Cruz was instrumental to the Texas legislature’s effort and Jenner had previously offered to be his “trans ambassador”) to stand in support of transgender people.

Yes, some of Jenner’s history and actions feel antithetical to progressive social values. But her silence about what her personal political stances mean for the trans community is open to interpretation. It’s possible she could do great things for the trans and LGBTQ community more broadly.

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    Just because she hasn’t called out her fellow Republicans doesn’t mean she won’t. Remember that another politician once famously “evolved” on marriage equality. We won’t know Jenner’s intentions until she hits the campaign trail, and we won’t see what she’s capable of as governor unless she has the pen at the desk in Sacramento.

    Let me be clear: Giving her the benefit of the doubt isn’t the same thing as offering up a pass. Jenner may well continue to operate as a walking paradox, as so many people in life do, compartmentalizing those parts of herself in order to align with party or influences. One can only surmise how someone could align with a party and group of people who have so fervently legislated against you.

    In some ways, for posterity’s sake, what Jenner says matters less than that she holds the stage and national attention. Many will be watching, including young transgender people who are seeing their own elected officials try to rip away their rights. What Caitlyn Jenner will bring to the mix may very well turn out to be a breath of fresh air in an otherwise draconian landscape.