When former Olympian and reality TV personality Caitlyn Jenner announced that she planned to challenge California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in the state’s expected recall election this year, many trans activists across the country were quick to make it clear that she did not speak for them.
A brief TMZ interview with Jenner Saturday – where she outlined her views on trans athletes participating in school sports – makes it clear why. When a reporter asked Jenner during the impromptu interview for her opinion on the efforts by some Republican legislatures to ban transgender athletes from participating in sports consistent with their gender identities, she replied that she does not support trans girls playing on girls’ teams.
“This is a question of fairness. That’s why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls’ sports in school,” said Jenner, a Republican who is one of the most high-profile transgender Americans in public life. “It just isn’t fair. And we have to protect girls’ sports in our schools.” She did not answer a follow-up question from the reporter about whether that view delegitimizes the identity of children who transition and now identify as girls.
Jenner, who won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics, added in a tweet: “I didn’t expect to get asked this on my Saturday morning coffee run, but I’m clear about where I stand. It’s an issue of fairness and we need to protect girls’ sports in our schools.” Her campaign did not immediately respond to questions about whether she believes the issue should be determined locally or at the state level, and what her views are on the specific bans that have been enacted in half a dozen states prohibiting trans girls and women from competing on teams that match their gender identity.
Jenner’s remarks triggered a swift backlash from many LGBTQ activists on social media. Though Jenner was sharply critical of Newsom’s response to the pandemic when she launched her campaign, she has yet to offer much insight into her views on many of the key issues facing the country. Her brief comments to TMZ on trans athletes in sports exemplified the tensions that are rising between a candidate who has spoken prominently about trans rights and her own transition, yet has often found herself at odds with trans activists who do not want her as their spokesperson.
Trans activists have vociferously advocated against the explosion of bills that are moving through Republican-controlled legislatures targeting the transgender community, arguing that many of them are both damaging and discriminatory to transgender youth, a group that researchers and medical professionals warn is already susceptible to higher rates of suicide and depression compared to cisgender teens. This year, Alabama, South Dakota, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia have enacted bans on trans girls and women competing on sports teams that match their gender identity. Arkansas also approved a measure that prohibits the physicians in the state from providing gender-affirming treatments to trans youth.
Charlotte Clymer, a writer & LGBTQ activist and former press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, tweeted Saturday that Jenner is “dead wrong,” noting that athletes including Billie Jean King and Megan Rapinoe have spoken out against banning trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams: “There is no evidence this is a problem anywhere.”
Many trans activists have been at odds with Jenner in part because of her past support for former President Donald Trump – and what they view as her failure to criticize administration policies that discriminated against trans people. During a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year, Trump suggested that the participation of trans athletes on girls’ teams “would destroy women’s sports.”
“Young girls and women are incensed that they are now being forced to compete against those who are biological males,” Trump said. “If this is not changed, women’s sports, as we know it, will die. They’ll end. It will end.”
Jenner rescinded her support for Trump in 2018, explaining in a Washington Post op-ed that she initially believed he would stand up for the LGBTQ community, but came to realize that “the trans community is being relentlessly attacked by this president.”
“The leader of our nation has shown no regard for an already marginalized and struggling community. He has ignored our humanity. He has insulted our dignity,” Jenner wrote in that 2018 op-ed. “He has made trans people into political pawns as he whips up animus against us in an attempt to energize the most right-wing segment of his party, claiming his anti-transgender policies are meant to ‘protect the country.’ This is politics at its worst. It is unacceptable, it is upsetting, and it has deeply, personally hurt me.”
But even after she withdrew her support for Trump, she’s faced criticism that she didn’t speak out strongly enough against the Trump administration on trans issues. And several former Trump officials are now involved in running her campaign.
“There were any number of issues that she could have spoken out on after she posted on that Op-Ed, but she didn’t,” Clymer told CNN in a telephone interview Sunday, citing the Trump administration’s effort to remove Obama-era protections that prohibited discrimination against patients who are transgender.
“She has consistently just gone against the LGBTQ community in a very dangerous way,” Clymer said. “She basically gives legitimacy to Republican candidates, to the Republican Party. The very fact that she said that Donald Trump would be rational on trans issues – that did an enormous amount of damage to the trans rights movement.”
Jenner’s most recent comments are likely to aggravate tensions with the LGBTQ activists who immediately opposed her candidacy when she announced.
“Make no mistake: we can’t wait to elect a #trans governor of California,” Equality California tweeted when Jenner announced. “But @Caitlyn_Jenner spent years telling the #LGBTQ+ community to trust Donald Trump. We saw how that turned out. Now she wants us to trust her? Hard pass.”
On Sunday, the group cited Jenner’s comments about trans girls in sports as a reason to oppose the recall of Newsom: “Here are the facts: @Caitlyn_Jenner is willing to sacrifice the health & well-being of #trans kids to win votes. @GavinNewsom is not. It’s that simple.”
Devan Cole contributed to this story.