BBC News: The transgender Republican trying to change her party

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The transgender Republican trying to change her party

  • 28 September 2016

Close up picture of Jennifer WilliamsImage copyright JEAN CLAUDE MICHEL

When lifelong Republican Jennifer Williams arrived at the party’s National Convention in Cleveland this summer, she felt nervous. Although she was excited to be an honorary delegate for New Jersey, she was worried about how others would respond to her.

She had attended many political events before this, including both of President George W Bush’s inaugurations, but this was to be her first party convention – and one of the first political gatherings she would attend as Jennifer.

As the sole transgender delegate at the event, so far as she could tell, she knew there was a possibility some would not welcome her with open arms.

“I was wary of my surroundings” she says.

“But I did allow myself extra time to find a less crowded bathroom whenever I could and always made sure to confidently smile and chat.”

Jennifer is a filmmaker, writer, parent and Republican county committeewoman. Born into a family of military veterans, her assigned gender at birth was male. She always felt different from those around her but couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was.

Caitlin Jenner pictured at an event in New YorkCopyright Dimitrios Kambouris. 
Jennifer says transgender celebrities like Caitlin Jenner – also a Republican – have had a positive impact. 

“We didn’t have cable television for a good while and there were no library books for non-adults, so I didn’t have any context for how I was feeling or what I was going through,” she says.

As she grew older, she began to suspect that she identified more as a female.

“I just knew in my heart that for some reason, I belonged on the girl side of things.”

Over time, she developed coping strategies to push these feelings aside and fit in with her friends and schoolmates.

“I had to learn how to do ‘guy stuff’ and try to fit in so I wouldn’t get bullied and beat up.”

Photo of gender neutral bathroomCopyright Getty Images
The White House says gender identity is a civil rights issue.

But the pressure of suppressing her true identity steadily mounted. About seven years ago, she felt things began to “come to a head” and she finally admitted to her wife that she was transgender.

By then, thanks to the internet, a lot more information had become available. But her actual transition to her “authentic self” took several years.

For a long time, Jennifer had been the sole Republican in her family, most of whom were committed Democrats. But as she transitioned from one gender identity to another, she also began to wonder whether staying in the Republican Party was the “right thing to do”.

For Jennifer, the Republican Party represents “freedom and opportunity” and rewards “hard work.”

“I want to see our government help to create the conditions so if someone wants to work hard and succeed, they can be rewarded for their diligence and sacrifice,” she says.

She supports limited government and holds conservative views on foreign policy and fiscal issues.

Jennifer Williams spoke to Newshour on the BBC World Service – listen to the interview here

But the issue of LGBT rights is one area in which she finds herself very much at odds with her party.

She is “disappointed” in some of the rhetoric used by its leadership. For her, there is an inconsistency between the party’s position on the individual rights of Americans to own guns, and the individual rights of LGBT Americans to live their lives as they choose – something some Republicans do not accept.

“If you want to support personal liberty, you really should be consistent and do it in all areas,” she says.

“You can’t talk the talk on guns and not talk the talk on liberties and personal freedom,” she says.

The party’s position on transgender bathrooms in colleges also frustrates her. One element, the Title IX Resolution, “encourages state legislatures to enact laws that protect student privacy and limit the use of restrooms, locker rooms and similar facilities to members of the sex to whom the facility is designed.”

This is “contrary to the party I grew up with and I’ve known”, says Jennifer.

The Title IX resolution is part of an ongoing political row over the issue. In March, the US state of North Carolina enacted a law which means people must use the toilet that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificates. Shortly afterwards, the Obama administration issued a directive ordering public schools to allow transgender students to use the toilet that matches the gender they identify with. Twelve states announced they will sue the federal government over it, and in August, a Texas judge approved a temporary injunction suspending it in the state.

Jennifer is also concerned about the selection of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as the running mate of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. In 2015, he signed into law a religious freedom bill, which some saw as anti-gay.

Although she agrees with Pence on some issues, she is “troubled” by his track record with the LGBT community, she says.

Image of Donald Trump and Mike Pence at the Republican National ConventionCopyright Timothy A. Clary

Jennifer disagrees with some of the Republican Party’s official positions on LGBT rights.
Some of her LGBT friends were confused by her decision to stay in the Republican Party. But, Jennifer is convinced that she can reach out to LGBT voters and have a positive impact by remaining within it.”If I leave the party, I can’t make them make a better part, and I can’t change their mind on LGBT rights – and that’s my ultimate goal,” she says.”As the late Edward W. Brooke, a Republican and the last black man elected to serve in the U.S. Senate prior to Obama said – ‘I would rather change the party from within, not without.'”

While some polls suggest that Americans who identify as LGBT are much more likely to be Democrats, Jennifer wishes to challenge the stereotype that all LGBT people must hold those political beliefs.

“If I didn’t go to the RNC to engage people at this year’s convention, who would?”

“I have a responsibility to explain being transgender to people who don’t know what it is apart from what they’ve seen on TV or what their pastor may have said at church.”

Although initially apprehensive, Jennifer says found the party’s convention a “very welcoming place”. While she didn’t disclose the fact she was transgender to everyone she encountered, with those she did, she felt she had a “good conversation”, and spoke at length about other political issues too.

But, although she is a committed Republican, the Trump-Pence campaign has still not convinced her that it should have her vote in this year’s presidential election.

“My jury is still out,” she says.

“I have to see where we are as a country. A lot of things could happen between on now and election day.”

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This piece was originally published in the BBC Magazine.

Donald Trump as “Sonny” Corleone


By

In one of the strangest occurrences of the 2016 Presidential Election marathon, the strongest Republican candidate this century was redefined by his opponent’s campaign team in the simplest way possible. So simple that it is almost laughable at how it came to be and how easily played it was.

Sonny “Santino” Corleone (James Caan) Courtesy Paramount Pictures

So easily that I am reminded of that terrible scene in The Godfather, when Sonny Corleone (played by James Caan) is told on the phone by his sister that she was again beaten to a pulp by her weasel-like husband, Carlo, and she needs help.

Rather than consider why his beloved sister, Connie, was beaten just a few hours earlier while he is in the middle of a mafia gang war, consider why his beloved sister was beaten just a few hours earlier while he is in the middle of a mafia gang war, Sonny responds the only way he knows how – he hops in his own car to go give Carlo an even worse beating or kill him. Instead of arriving safely at Carlo’s house, Sonny is massacred by a hundred machine-gun rounds on the New York Thruway. We never saw the happy, but hot-headed and restless Sonny ever again.

What happened to Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump between his acceptance speech in Cleveland and the night before his opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, delivered her acceptance speech is a mystery. After delivering a well-received speech and a few surprises like coming out in full-throated support of protecting the LGBTQ community from foreign terrorists, Mr. Trump was in good position to get a good statistical bump in the post-Republican National Convention polling and to survive any spike in Clinton support after the Democrats’ own convention.

However, instead of simply getting some rest and making a few television appearances to make sure folks knew he was still alive – MTrump finds a constructive use for Russian hackers.r. Trump decided to go full La Cosa Nostra and hit the heads of the five families. Ted Cruz, John McCain, Paul Ryan, Kelly Ayotte and the Republican National Committee were all knee-capped by the Republican Presidential nominee within days of his acceptance speech and after indicating that he might be okay with losing the House and Senate, things would get worse.

In a simple stroke of deceptively good decision-making, the Hillary Clinton campaign team realized that Mr. Trump left his convention in fine shape and actually looked Presidential. The American voting public saw someone who could take the Presidential stage, fill it with glitz and glamour, deliver a strong and memorable speech and then not be made to look small like a Michael Dukakis or a guilt-ridden sacrificial lamb like Mitt Romney.

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_6 Arizona Rally, 2016

Mr. Trump had came up with the most American of slogans (“Make America Great Again”), sold it on the great American fashion statement (the baseball cap) and then made sure that through his “America First” treatise and telling people that jobs were coming home and our military would get only bigger and better – he became the candidate who loved his country while his opponent didn’t. Mr. Trump talked about the veterans so much that one may have imagined he would disband the Veterans Administration and create a brand new version with the official Trump logo on the letterhead.

Mr. Trump was to be the “most American” of our American Presidential candidates in a year when we have a foreign terroristic enemy hitting our homeland and an economy that seems like quicksand to the middle class. Donald J. Trump, a patriot’s patriot will fix it all – just trust him!

U.S._Democratic_Party_logo_(transparent).svg

The Democratic National Committee watched all this for over a year and partnered with the Clinton campaign to come up with the ultimate irony and plot – to make Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump become the one anathema that most Americans and especially Republicans cannot stomach. A military-disrespecting, unpatriotic and un-American politician. They would seek to get Trump to destroy his brand and his candidacy with his famous temper and by his own hands.

In a stroke of genius, the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign put Mr. Khizr and Mrs. Ghazala Khan, kindly Muslim American father and mother of a fallen American army officer on the convention stage in Philadelphia. The choice of the Khan family was not accidental as Mr. Trump has made reducing Muslim immigration a favored campaign policy.

Ghazala and Khizr Khan at the Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia. Courtesy, Voice of America.
Ghazala and Khizr Khan at the Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia. Courtesy, Voice of America.

Mr. Khan eloquently spoke and tarred Mr. Trump with all kinds of un-American actions including charges including a desire to deport his now Army officer son if the nominee would have had the chance. Mr. Khan did this while having a pocket-copy of a U.S. Constitution that he happened to remember was in his jacket while riding in a cab on the way to his speech, as said to CNN’s Don Lemon in an interview.

Mr. Khan’s speech was quite memorable and charges aside, was very moving and he did represent his son’s heroic memory quite well. Mrs. Khan did not speak, but then again how many parents could do just that in front of millions of people watching on television or the thousands inside the arena? How many parents could talk about their child who was killed in combat by an evil enemy we are still fighting today… and then use their son’s heartfelt memory to charge a Presidential candidate with not reading the very Constitution he may swearing to uphold and defend in five months?

Once Mr. and Mrs. Khan told the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign that they would like to speak at the Convention and attack Mr. Trump, they knew that they and their heroic son would become political chess pieces. Mr. Khan, a Harvard Law School graduate, and Mrs. Khan, a doctor, are too intelligent and wise to not know what would come after they left the stage in Philadelphia.  The DNC and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign sure as heck knew what would happen next even if the Khans and Mr. Trump did not.

The DNC and the Clinton team knew the hot-headed Trump would go full-Sonny Corleone and come out swinging hard at the Khans for what Khizr Khan accused him of in front of millions of people around the world watching on television. That Donald J. Trump, who was going to “Make America Great Again” and be the most American of Presidential candidate, was… Un-American. Being Un-American in the Republican Party is unforgivable. Accusing Mr. Trump of anything unflattering or not provable by evidence is more so. Thinking that Mr. Trump would be able to just ignore what Mr. Khan said about and to him and just letting it go as 99.9% of candidates would do? That is unthinkable and unforgivable to Donald J. Trump.

After Mr. Khan’s DNC speech Mr. Trump was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos and said the following, “I saw him. He was very emotional, and probably looked like a nice guy to me. His wife, if you look at his wife she was standing there, she had nothing to say. Probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say, you tell me, but plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet and it looked like she had nothing to say, a lot of people have said that, and personally I watched him, I wish him the best of luck.” By thinking he was defending himself, he ended up attacking a Gold Star Mom and her family. Simply put, you never ever do that. You thank them for their tragic sacrifice and you move on.

Trump Hat photo by Gage Skidmore
“The Hat” which made a campaign.

Based on how he fought to get the Republican nomination, keep it against a tide of dissenters and then go after anyone who did not pledge full allegiance to his candidacy was how Mr. Trump wrote his opponents’ playbook to defeat him. For, after a Democratic nomination campaign that included a “chance meeting” between Mrs. Clinton’s husband and our sitting U.S. Attorney General on an airplane tarmac during an FBI investigation, this campaign is already showing signs of a Mario Puzo novel.

As the Khan affair fades into the sunset, the bigger questions now are whether the Republican candidate for President realizes that he damaged his greatest strength – “Make America Great Again”; and whether he can go against his hot-headed nature and decide that he must become more like the steely and crafty Michael Corleone. Because Sonny is already dead and Fredo is not an option.

This column was originally filed on Politisite.