BBC News: The transgender Republican trying to change her party


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.

What Happened at the RNC?

Since going to Cleveland last month for the Republican National Convention, I have been trying to process all that happened to me while I was an Honorary Delegate there.

By the time we landed at Cleveland’s airport, I had made the acquaintance of a nice lady delegate from Mississippi. We hit it off and made plans to see each other at a Christian worship service the next morning before I headed out to a Log Cabin Republican event at a cool, friendly gay bar… whose original owner was a Republican. Outside of those and a few other events, I had no idea of who I would meet or have a chance to speak with over the next four days. I was fortunate enough to be put on the list for the American Unity Fund’s brunch with Caitlyn Jenner, but I was pretty sure that I had no shot at meeting her. I’d just go to the Convention each day and try to make some magic happen.

I would end up on the go for roughly 18 hours a day and by the end of my RNC adventure – I had destroyed my favorite pair of sandals, but placed a transgender person into the minds and hearts of some people who may be able to help us. I think I did pretty well in meeting some of the right people and gaining media attention about transgender issues while I was there, but I keep wishing I could have done MORE. Is that regret due to my not trying hard enough or not having a publicist because I’m not famous or rich or a power-player… yet!

RNC Delegates from around the U.S. on the Convention Floor. Courtesy, Shamrock Stine Productions.

I cannot answer that question but I do know that I indeed “left it all on the field” as they say in sports. Physically, I could not have done any more on my own. But like my beloved Philadelphia Eagles football team did in the 2009 NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals… I fell a yard or two short of my goal. Winning.

I’m not sure what “winning” would have been like or what it meant in the RNC context anyway. Meeting our party’s nominee, Donald Trump, wasn’t what I was interested in doing as I don’t think my having a conversation would have achieved anything. Hanging my 3′ x 5′ Transgender Pride flag in the Quicken Loans Arena in full view of all of the delegates and the stage? That would have done nothing except irritate a lot of people I am hoping to turn into allies in the future and I would have gotten tossed by one of the Trump “crowd leaders” in the orange baseball hats. Plus, there was no way that I would ever do something like that (which I am sure some of my left-wing folks would want me to do) because that isn’t me and I sure as heck wasn’t going to do anything to bring heartburn and mistrust from my own New Jersey delegation.

I think maybe my “winning” this RNC Super Bowl of sorts was to get one of the major news network operations to interview me… or to find and speak with the one Republican official who would change his or her mind on Transgender Rights and help me to prove that it is “okay” to support Transgender and LGBT Rights. This would also show that all my fellow Republicans weren’t the bigots most media outlets portray them to be. Unfortunately, I didn’t achieve any of those things because the former (media) leads into the latter (political). Trust me, I am very happy and grateful for the media opportunities I did receive from thoughtful reporters who thought my story was worth telling.

Without major media coverage, the folks in my Grand Old Party who are helping to run our country but are working hard to ruin transgender lives with bathroom bills and religious liberty laws won’t need to talk to me or acknowledge that a transgender woman like me is in their own tent.

Jennifer Williams at Quicken Loans Arena's RNC main entrance -Day 1
Your humble author, Jennifer Williams, about to enter the RNC at Quicken Loans Arena for the first time.

If I cannot convince CNN, ABC Good Morning America, CBSNEWS, MSNBC, The Daily Show and Bloomberg to interview me on television, in their reality I do not exist. And a by-product of this is that I don’t yet exist in the American mainstream as a Republican who happens to be transgender because I spoke with producers and on-air talent for each of those networks and handed them a copy of my Washington Post Op-Ed and they all said “we’ll see” or “we’re too busy.” Now I did make one mistake, I guess, in telling these media members that I was not being harassed, harmed or disrespected by anyone at the convention.

That was the honest truth and I wasn’t going to shade that outside of one pastor going a little too “biblical” on me as we respectfully spoke (we ended up “hugging it out” by the way)… nothing untoward happened to me. However, I did have a lot of young Republican males, mainly from the South, open doors or let me pass before them while very respectfully addressing me as “ma’am.” As a transgender woman, I was really happy to be treated so well by those we are told to fear. As a Gen-Xer female, I wanted to ask them if they need glasses or something! Admittedly, they don’t need glasses and I just have to get over my transitioning into a super-stylish, really cool wicked smart, kick-butt soccer-mom sooner than I expected. Yes, my chance to party with Van Halen, the Stones, Gwen Stefani, the Beastie Boys, Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Def Leppard, U2 and Lenny Kravitz has come and gone. I’m okay with all that actually, but it is fun to think about once in a while!

Nevertheless, I am figuring out what I want to do and where I want to go from here to help in the fight for Transgender and LGBT Rights. I do have some good strong Left-sided allies that I can work with and trust, but at the same time I wonder a lot about how much they ultimately trust me as a Transgender and LGBT person because I am a Republican. I have never been down with the GOP on LGBT Rights, but that is hard to prove to some unless I have documentary evidence that I was personally leading protests back in the day.

LGBTQ Protesters outside the LGBTrump/Breitbart/Gateway Pundit "Wake Up!" Party at the RNC
LGBTQ Protesters outside the LGBTrump/Breitbart/Gateway Pundit “Wake Up!” Party at the RNC. Yes, I did try to engage them until my Uber showed up. Photo: Jennifer Williams.

What gags me on that concept is that I am sure most of the people bagging on me on the internet never showed up to a protest, a march or even a fundraiser themselves. My civic-activist focus for many years was my little LGBT-friendly neighborhood, my city and my directing a film festival to help save both of them. I had to put much of that on hold for a long time as my family and I worked towards my eventual transition.

Now that I am “back in the arena” as Nixon wrote about, it feels great. I have learned a lot from my own life experience formally and publicly entering the LGBT community and learning about other people’s lives and struggles at Creating Change, Philly Trans-Health and other venues. I found that I still love speaking with people and making connections. That is my gift from God and I intend to use it for as long as I can and as best I can in order to do good. May I be successful in doing so and be able to come back here often to let you know how it is going.

Donald Trump as “Sonny” Corleone


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!


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.




Talking with Media – Democracy Now!

  • Jennifer Williams at Quicken Loans Arena's RNC main entrance -Day 1
    Jennifer Williams at Quicken Loans Arena’s RNC main entrance -Day 1
  • I attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio last week. It was a wonderful adventure for me to be there as an Honorary Delegate from New Jersey and as a Transwoman. I met a lot of great people (political and non-political; some Uber drivers) before and during the RNC and I’ll write about some of them soon. My goal  at the RNC was to connect with my own delegation, more people in my party and to talk about Transgender and LGBT Rights with as many power players as I could meet. Being there on my own in a city where I do not know a soul was a bit daunting at times, but I am happy as heck that I did it. I think I made some good change happen in some hearts and minds and at the least… there are a bunch of people who cannot ever say “I’ve never met a transperson.”

While in Cleveland, I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with both U.S. and foreign media while I was at the Convention. As I made the rounds, it was harder than I expected to get some of the major media players in America to speak with me as a Republican Transwoman and delegate. With all the controversy of transgender rights and the Republican Party, that surprised the heck out of me.

After this year of my Grand Old Party hurting itself and our Transgender community in many states, my hope was to speak out publicly as much as I could – to as many people as I could. Chatting with regular Republicans was easy, the media… not as much. Maybe there will be chances in the future to present a Republican who happens to be transgender and wants to help her community and country be better.

That said, some media outlets thought my perspective was of interest to their audience and their reporters asked me some good questions. One such interview was with Democracy Now!, which is available on many independent TV stations around the country and on-line. Alana Jochum, Executive Director of Equality Ohio and Charles Moran, board member of the Log Cabin Republicans are interviewed in this segment. Your humble author appears at the 9:37 mark.

More links are posted below the Democracy Now! video. I hope you enjoy and share them, even if you disagree with me.

Washington Times

Washington Blade

Time Magazine


New Now Next


Daily Dot

One last note, I do want to congratulate and applaud the 27 DNC delegates who happen to be transgender attending their own party convention. Also, on the last night of the DNC – Sarah McBride of the Human Rights Campaign will be making the first Convention speech at either party’s convention… ever. Pretty great stuff and a great moment for my tribe, even if I am on the other side of the political aisle. I hope Sarah kills it!


Continue reading “Talking with Media – Democracy Now!”