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!

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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.

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

Newsmax

New Now Next

Newsy

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!”

I’m a transgender Republican. My party has betrayed me.

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Earlier this month in the Kansas legislature, Republican state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald dismissed a colleague’s concern about suicide among transgender youth by arguing that “Suicide does have a high rate with those who are afflicted with some form of insanity.” Iowa Congressman Steve King has called for “civil disobedience” to block transgender rights. In April, Denton County, Tex., sheriff candidate Tracy Murphree apologized after threatening on Facebook that if a transgender woman were in a public restroom with his daughter, she would “then identify as John Doe until he wakes up in whatever hospital he may be taken to.” In her typically clueless way, Republican convert and Fox News commentator Stacey Dash said she’d rather transgender women go “in the bushes” than have access to the restrooms other women do.

With states across the country considering or passing Republican-sponsored, so-called bathroom bills, the debate over transgender rights has, sadly, made it increasingly difficult for transgender people, including me, just to be who we are. What’s doubly disturbing for me: I’m a lifelong Republican.

On transgender rights, my party has betrayed me.

I grew up in a close-knit, northeastern, working-class Irish family. My FDR-JFK Democrat parents raised seven kids and sent each of us off to college. I’ve got an MBA, I’m a practicing Catholic and I’m engaged in my community. I’m happily married to my wife of 16 years and we’re proud parents of two great kids. I became a Republican because I grew up in the 1980s inspired by Ronald Reagan to believe in American exceptionalism, a strong military, limited government and free enterprise.

I voted and campaigned against President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and I still don’t agree with most of the things he stands for. But as an LGBT American, I have to acknowledge that I’m better off that he was our president. It’s hard for me to write those words, but it’s true.

Ever since I became active in the party, my focus has been trying to convince fellow Republicans to work toward making the GOP more diverse. Though I’ve served on my local party committee on and off for years, my calling card for the last several years has been the documentary that I released in 2012, “Fear of a Black Republican.”

Telling the story of black Republicans fighting for visibility in the overwhelmingly white GOP wasn’t easy. But I was, and remain, quite proud of that work because our film spoke the truth that we can’t be a genuinely representative party until we speak to issues of importance in the black community. And as the late Edward Brooke — a Republican and the last black man elected to serve in the U.S. Senate prior to Obama — said in my film, “I would rather change the Party from within, not without.”

I feel the same way about my own identity as a transgender woman. I want my party to practice genuine tolerance. But as long as some Republicans are willing to treat me as someone who doesn’t deserve full equality, our party is lost. And now I’m also fighting for survival. As long as Republican pundits and officeholders are willing to make transgender Americans scapegoats for unfounded fears about what might happen in public restrooms — giving bigots license to harm us — our families can’t ever feel like we’re safe. I feel like I have to be more vigilant than ever to protect myself, my wife and my kids, and I’m an adult who’s spent decades engaged in public debate. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like for a school-age kid to be transgender in the current climate.

No, my party can’t change overnight, but there’s a big difference between gradually evolving with the times and actively going out of the way to be the party of discrimination when it’s supposed to be the party of Abraham Lincoln.

Take North Carolina’s infamous H.B. 2, which currently bars me from using a women’s public restroom. Like every other woman, all I want to do when I go to a public restroom is use the facilities with no drama. Yes, if the occasion arises, I’ll make small-talk with other women while waiting in line or washing our hands. I might even receive or offer a compliment on an outfit and gain a quick smile from someone. Then, after I open the door and leave, I will exhale a small sigh of relief and quietly walk to my destination — I’m not looking to be noticed or cause controversy. I’m looking to blend in. And I’m absolutely not interested in intruding on other women’s personal business while I’m in there.

Despite this, Republicans in several states have launched a war on the transgender community. There’s H.B. 2, but also Michigan’s H.B. 5717 and Mississippi’s H.B. 1523. All of these, despite PolitiFact finding no instances in the United States involving a transgender person attacking, or interfering with, a cisgender person in a restroom. And in Congress, House Republicans blocked an amendment that would have barred federal contractors from discrimination against employees based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

Maybe this helps some Republican politicians score points with socially conservative voters who feel like they’re losing ground — but as the party of smaller government, these are issues they should be spending less time on, not more. When the issue is gun control, Republicans argue that government must respect individual rights. But when it comes to transgender rights, many are all too willing to legislate big-government responses to non-existent problems.

While they’re making a big show of being tough on me, a working mom raising a family, they’re stigmatizing and debasing a vulnerable community.

So what do I want from my party instead?

At next month’s Republican National Convention, I want the Republican National Committee to rescind its recent resolution, which reads:

WHEREAS, A person’s sex is defined as the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined at conception, identified at birth by a person’s anatomy, recorded on their official birth certificate, and can be confirmed by DNA testing;

And, while they’re at it, this:

RESOLVED, The Republican National Committee 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 designated.

No other community would, or should, accept being segregated in this way, and neither do we.

I want GOP governors and legislators to get a grip and follow the example of Deep South governors Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) and Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) who saw these bathroom bills for what they are. As Haley explained when she rejected the idea that these bills were about public safety: “This is not a battle that we’ve seen is needed in South Carolina … It’s not something that we see that citizens are asking for.” By showing leadership, she and Deal not only refused to discriminate, they spared the business communities in their states the boycotts and legal challenges that North Carolina invited by signing on to this form of un-American hostility. Other elected officials should be able to follow their lead.

I want my party to remember that we’re supposed to be about making sure every American has equal opportunity. I want my party to stop trying to come up with ways to make me less of a Republican and less of an American.

And it’s not just about bathrooms. It’s about economics. Once a climate of animosity has been created, depending on where we live, transgender individuals aren’t just locked out of restrooms, we’re locked out of whole communities. We’re not just treated as outcasts; we’re unable to apply for jobs. When that happens, we’re locked out of the American dream.

Too many of us are thrown out of our homes or forced to deny our authentic selves to keep paychecks coming in. Some of us are pushed into sex work just to be able to feed ourselves, keep a roof over our heads or pay for medical care. Only 20 states and the District of Columbia have full employment non-discrimination laws covering gender identity and sexual orientation. These are among the reasons why the suicide and murder rates are so high in our community. One study, The Post reported last year, found that transgender respondents were twice as likely to be unemployed and “nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000, compared to the general population,” forcing many of us to rely on public assistance. If people won’t hire or work with us, what other options are there? Getting people to work is what the GOP should want.

I’m fortunate that this hasn’t been my story — despite facing my own difficulties transitioning, my family has supported me. I’m happy to say that some of the most encouraging people have been churchgoing friends, who’ve said they don’t fully understand my transition, but that to them, I’m still the same person.

I realize not everyone is going to embrace me and I’m not asking for special treatment.

But Republicans should recognize that those of us in the transgender community are voters. We’re citizens. We’re people. And Republican leaders, going forward, have a choice. What they say and do about transgender rights can either affirm our humanity or continue to create the conditions that justify continued animosity and violence toward us. Republican leaders can decide that my kids will learn about legalized discrimination in the history books, or that they’ll learn about it because we’re living with it.

I want Republicans to embrace the idea that transgender Americans have the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” For a party once founded to liberate millions of people from legal subjugation, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.

God Made Me Transgender. I Choose to be Republican.

Author Jennifer Williams at the North Carolina Welcome Sign on I-85 from Virginia - April, 2016
Author Jennifer Williams at the North Carolina Welcome Sign on I-85 from Virginia – April, 2016

This first column you are reading hopefully holds the guiding philosophy for what will become the THOUGHTS OF JEN. While I do intend to write about many things as events prevail and life explorations come about, you should know where I am at – in this moment.

I am an American originally hailing from the wilds of New Jersey who has been educated in some of our country’s greatest cities and institutions in the North and South; who has traveled much of our great land and overseas; who has been a filmmaker, history-buff and political junkie for most of my life; a believer that culture, commerce and independent thought are integral to the human experience; that positivity is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and each other on a daily basis; and that the most treasured journey in life is parenthood in the first degree.

Oh… I’m also Female, Transgender and a Republican (the lifelong, U2-lovin’ kind). I believe those three things (Female, Transgender and Republican) are not incompatible with each other. Especially since my being Transgender is more of my essence than my soulful Christianity or my beliefs in most of the ideals of the Republican Party. And yes, my dear Republican National Committee, Transgender People do have a right to exist… sorta like Israel.

I am working on my GOP’s lack of knowledge and leadership on Transgender Rights and overall LGBT issues. I have no illusions that this may not be a Sisyphusian-like task in many cases, however I know and have met many people that are accepting of Transgender and LGB people. The challenge is to get them to more bravely speak up and out on our behalf.

At this past 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) which I attended, I was very heartened by the strides made by a great number of Conservatives towards LGBT people. I “came out” to a number of old friends at CPAC and their unwavering and continued support to me wasn’t totally surprising, but was very welcome. To quote one of them, “Why should this matter? You’re still my friend.” I don’t know if I am the first Transgender Woman to attend CPAC, but I hope I won’t be the last. I was welcomed everywhere I went at the Conference and I’ve already promised a few new friends (and old ones) that I will be back in 2017.

While trying to work on the GOP side of things, I also intend to work on my Trans and LGB brothers and sisters’ antipathy towards anything Republican and Conservative. I know that there are many LGBT folks who do vote for Republican candidates when these candidates actually do ask for and value their vote.  Economic, Security and Foreign Policy issues are the main concerns of many of these voters, but your own Legal Rights can and should rise to the top when they are threatened by either political party (ie. North Carolina’s and Mississippi’s Governor and Legislatures in 2016, Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi-circa 2007).

As for me, I only have one way in which to describe myself to people… “God Made Me Transgender. I Choose to be Republican.”

We have to have both sides (Transgender and Republican/Conservative) somehow meet in the middle and come together on some things. Our country and our world need this badly. And as President Ronald Reagan once said, “My 80-percent friend is not my 20-percent enemy.”

Having just recently visited the soon-to-be-again Great State of North Carolina (post-HB2 legislation) and personally experienced the consternation, rebelliousness and fear going on there –  I know that we all have a lot of work to do. I aim to do my part.