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.

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.