In a recent interview with The Advocate, Caitlyn Jenner, whose E! docuseries “I Am Cait” returns for its second season on Sunday, expresses support for notoriously anti-GLBT rights GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, though stops short of actually endorsing him. According to the profile by Dawn Ennis, Jenner, a longtime Republican, didn’t shy away from hypothesizing about what a Cruz presidency might look like:
“I like Ted Cruz. I think he’s very conservative and a great constitutionalist and a very articulate man. I haven’t endorsed him or anything like that. But I also think, he’s an evangelical Christian, and probably one of the worst ones when it comes to trans issues.”
While admitting, “The Democrats are better when it comes to these types of social issues,” Jenner continues with, “if we don’t have a country, we don’t have trans issues. We need jobs. We need a vibrant economy. I want every trans person to have a job. With $19 trillion in debt and it keeps going up, we’re spending money we don’t have. Eventually, it’s going to end. And I don’t want to see that. Socialism did not build this country. Capitalism did. Free enterprise. The people built it. And they need to be given the opportunity to build it back up.”
After stating that Cruz was “very nice” to her when she met him, Jenner goes on to say, “Wouldn’t it be great, let’s say he goes on to be president. And I have all my girls on a trans issues board to advise him on making decisions when it comes to trans issues. Isn’t that a good idea?”
Asked if she wants to be Cruz’s trans ambassador, Jenner affirms, “Yes, trans ambassador to the president of the United States, so we can say, ‘Ted, love what you’re doing but here’s what’s going on.'”
In a clip from an upcoming “I Am Cait” episode, Jenner is seen arguing about politics with her crew of fellow transwomen, stating, “Sometimes these girls think that now that I've transitioned that everything has to change. You can't be conservative anymore. You have to be a liberal. No, I don't believe that. I think I can keep all of my views the same cause I feel in my heart that's the best way to go.” Yet it’s a long way from Jenner remaining a steadfast Republican to suggesting, whether she was being serious or not, that she could be a “trans ambassador.”
If such a bizarre, extremely unlikely scenario were to ever come to pass, Jenner would certainly have her work cut out for her. The reality star, who recently Tweeted urging followers to ask South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard to veto a transgender bathroom bill which would have required transgender students use separate lockers and restrooms (which he did), doesn’t get into any further details about what issues she would prioritize in such a role, or whether Cruz would have any interest in her performing such a function.
Jenny Boylan, who’s shown yelling at Jenner in the “I Am Cait” clip, has blogged that she tried to quit the show because “hanging out with her was infuriating,” but wound up sticking it out. “The fact that she’s swooning over Ted Cruz–a bigot, a hater, and an all around dunderhead–is galling, but no more galling, to me, than a political philosophy that exclusively benefits the wealthy and leaves the rest of us to struggle. Cruz’s policies on trans rights are horrific, but not a whole lot more horrific than those of anyone else in the GOP currently running for office,” Boylan wrote in a post arguing that Jenner has the potential to “become someone who listens, who opens her heart, who has compassion.”
Jenner's optimism about Cruz is baffling, considering that he’s specifically railed against those same rights for transgender students that Jenner supports. In November, Cruz told conservative radio show Louder With Crowder, “Look, these guys are so nutty that the federal government is going after school districts, trying to force them to let boys shower with little girls. Now listen: I’m the father of two daughters, and the idea that the federal government is coming in saying that boys, with all the god-given equipment of boys, can be in the shower room with junior high girls – this is lunacy!”
At an Iowa campaign event in January, Cruz said of the White House’s choice to honor the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage by lighting the building in celebration, “What we’re doing doesn’t make any sense. What does it say that that day, they lit up the White House in rainbow colors, and yet it took nearly a week to recognize that our servicemen were murdered by jihadists in Chattanooga by lowering the flag at half staff? How messed up are those values?”
Trans activists and social media users were quick to take Jenner to task for her statement. Blogger Monica Roberts of TransGriot wrote, “And Caitlyn, while you have every right to support whoever you wish in this 2016 presidential contest, I would suggest that you not support a presidential candidate who thinks it's sound political strategy and policy to demonize our trans younglings for political gain.”
Even many Log Cabin Republicans were not impressed with Jenner’s stance. On their Facebook page, comments included:
"Ted Cruz is the strongest advocate for theocracy "God's laws trump man's law" and systematic anti LGBT discrimination serving in office. Jenner overestimates her skill at diplomacy thinking she could change that... Or ever meet with Ted Cruz and be listened to"
"Teddy wants to reverse marriage equality. Even if he doesn't have a chance in hell of accomplishing this, the sentiment is what counts. And the ploy failed because evangelicals are going to Trump. Cruz would have done better to reach out to us."
I do believe that Jenner wants to be a force for good in the world for transgender people, but that she would even float the idea that she is able to speak for other transgender people, especially when Cruz has repeatedly made horrific statements about transgender people and not shown one iota of concern for their wellbeing, comes across as ignorant, misguided and self-aggrandizing. It elevates Jenner in a way that is both unrealistic and unfair to those who’ve been doing the actual work of making sure transgender people are protected under the law.
Are Jenner’s musings wishful thinking? A ratings grab? Her own version of lunacy? They certainly seem to have no basis in reality, considering the platform Cruz has built and the followers he’s courting. It’s one thing for him to be “nice” to one of the most famous and wealthy transgender people in the world—to her face, at least—but that hasn’t stopped his hateful rhetoric or changed the policies he’s advocating for on the campaign trail. That Jenner thinks she could possibly change his mind is giving him credit — and she seems to be the only trans advocate who believes he deserves it. Jenner told The Today Show of shooting her series, “The politics was tough on the bus. I sit on the Republican side, and when we do get a candidate, I certainly will talk to them. I admit that the Democrats, as far as trans issues, are better than the Republicans."
As Zach Ford wrote at Think Progress, where he details even more of Cruz’s bigoted views and public statements, “If Cruz is elected president, he will not appoint a trans ambassador. If he mentions transgender people, it will be to misgender them, to accuse them of being predators, and to pass laws ensuring it remains legal to discriminate against them. He will fuel the very fear and confusion that already motivates that discrimination."
"Caitlyn Jenner simply cannot be taken seriously as an advocate for the most disadvantaged transgender people if she’s lauding Ted Cruz in the same breath.”
Jenner is not ignorant of the issues at stake, considering that she’s acknowledged that her own party is falling down on the job in advancing transgender rights. She recently announced the April launch of a limited edition lipstick called Finally Free with M•A•C Cosmetics, with proceeds going to M•A•C AIDS Fund Transgender Initiative. In an interview on M•A•C’s site about the collaboration, Jenner said:
“I met with Samantha Power, our Ambassador to the United Nations, on this issue and on all LGBT rights. There are still far too many countries where if you’re anywhere in the L, the G, the B or the T spectrum, it’s a criminal offense. You can go to jail for being anywhere in there. You can get decapitated. Take Russia. In Russia, if you are anywhere in the L, the G, the B or the T, you are considered to have a mental illness. And people with mental illnesses cannot get driver’s licenses. This happens in our world today. M•A•C has a global reach. We can start here, but I would also like to take it on a worldwide basis – the big picture. For right now we need to figure out trans issues and get some help here, but on a global scale, it’s women’s issues.”
Jenner can use her fame and power to amplify trans voices and issues, but wading into electoral politics without being clear with her viewers about what’s truly at stake is not the best use of her efforts. She said in her M•A•C interview, “I don’t want to do everything; I want to do the right things.” Rather than focusing on a candidate who’s actively worked against the rights of GLBT people, Jenner would be better off using her voice to tell her own story and offer air time for those who don’t have the privileges she’s been afforded. Or, if she’s going to talk about Cruz being “very nice,” she should confront him on the issues that matter to her. If she can take the time to Tweet about the South Dakota bill, surely she can take 140 characters to Tweet at Cruz.
In December, Jenner wrote on her website, “I want to help create a world in which people are able to express their gender in any way that is true and authentic for them. And most importantly – a world in which how a trans person is treated isn’t dependent on how they look.” There are plenty of ways Jenner can do that—but trying to woo Ted Cruz or his supporters isn’t one of them.