CLEVELAND — Transgender personality and former Olympic decathlete Caitlyn Jenner denounced anti-trans state bathroom measures on Wednesday during an event seeking to promote a “big tent” within the GOP.
Jenner made the remarks at an event hosted by the pro-LGBT American Unity Fund, which took place in a literal big tent just outside the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Margaret Hoover, president of the American Unity Fund, held a Q&A with Jenner before an estimated 500 attendees.
In the aftermath of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signing a bill prohibiting transgender people from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity, Jenner said the law compounds the bullying transgender youth already face.
“Now, you’re telling me that the state of North Carolina is going to come in and bully you, too, to say you can’t live your authentic life and you have to go in this other bathroom,” Jenner said. “It just doesn’t work.”
Many state legislatures this year considered proposals seeking to bar transgender people, especially students, from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity.
“You’re creating laws for a non-issue,” Jenner said. “We don’t have a problem. Their thing is we want to protect the kids. When you call a trans person ‘a man in a dress,’ you’re totally misgendering them. They are not men in dresses. They are trans people, and so that’s an important point.”
Jenner attributed the high rate of suicide among transgender youth to anti-LGBT bullying, saying she has friends working at suicide hotlines who said calls from transgender people have skyrocketed amid the bathroom controversy.
The internet, Jenner said, is a double-edged sword for transgender youth because it helps them be self-aware, but also subjects them to hostility.
“Online bullying is overtaking the impact of actually personally at school being bullied,” Jenner said. “Now they’re being bullied internationally.”
Recalling incidents of former Sen. Larry Craig and others being arrested for lewd behavior at public restrooms, Jenner jokingly said they are in fact the problem and “maybe what we should do is to ban Republican representatives at a state level.”
More seriously, Jenner noted more than 30 states lack non-discrimination laws for transgender people and said “we have a lot of work to do” to ensure those states enact laws prohibiting that.
Jenner also touted her GOP credentials during the event as she delivered her message, shouting to applause from the audience, “Hello! My fellow Republicans!” as she took the stage.
Explaining her membership in the Republican Party, Jenner reflected on the memory of her late father, a World War II veteran who fought at Omaha Beach.
“I think if my dad knew what was going on for this country for which he fought so hard, and so many died around him, if he had seen what’s happening with this country, I think he’d be very disappointed,” Jenner said. “So, because of that, I feel like our best hope to get back to a constitutional government with 18 enumerated powers is the Republican Party.”
Jenner acknowledged the Obama administration has advanced transgender rights. Pointing out the Pentagon’s decision to allow open transgender service in the U.S. military, Jenner called the move a “very good step forward for our community, for equal rights.”
Jamie Ensley, a gay Atlanta resident and member of Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, was present at the brunch and told the Washington Blade Jenner is “an inspiration.”
“The most courageous and brave thing she ever did in her life was to come out as trans,” Ensley said. “I admire her for that. I’m glad she’s a Republican, too.”
Also speaking at the event was Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who spoke about the ratification of a 2016 party platform considered the most anti-LGBT in the party’s history.
“As a Republican, I confess to my deep disappointment in a party platform that looks backwards, rather than moving us toward the future, or, frankly, even catching up to the present,” Coffman said.
Montel Williams, a conservative activist and talk show personality, compared the struggles of LGBT people to the struggles black Americans faced during the civil rights era.
“For all of those out there who are straight and trying to figure out how to say what we want to say, our LGBT friends don’t care if we get the phrase right, they just want to make sure that you understand that you are an ally, you stand up proudly and say you’re an ally, and you help defend them,” Williams said. “That’s what they want.”