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Gay State Dept. official oversees sale of military tech to allies

Former Log Cabin leader speaks on his new job and fighting for equality

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Assistant Secretary Cooper consults with a senior U.S. Air Force Pilot as he tours the U.S. corral at the Paris Air Show. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of State)

If you hear about the United States announcing the sale of military technology to a foreign ally, R. Clarke Cooper will have had a hand in it.

As assistant secretary for political-military affairs at the State Department, Cooper is charged with advancing national security interests by coordinating with allied and partner nations the sale of U.S. conventional weapons, such as F-35 aircraft, bombs, missiles and firearms. Each year, his bureau facilitates more than $190 billion in U.S. defense transfers.

Among the recipients are democracies like the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan — although others, such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, have repressive governments notorious for criminalizing gay relationships and restricting women’s rights.

As a gay combat veteran, Cooper said he’s aware the United States supplies weapons to countries with less than stellar — even abysmal — records on human and civil rights.

“I’ve probably spent a good chunk of my life serving in places where one’s orientation like mine, would be either defined as criminal or even under the threat of a death sentence,” Cooper said. “But it doesn’t preclude us from presenting our people forward into these places, and it certainly doesn’t suspend our bilateral relationships.”

Cooper is acquainted with policies that suppress gay people. In the early Obama years, Cooper, as executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, worked with Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and coordinated litigation that compelled the Pentagon to support open service.

Speaking with the Washington Blade in his office at the State Department on Aug. 21 about his present role, Cooper said the weapons sales are about a different thing entirely: Maintaining global security with U.S. allies to limit the influence of adversaries like Russia and China.

“It is always going to be what U.S. interests do we have in that particular country, in that region that we need to protect,” Cooper said. “That is overriding. Full stop. Always will be.”

Although Cooper is a Trump appointee (making him one of the handful of openly gay officials in the administration), the sale of weapons to these countries spans both Democratic and Republican administrations, including those of Trump, Obama, Clinton and both Bushes.

It’s the wiggle-room in between, Cooper said, that enables the United States to advocate for decriminalization of same-sex relationships and women’s role in society. Among these efforts, he said, are the United Nations’ Women, Peace & Security initiative and requirements on troop-contributing countries in global peacekeeping operations.

“There are a number of countries that have been challenging either statutes or policies on women and the LGBT community, who are significant troop contributors to U.N. peacekeeping operations or African Union peacekeeping operations,” Cooper said. “That does provide us a point of entre as a department to advocate for those communities.”

Cooper said the process for the arms transfer can take years, and during that time, red flags addressed in the State Department Human Rights Report or regional contextual issues could come into play.

“At the end of the day, though, regardless of whatever outlying issues there are, it’s always going to be about what’s in our interest,” Cooper said. “Again, not a new protocol, that is sustained.”

Weapons sales are but one part of the job of managing the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. The responsibilities also include helping coordinate diplomacy and defense policy, assisting countries with clearing explosive hazards and building a capable and accountable staff of political-military practitioners.

Cooper won Senate confirmation in April after his nomination by President Trump was pending for about eight months. Since that time, Cooper said his day-to-day life on the job is unpredictable and “predicated on what’s happening globally.”

“I can have a day where I know that, OK, I’ve got calendar items, there’s either a meeting at the National Security Council, or there’s a briefing on Capitol Hill, or I’ve got to make sure I got to get a decision up to Secretary [Mike] Pompeo,” Cooper said. “Those are things that are on our calendar, and I can plan [for], what we don’t plan for is a particular reaction from an adversary or a posturing or threatening act by an adversary, and how that might be disruptive, and how we have to react.”

Cooper knows his stuff. Over the course of the interview, he quickly rattles off military acronyms, policy initiatives and recalls historical policies set by the Untied States and allies in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

Although Cooper said he’s forced to speak in generalities because much of his work is sensitive and classified, he identified both Russia and China as adversaries the United States is seeking to limit through weapons sales to allies.

“When we’re talking about the national security strategy that is very much focused on China and Russia,” Cooper said. “So when we’re looking at how we’re prioritizing not only foreign military financing, and foreign military sales and security assistance, all of that is looking to bolster and support our security partners who may be either directly challenged by Moscow or Beijing.”

In historical context, Cooper said those partners have been limited to countries bordering Russia and China, but in an asymmetric environment where the world is flat, those partnerships are “much broader than that.”

“When we are looking at security assistance, when we’re looking at presence and when we’re looking at influence, countering China is inclusive of Africa, and the African continent, countering Russia is inclusive of, well, this hemisphere as well,” Cooper said. 

In terms of China, Cooper also identified the Indo-Pacific region as an area “where we have put significant attention and resources.”

“That is, we’re wanting to make sure that is it not only free and open for trade, but unmolested, and undisrupted by China,” Cooper said. “That does help us as far as prioritization.”

It’s a dream job for Cooper, who following his stint from 2010 to 2012 at Log Cabin returned to active duty service in the U.S. Army. His tours include United States Africa Command, Special Operations Command Africa, Joint Special Operations Task Force Trans-Sahara and Special Operations Command Central.

In a previous life during the Bush administration, Cooper worked in the State Department as a representative to the United Nations and an adviser at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Immediately before his confirmation, Cooper was director of intelligence planning for Joint Special Operations Command’s Joint Inter-Agency Task Force in the National Capital Region.

But it’s also a dirty job, according to a majority of Americans. Last month, the Chicago Council for Global Affairs issued survey data finding 70 percent of Americans believe that selling weapons to other countries makes the United States less safe, not more. 

That view cuts across party lines, with 75 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 62 percent of Republicans believing the United States is worse off for the weapons sales. Another 20 percent say the weapons sales make no difference.

Elliot Imse, a spokesperson for the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which has sought to facilitate the appointment of LGBT people to federal government posts, had an altogether different complaint about Cooper: Too white male, not LGBT enough.

“All aspects of our government have been dominated by straight white cisgender men — and that perspective, and conscious or unconscious bias, seeps into every policy decision our country makes,” Imse said. “Better decisions are made — whether about our economy, international relations or national defense — when people of color, women, LGBTQ people and other diverse voices are part of the conversation.”

Imse pointed out Cooper is an appointee in the Trump administration, which has gained a reputation for being hostile to LGBT people and other minorities.

“The Trump administration is still the Trump administration and the people they appoint rarely reflect our values, but the hope is that even those who don’t can provide some new openings toward more inclusive thinking,” Imse said. “There will be no miracles, however, as this administration remains fundamentally opposed to equality.”

There’s one other aspect of Cooper’s job: It’s macho and consists of engagements with military officials and foreign leaders in countries hostile to LGBT rights. 

Cooper, however, said being gay has “not at all” come up as an issue.

“I have not encountered anything that would be interpreted or defined as counter to supportive,” he said. “I’ve not witnessed or assessed anything that would have been degrading, or holding me back in my career.”

R. Clarke Cooper at his ceremonial swearing-in by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, joined by his mother, Tracy Clarke Cooper Tuckman and his husband, fellow combat veteran Mike Marin. (Photo courtesy State Department)

Cooper pivoted to his time in the military immediately after his tenure at Log Cabin and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal to emphasize the transition in the way the United States views gay people, including in the military. At the time, Cooper said no one else with whom he served was aware of his time at the Republican LGBT group.

“I think one of the best things, probably the most equitable place for the LGBT community is the military,” Cooper said. “Because it is such a merit based place. Again, you either are able to meet requirements, and you’re able to fulfill those requirements. And then there are certain programs like I was in that have very specific assessment and selection procedures. But none of them factor in orientation. None.”

At the same time, Cooper developed his relationship with his now husband Michael Marin, who’s also an active duty officer. Cooper said as members of the military they were both expected to attend each other’s functions as a date.

When the time came for marriage, Cooper said he informed his commander, per military tradition dating back to the 18th century, and received an enthusiastic response. Not only that, Cooper said, but his colleagues in the military were supportive.

“They were making jokes about life’s gonna be a little easier being married to a guy,” Cooper said. “I was like, What? ‘You can fart in bed and stuff.’ And so I’m sitting here thinking, I can’t believe I’m having this conversation. We’ve gotten to that point where it’s like there, and then they’re giving marital advice.”

Cooper said he realizes that transition may surprise older gay men, who are used to the idea of the military being hostile to gays. Holding back emotion for a brief moment, Cooper said, “The exciting part of this is not everybody gets to see the fruits of their labor, and they don’t get to see it as quickly.”

Still, Cooper conceded what has changed in the military for gays in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may not be true in all areas of the United States.

Invoking a time before the civil rights era for black Americans — when they were treated more equitably in the military after desegregation, but not in other places of the country — Cooper said the same holds true for gay people at military bases, which he said have become “islands of equality.”

“Fort Bragg, North Carolina, I’m a peer. I’m equal,” Cooper said. “There is no difference…I’m married. My spouse is identified by the Department of Defense as my spouse, not my partner, my spouse. Step into Fayetteville: Not so much.”

Assistant Secretary Cooper mixes at a reception to welcome incoming U.S. Marine Security Guard Detachment Commanders assigned to protect U.S. embassies worldwide. (Photo courtesy State Department)

But Cooper stopped short of criticizing the transgender military ban implemented under the Trump administration. Asked if based on that experience whether he opposes the policy, Cooper replied, “No.”

Cooper relented by saying “if someone is trans and they are capable of serving, they should be serving,” but towed the line of the Defense Department.

“This is not my wheelhouse right now, but my understanding of where the current status is with the Department of Defense is that there is no ban that’s in place,” Cooper said.

Under the Trump administration, service members are discharged who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria or are prescribed transition-related care. In terms of enlistments, the policy bars applicants with a history of gender dysphoria — unless the individuals are willing to serve in their biological sex (an extremely small number of transgender people). Applicants who obtained transition-related care are outright banned.

In a recent Washington Blade article on the transgender policy, which was implemented in April, the military reported no discharges — although transgender rights advocates have doubts about those numbers.

“I do know that [James] Mattis and [Mark] Esper made clear that if we are going to address readiness across the board, there was a refocus on people’s weight, people’s exposure to drug and alcohol abuse…if people had to come off line from service, for whatever reason,” Cooper said, adding he’s “not equating someone’s status with other issues.”

Asked if that means he’s fine with the policy, Cooper replied, “If I understand it correctly, there’s not a ban on trans service. There’s not an operative ban on trans service at the department.”

Pressed again by the Blade about the issue, Cooper said, “I think it’s I think it’s still being addressed.” (The issue is considered resolved by the Trump administration.)

“I know that depending on where somebody may be in transition, that that was probably part of the dialogue,” Cooper said. “I say probably because I’m guessing because I wasn’t a part of that conversation.”

Informed by the Blade an estimated 14,700 transgender people are serving in the military, Cooper said those service members should be able to stay “if they’re in current service, and they’re deployable.”

Asked whether he had any input on Log Cabin’s recent controversial endorsement of Trump, Cooper distanced himself and said he hasn’t been involved in politics for some time.

“I’ve been in a Hatch Act space now for quite a while,” Cooper said. “So I can say from previous experience of how those work. Any group that would be seeking endorsement of any candidate usually is going to be doing some homework prior to doing that. But I have zero visibility on what either they or the RNC is doing.”

Cooper, however, still has allies from his days at Log Cabin.

Christian Berle, a gay Republican who worked with Cooper at Log Cabin on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, praised his one-time colleague.

“He’s a conservative, so locking himself to the White House fence has never been who he is, but he has, in my experience, used his personal and political connections to advocate for those who he knows are disadvantaged,” Berle said.

Berle said Cooper’s efforts during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal process were “rooted in his frustration” about privileged gay people like him being able to serve in high-profile civilian positions, but others not being allowed to serve in the military.

“I think Clarke is very capable of using his positions, his opportunity to interact with Secretary Pompeo and other members of the administration to argue for a fairer [world],” Berle said. “I think there is a lot more that needs to be done, a lot of people elsewhere in the administration who also need to stand up, but I’m confident in the work that Clarke is doing to raise the voice to stand up for LGBT members of the diplomatic corps.”

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s civil rights division at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada

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(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

 

Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run

Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups

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Caitlyn Jenner was quickly repudiated by LGBTQ advocates after she entered California’s recall election as a gubernatorial candidate — and her fellow transgender Republicans are mixed over whether or not to back her up.

Transgender Republicans are few in number, but some are in high-profile positions and have been working with their party to change its approach and drop its attacks on transgender people, whether it be in the military, public bathrooms, or school sports.

Jordan Evans, a Charlton, Mass.-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully last year ran to become a Massachusetts Republican State Committee Woman, told the Washington Blade she had high hopes for Jenner as a fellow transgender candidate, but they were quickly dashed after her campaign launched.

“My feelings changed quickly after Caitlyn made it clear that she was less interested in using this opportunity to present the Republican Party and conservative movements with an accessible and high-profile introduction to the trans community and simply wanted to be a trans woman who espoused the same destructive approaches that we just so happen to be seeing all over the country,” Evans said.

Evans said the high hopes she had were based on the transgender advocacy she said Jenner was doing behind the scenes and the potential for two prominent LGBTQ Republicans to run for governor in California. After all, Jenner may soon be joined in the race by Richard Grenell, who was U.S. ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence before becoming the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s failed re-election.

But Jenner’s approach to the gubernatorial recall in California, Evans said, is “putting trans youth at risk for a campaign that isn’t even transformative for Republicans during this volatile time.”

“Even her current messaging is superficial and does nothing to help dispel claims that she’s unqualified,” Evans said. “The only positive thing that I’ve seen come from this is conservative mainstream media using her correct pronouns, but that is not worth the damage that she’s inflicting.”

Much of the disappointment over Jenner’s campaign is the result of her essentially throwing transgender kids under the bus as part of her campaign at a time when state legislatures are advancing legislation against them, including the bills that would essentially bar transgender girls from participating in school sports.

Jenner, declining to push back on these measures and assert transgender kids have a place in sports, instead essentially endorsed the bills shortly after she announced her candidacy.

“If you’re born as a biological boy, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete in girls’ sports,” Jenner told TMZ, which asked her about the hot-button issue during a Sunday morning coffee run.

Jenner dug deeper into MAGA-world at the expense of solidarity with the transgender community. Last week, Jenner retweeted Jenna Ellis, who has a notoriously anti-LGBTQ background and was criticized just last year for refusing to use the personal pronouns of Rachel Levine, who’s now assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win Senate confirmation.

Jennifer Williams, a New Jersey-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly last year, said via email Jenner “did much good for several years by educating millions of people around the world about transgender folks,” but won’t countenance the candidate’s remarks on transgender kids in sports.

“In regard to her current run for California governor, her recent comments regarding transgender youth playing sports are confusing,” Williams said. “Just last year, she said that she supported transgender female athletes. Caitlyn should consult with tennis great Billie Jean King, soccer star Megan Rapinoe or WNBA legend Candace Parker on the subject of transgender athletes in women’s sports, as they are very well versed on the matter.”

At a time when state legislatures are pushing through legislation targeting transgender youth, restricting their access to sports and transition-related care, Jenner’s refusal to repudiate those measures has become a focal point for opposition to her candidacy from LGBTQ advocacy groups, who say she’s “out of touch” (although none were supporting her even before she made those comments).

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ political candidates and public officials, has signaled it wants nothing to do with Jenner.

Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs for LGBTQ Victory Fund, said Jenner hasn’t applied for an endorsement from the Victory Fund “and she shouldn’t bother to.”

“Her opposition to full trans inclusion – particularly for trans kids in sports – makes her ineligible for the endorsement,” Meloy said. “There are many great trans candidates running this cycle who are champions for equality.”

To be sure, Jenner used her celebrity status as a former reality TV star and Olympic champion on behalf of transgender lobbyists, urging donations to groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and going to Capitol Hill to lobby Republicans on transgender issues. Jenner has also given money for transgender kids to attend college, giving transgender advocate Blossom Brown a check for $20,000 on “The Ellen Show” in 2015.

Blaire White, a transgender conservative and YouTube personality, drew on these examples of Jenner helping transgender youth in a video earlier this month and said the two once had dinner together, but wasn’t yet ready to make a endorsement.

“I will say that until she lays out all of her policy positions and until she’s more on record in long form really talking about what she wants to do for the state of California, I can’t say for sure I would vote for her and would not vote for her,” White concluded in the video. “What I can say is: I’m interested. And also, being under Gavin Newson’s governorship, I would literally vote for a triple-amputee frog over Gavin Newsom, so she already has that going for her.”

Jenner’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment for this article on the repudiation of her campaign from LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Gina Roberts, who’s the first transgender Republican elected to public office in California and a member of the San Diego GOP Central Committee, said she’s neutral for the time being as an elected Republican Party leader, but nonetheless had good things to say about Jenner’s candidacy.

“I think it’s awesome,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of indicative of how cool the Republican Party in California is because nobody really cares or it makes any difference. I mean, I was the first elected GOP transgender person in California and I think we’re ready for No. 2.”

Asked whether Jenner’s comments about allowing transgender kids in sports was troubling, Roberts said that wasn’t the case because she has her own reservations.

“I have pretty much the same opinion because … there’s so many nuances in that,” Roberts said. “If somebody transitions after they’ve gone through puberty, there is a big difference, especially in high school. If they transition beforehand, it’s not a big deal.”

A gun enthusiast and supporter of gun owner’s rights, Roberts said she competes in women’s events in shooting sports, but there’s a difference because she doesn’t “really have any advantages all those young, small ladies can pull a lot faster than I do and shoot faster than I do.”

Roberts concluded she’ll personally make a decision about whom she’ll support in the California recall election after Grenell announces whether or not he’ll enter the race, but can’t say anything until the San Diego GOP Central Committee issues an endorsement.

“He’s a good friend of mine, too,” Roberts said. “I know both of them. I think they’d both be certainly better than Gavin Newsom, I have to stay neutral until the county party decides who they’re going to endorse. I will support somebody or another in the endorsement process, but I can’t publicly announce it.”

Although LGBTQ groups want nothing to do with her campaign, Jenner’s approach has garnered the attention of prominent conservatives, who are taking her seriously as a candidate. One of Jenner’s first interviews was on Fox News’ Sean Hannity, a Trump ally with considerable sway among his viewers. Hannity was able to find common ground with Jenner, including agreement on seeing California wildfires as a problem with forest management as opposed to climate change.

Kayleigh McEnany, who served as White House press secretary in Trump’s final year in the White House and defended in the media his efforts to challenge his 2020 election loss in court, signaled her openness to Jenner’s candidacy after the Hannity interview.

“I really enjoyed watching @Caitlyn_Jenner’s interview with @seanhannity,” McEnany tweeted. “I found Caitlyn to be well-informed, sincere, and laser-focused on undoing the socialist, radical, a-scientific policies of Biden & the left. Very good.”

In theory, that support combined with Jenner’s visibility might be enough to propel Jenner to victory. In the recall election, California will answer two questions, whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom should be recalled, and if so, which candidate should replace him. The contender with the plurality of votes would win the election, even if that’s less than a majority vote, and become the next governor. There isn’t a run-off if no candidate fails to obtain a majority.

With Jenner’s name recognition as a celebrity, that achievement could be in her reach. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 2004 recall election in California as a Republican based on his celebrity status, and ended up becoming a popular governor.

But the modest inroads Jenner has made with the acceptance of conservatives and potential to win isn’t enough for other transgender Republicans.

Evans, for example, said Jenner’s candidacy is not only a disappointment, but threatening the potential candidacies of transgender hopefuls in the future.

“It’s difficult to be in electoral politics, and that’s even more true when you’re a member of a marginalized community,” Evans said. “Caitlyn’s behavior is making it even more challenging for the trans community to be visible in a field where we desperately need to be seen. She’s casting a tall shadow on our ability to have a voice and is giving credibility to lawmakers and local leaders simply unwilling to view us with decency and respect.”

Williams said Jenner should avoid talking about transgender issues over the course of her gubernatorial run “and instead focus on the hard, critical policy issues facing California.”

“It is a state in crisis and she has to run a very serious campaign and not rely on her celebrity or LGBTQ status to win over voters’ hearts and minds — just like all other LGBTQ candidates around the country need to do when they run for public office,” Williams said.

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