Since her very public coming out last year, Caitlyn Jenner has committed herself to raising the visibility of transgender people. In some ways, including her E! docuseries I Am Cait (which soon returns for season two), she has been successful, but her insistence on supporting Republicans that are openly hostile to trans rights continues to taint her credibility. Her latest interview with The Advocate is no exception.
In a wide-ranging conversation with The Advocate’s Dawn Ennis, Jenner discussed her ongoing advocacy efforts and the upcoming season of her show. But in one particularly tone-deaf moment, she declared and defended her support for Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz.
“I think he’s very conservative, and a great constitutionalist, and a very articulate man,” she said, clarifying, “I haven’t endorsed him or anything like that.”
Jenner acknowledged that Cruz is “an evangelical Christian, and probably one of the worst ones when it comes to trans issues,” but proceeded to defend her support for Republicans despite their positions on social issues:
Number one, 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. […]
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?
She was referring to her squad of transgender women from I Am Cait. “Yes,” she said, “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.'”
Jenner isn’t wrong that transgender people would benefit if they could secure jobs. But the economy isn’t what’s keeping transgender people from finding employment — it’s anti-transgender discrimination. For example, the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights recently conducted a study that found that nearly half of various employers actually preferred a less-qualified candidate over someone they perceived to be transgender.
The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that transgender people are four times as likely to be living in extreme poverty — with a household income of less than $10,000 — than the general population, with double the rate of unemployment. Nearly half of respondents (47 percent) reported knowing that they had been fired, not hired, or denied a promotion because of their identity, including 26 percent who lost a job for being transgender.
Jenner recently claimed, “I have gotten more flak for being a conservative Republican than I have for being trans.” But it’s transgender people who face these destitute circumstances at such high rates, not Republicans.
Rather than try to support these transgender people, Cruz has relentlessly attacked them. In one interview, he called protections for transgender students a “ridiculous” decision made by “zealots,” explaining, “I don’t want my daughters taking showers with little boys.”
Respecting transgender students’ identities, he said on another occasion, amounts to “inflicting” them on other students. It’s better to force a transgender girl to use the faculty restrooms because “inflicting him [sic] on the teachers is probably better than sticking him in the shower with the teenage girls.”
In the immediate wake of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting in November, Cruz, likely eager to downplay the effect anti-abortion rhetoric may have had in motivating Robert Lewis Dear, jumped on the rumor that he was actually a “transgendered [sic] leftist activist.”
Cruz opposes The Equality Act, a law that would actually protect transgender people from discrimination in employment. In fact, he so believes in allowing for discrimination (in the name of religious liberty) that he once even said that he believes a gay florist should be able to discriminate against a Christian couple — just to ensure that a Christian florist can continue to discriminate against a same-sex couple.
That’s why he introduced the State Marriage Defense Act last year, which would have allowed same-sex couples to become “unmarried” when they crossed the border into a state that didn’t recognize their marriages. That wouldn’t do anything now that the Supreme Court has ruled for marriage equality, but Cruz nevertheless remains a primary sponsor and pledged supporter of the First Amendment Defense Act, which would enable discrimination against same-sex couples.
Cruz likewise opposes allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military. “How about having the military focusing on hunting down and killing the bad guys…instead of treating it as this crucible for social justice innovations?” he said in October. “We shouldn’t view the military as a cauldron for social experiments.”
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.