NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND — Less than 24 hours after President Trump issued a memo rescinding the Obama administration’s protections for transgender students, transgender women at CPAC said the move is a step backwards that will significantly hurt LGBTQ children.
In a letter Thursday, officials said they would be backing away from the federal government’s previous position that, because of nondiscrimination laws, transgender students should be permitted to use the school bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Holding a sign reading “Proud to be Conservative, Proud to be Transgender, Proud to be American,” Jordan Evans from Charlton, Massachusetts told ThinkProgress that she is “honestly pretty distraught.”
“Trump billed himself as an ally of LGBTQ rights and I want to believe him,” said Evans, one of a small number of transgender elected officials. “He gave me some good green lights — he held up the flag, he kept the LGBT envoy — but this was his first big LGBT litmus test, and he failed it.”
While Evans wanted to believe that Trump would continue the Obama administration’s support of the transgender community, the action Wednesday “sets us back,” she said.
“I feel like this sends the message that we are somehow less than average people,” she said. “So many of us are average Americans. We want to make a living. We kind of want to keep to ourselves. And we want to make a difference.”
Jennifer Williams, who served as the only transgender delegate at the Republican National Convention last summer, stood with Evans at CPAC holding the same sign and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. She told ThinkProgress she thinks Trump’s move is “terrible.”
“It is actually more than symbolic, even though that’s the spin,” she said. “When you have several hundred thousands around the country who are trans and who have come out to their school districts, and their friend and their classmates and they suddenly find out they’ve been other-ed… I am very afraid.”
Even while the administration was actively taking away transgender rights, Williams said she felt welcome at CPAC. She said most attendees have expressed their support to her and and have told her that they also know transgender people.
Ben Kolodny, a 22-year-old attendee from California, told ThinkProgress he thinks the government should stay out of the issue.
“Personally I have no problem with anyone doing whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t directly violate the rights of another individual,” he said. “As long as someone is going to the bathroom and the stall door is closed, no one is invading anyone else’s privacy, I have absolutely no problem.”
While reports Wednesday claimed that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos opposed the administration’s memo — putting her at odds with Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — she backed away from that stance on Thursday, instead criticizing the previous protections.
“I think the statement spoke for itself to a large extent, but let me just say that this issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach to suggest a one-size-fits-all federal government approach — top-down approach — to issues that are best dealt with and solved at a personal level and a local level,” she said from the CPAC stage.
She added that her job is to both “protect students” and “to protect and preserve personal freedoms.”
But to Evans and Williams, those personal freedoms are being attacked by the Trump administration. Nevertheless, Evans said she remains loyal to her party.
“I will identify as a Republican as long as I can,” she said. “The Republican Party is my home. I just want them to know that I call them home.”