Jenner hits California nerve by siding with GOP on transgender athletes

OAKLAND — Caitlyn Jenner improved her national GOP bona fides with weekend comments embracing the party's prevailing view on transgender athletes — but now finds herself firmly at odds with a key California policy as she runs for governor.

Jenner, a former Olympic gold medalist who is transgender, told TMZ that banning participation of transgender student athletes in girls' competitive sports is "a question of fairness," the same position Republican leaders in red states have taken.

Her remarks angered LGBTQ activists in California and serve as another early signal to voters unfamiliar with her political positions. The heavily Democratic state has been in the vanguard on transgender rights, including passage of a 2014 law protecting the right of transgender students to play sports that correspond with their gender identity.

“It’s not just that [Jenner] is out of step with activists and the community, which is true, but she’s out of step with California voters,” said Samuel Garrett-Pate, communications director for LGBTQ rights group Equality California, which sponsored the state's transgender youth sports law. “She gets a Wheaties box and an Olympic medal and trans kids have to just not play anything? It’s absurd on its face.”

Jenner immediately drew attention last month as a celebrity who would be the most prominent transgender political candidate in the nation, but she entered the race to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom without the support of the LGBTQ community in California. She has thus far done little to cement her standing in the nation's most populous state, though she will have her first major campaign interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity on Wednesday.

She was approached Saturday in Malibu by a TMZ reporter who asked where she stood on the transgender athletes issue. "This is a question of fairness. That's why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls' sports in school," Jenner said in brief remarks before getting in her car. "It just isn't fair. And we have to protect girls' sports in our schools."

Her campaign aides declined to comment further on the record.

Jenner allies have suggested a transgender person running for governor in America’s largest state could be a landmark moment that energizes voters. But LGBTQ lawmakers and advocates remain deeply skeptical, arguing Jenner squandered her platform by initially supporting President Donald Trump and then with her recent statements this week.

“In addition to supporting the most anti-trans president imaginable she’s now literally attacking trans children, saying trans children shouldn’t be allowed to play sports. So it’s really disgusting, but she did us a favor by showing us who she really is,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, an openly gay lawmaker and stalwart LGBTQ ally.

Prominent California LGBTQ advocacy groups like Equality California have rallied behind Newsom and swiftly opposed Jenner’s candidacy. That frustrates some LGBTQ conservatives who say those groups do not represent them — and who see, in Jenner, a candidate who embodies the ideological diversity of a community some people wrongly presume to be uniformly liberal.

“I think Caitlyn potentially has an opportunity as someone who lives in both these worlds — who’s been a lifelong conservative but has also struggled her whole life with being trans,” said California Log Cabin Republicans Chair Matthew Craffey, who stressed the group has not made a formal endorsement in the recall. “Being gay and voting for someone that will allow me to live my life the way I want to live it is important to me, but I also care about the fact that my streets are safe, that someone’s doing something about the homeless issue, that taxes aren’t astronomical.”

Jenner in 2018 took issue with some of Trump's moves on transgender rights — including barring transgender individuals from the military. Since her gubernatorial launch in late April, Jenner has yet to discuss the drive by Republican lawmakers in 28 states this year to introduce a record number of bills affecting transgender residents.

In Arkansas, Republican legislators have passed a ban on gender-affirming medical care for trans youth — a move that may soon be mirrored by legislators in Alabama. In Texas, legislators are mulling a proposal that would separate trans children from parents who get them gender-affirming care. In North Carolina, Republicans have proposed legislation that would mandate that state employees immediately notify parents in writing if a child displays “gender nonconformity."

Even as debates over transgender students have consumed other states and created a series of nationally resonant flashpoints over gender politics, California has long since settled some of those questions. The LGBTQ-friendly state has spent years requiring public institutions and spaces to accommodate a range of gender identities.

A 2014 California law bars school districts from excluding students from using the bathrooms or keeping them from the teams that match their gender identities. While the requirement generated controversy at the time, it was relatively muted: an effort to overturn it by voter referendum could not muster the roughly 500,000 signatures needed to qualify — a small fraction of California’s electorate.

Lawmakers subsequently passed a law on bipartisan votes requiring single-person restrooms in businesses, government buildings and public spaces to be gender-neutral. The following year, California’s first openly lesbian state Senate leader carried into law a measure creating a third gender option on California driver’s licenses and other official documents. And California advocates hailed a breakthrough last year when Newsom signed a law allowing inmates in the state’s massive prison system to request transfers to facilities matching their gender identities.

California has gone so far as to ban state-sponsored travel to states deemed to have passed laws discriminating against LGBTQ residents. The travel prohibition was enacted in 2016 in response to North Carolina's law that limited bathroom use to the sex on one's birth certificate and prevented local governments from approving their own anti-discrimination ordinances. Twelve red states are currently on California's travel ban list.

Despite steady advancements by the LGBTQ community in California, disputes have still flared in California’s Legislature over surgical interventions for young children. Bills prohibiting doctors from performing surgery on young people with variable sex characteristics have repeatedly failed, with the powerful California Medical Association in opposition. Newsom’s office has not gotten involved with those debates thus far.

GOP consultant Tim Rosales said that Jenner’s apparent disconnect with California on a major transgender rights issue may not be the last time she will face such a dilemma as a Republican running to replace Newsom.

“She has to run as her own candidate, her own person," and in the next months, “all the Republican candidates are all going to have issues that are not necessarily in line with the party," he said.

“But unless they try to carve out their own pathway, they make the governor’s argument for him — that this [recall] is a Republican-led drill.”

Indeed, LGBTQ activists in California say Jenner’s most recent statements underscore what they consider a cynical attempt to use their community as a platform in a GOP attempt to recall Newsom.

“This is all a political stunt … she is not connected to the trans community," said Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the [email protected] Coalition, an advocacy group for transgender immigrant women. "Caitlyn Jenner will never know what it’s like to be in a public school — or to be a trans woman walking down the streets, and fearful for her life."

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