The Most Surprising Part of Bruce Jenner's Coming Out Wasn't What You'd Expect
Reality TV star and former Olympian Bruce Jenner came out multiple times Friday night.
Jenner told he* is a transgender woman, he's a Christian and has always been attracted to women but for the moment, at least, identifies as asexual.
While applauding President Barack Obama for being the first commander in chief to use the word "transgender" during the State of the Union address earlier this year, Jenner came out about being a Republican. "I've always been on the more conservative side," Jenner told Diane Sawyer on 20/20 Friday. This naturally ruffled feathers:
The Republican-trans gap: Of course, conservatives are loving the anti-Republican backlash. But it's not too difficult to see why some don't understand how Jenner could identify as a transgender woman, and vote conservatively. So far, the GOP has largely avoided embracing LGBT issues as a party, aside from some support in removing the 17-year-old ban on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual military personnel (transgender people still cannot serve openly).
While 10 Senate Republicans voted to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has blocked a vote on this legislation, which would bar companies from discriminating against LGBT workers. In fact, Boehner said such legislation "is unnecessary ... people are already protected in the workplace." Still, 26% of trans workers say they have lost a job due to bias, and 78% say they've been harassed or assaulted at work, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
On the state level, Republican lawmakers are largely behind the effort to expand religious freedom laws, which would allow businesses to refuse service to anyone based on religious beliefs; meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have introduced municipal legislation to regulate transgender people's bathroom use.
But Jenner's coming out as a transgender conservative voter may prompt some Republicans to reconsider their stances on LGBT issues — or at least talk about them, as many have avoided the topic on the campaign trail.
A bigger tent? Log Cabin Republicans have long argued political allegiance shouldn't be automatically tied to personal identity. The majority of LGBT people vote for Democrat or left-leaning candidates, but 21% say they are Republicans or conservative-leaning, according to a 2014 Gallup poll. Meanwhile, groups like LCR seek and create allies within the party. LCR executive director Gregory T. Angelo congratulated Jenner in a statement Friday for "being true to himself both in terms of his personal identity as well as his political identity. There is a home for you in Log Cabin Republicans — as there is for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender conservatives and straight allies."
Perhaps Jenner's coming out will actually prompt the GOP to evaluate its stance on transgender and LGBT issues. Republicans Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have said Republicans must earn younger voters, after candidate Mitt Romney lost the presidential election in 2012 by being more inclusive. As far as transgender rights are concerned, this might be the best opportunity for the Grand Old Party to open up that big tent.
Still, things could change. As Jenner said, "I am going to learn a lot in the next year." Maybe he'll end up learning something about his own party — or teaching other conservatives a thing or two about rampant rates of anti-transgender violence, trans suicide, homelessness or underemployment. Or simply, he will become a symbol of what it means to be an American who votes any way he or she feels compelled.
*Jenner has requested to use male pronouns and the name he was assigned at birth until a date to be determined.