On Friday, Caitlyn Jenner announced she had filed paperwork to run for Governor of California in the midst of a much-overhyped recall campaign against Governor Gavin Newson. Jenner, a retired champion Olympic decathlete, became one of the most famous openly transgender people in the world overnight in 2015 and proceeded to squander a lot of goodwill from that announcement by supporting anti-LGBTQ candidates and causes, including an endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016.
I don’t care about Jenner’s candidacy because it’s clear she has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, but I do care about the ways in which her asinine views will be weaponised against trans people and the ways in which transphobia will go unchecked. This is purely a vanity campaign, and it’s incredibly selfish.
It’s important to understand the fuller context here: Caitlyn Jenner was able to come out as a trans woman and enjoy a broad social acceptance only because of the blood, sweat, and tears of other trans people through decades of advocacy, primarily Black and brown women. Were it not for women like Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, Jenner would not have been greeted with such warmth and affirmation.
Does that mean it was expected Caitlyn Jenner would become a civil rights leader and dedicate her life to trans equality? Of course not. No trans or non-binary person should be obligated to centre their lives in advocacy, and no one person in this community can speak for all of us. The trans and non-binary community is not a monolith. If Jenner had wanted to stay away from politics and just focus on living her authentic life, there would have been some disappointment at the lost opportunity to use her enormous platform for advocacy, but it would have been understandable. Instead, Caitlyn Jenner not only declined to pay it forward in advocacy for other trans people but went in the exact opposite direction by taking absurd political positions publicly and endorsing Donald Trump, helping pave the way for the most anti-LGBTQ presidential administration in modern history.
After Trump’s inauguration in 2017, he quickly went to work undoing the advances made by LGBTQ people, particularly trans people, and it didn’t take long for Jenner to realise the foolishness of her decision to support him, despite the repeated warnings by other LGBTQ advocates all along. By late 2018, she published an op-ed in The Washington Post offering a mea culpa to the LGBTQ community, saying: “My hope in him — in them — was misplaced, and I cannot support anyone who is working against our community. I do not support Trump. I must learn from my mistakes and move forward.”
That could have been a turning point for her, and lord knows we needed all the help we could get in pushing back against Trump’s cruel and vicious attacks on LGBTQ people. At the time, I was a press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, and every day brought a fresh episode of dread and depression. As a trans woman and someone particularly visible in LGBTQ advocacy, it was beyond exhausting to engage in a cruel public debate over our humanity with the Trump White House and their supporters, constantly having to defend our rights to things like employment and healthcare. Even with her incredibly ignorant decision to endorse Trump, she still could have emerged as a powerful force for good. She declined to do so.
Despite President Joe Biden’s stalwart defense of trans rights, there has never been a period of more intentional anti-trans sentiment in the United States. As I write this, Republican legislators throughout the country are championing bills that wouldban trans children from playing sports and receiving the critical, life-saving healthcare they need. More than 100 pieces of legislation have been introduced in 33 states, several of them already passed and signed into law. Last year was the deadliest on record for trans people, part of an ongoing epidemic of violence against our community, particularly Black and brown women. Trans and non-binary people still face discrimination in housing, credit, public accommodations, and other areas of day-to-day living in most of the United States because of the lack of legal protections for our community.
Even with Trump gone and the hard work of the Biden administration to undo his damage, activists in our community remain exhausted. Our time and energy are actively dedicated to protecting trans children against horrific attacks at the state level, and Jenner’s vanity campaign is an enormous distraction from that. It means we’ll have to dedicate resources to defending Jenner when she inevitably encounters transphobia during her campaign, and we’ll be forced to clean up her mess when she gets it wrong on LGBTQ rights, as she so often does.
It’s bad enough that Caitlyn Jenner is deeply unqualified for any elected office, let alone Governor of California. It’s bad enough that she’s treated LGBTQ people — and especially the trans community — as an afterthought in her career since coming out. But worse than all of that, she has aligned herself with people who see us as less than human, solely for an adventure in narcissism and building her brand.
To me, Caitlyn Jenner really only seems to care about Caitlyn Jenner, and the rest of us can go to hell.