Friday 7 May 2021
Caitlyn Jenner, one of the most famous trans people in the world, is running to be governor of California. But mainstream politics and trans rights don’t always sit well together.
Nimo Omer: Hi, I’m Nimo – and this is Sensemaker – from tortoisemedia.com
One story every day to make sense of the world.
Today: A trans-woman accused of using transphobia to leverage her election campaign.
“This is a question of fairness. That’s why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls sports in school. It just isn’t fair.”Caitlyn Jenner, TMZ
In case you aren’t a reality TV fan, that was Caitlyn Jenner. Yes – that Caitlyn Jenner. Parent to Kylie and Kendall, olympic champion – and trans woman.
As one of the stars of Keeping up with the Kardashians, her transition in 2015 was covered intensively on the show. Like the moment she meets Kris Jenner as Caitlyn for the first time.
“Just that first look at Caitlyn is so surreal and I feel like it will take me a second to get my bearings. But I got to hand it to her, she looks great.”Kris Jenner, Keeping Up With The Kardashians
So – why is one of the world’s most famous trans women being accused of transphobia?
The answer lies on America’s golden coast, where Caitlyn Jenner looks set to run for Governor of California
“California needs a disruptor. A compassionate disruptor. I came here with a dream 48 years ago to be the greatest athlete in the world. Now I am entering a different kind of race, arguably my most important one yet.”Caitlyn Jenner, Caitlyn for California campaign
California is no stranger to celebrity politicians… Remember this guy?
“Here is the governor elect of this state, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Born in Thal, Austria and now about to hold the biggest job in the biggest state of the union. Wow. What a great celebration. Thank you all for being here today. Thank you, thank you.”Peter Jennings and Arnold Schwarzenegger, ABC News
Now, Caitlyn Jenner’s running as a Republican candidate, against Democrat Gavin Newsom who’s in power at the moment.
And they’ll face each other in what’s called a recall election – a special type of election which happens when enough people sign a petition to force it to happen.
“The groups behind the effort to recall the governor did in fact collect enough verified signatures to qualify for a recall election.”Dion Lim, ABC 7 News
Lots of people are unhappy with Governor Newsom’s policies – they accuse him of hiking taxes, failing to enforce immigration policies, and they don’t like how he’s handling the pandemic.
To turn that unhappiness into a recall election 1.4 million people in California have to ask for one. In fact they’ve sailed past that number. More than 1.7 million Californians have signed the petition.
But – the election won’t officially be called until next month when the final signatures are counted.
So what is Caitlin Jenner campaigning for – and why is it causing such controversy?
Well the background to this is that, across the United States, conservative politicians have been putting their names to laws across the country that will restrict young transgender athletes from playing sports as their gender identity – not their gender at birth.
If they’re passed, those bills would stop female trans athletes competing in high school and college sports quote “designated for women or girls” – or they could go to juvenile court.
Five states have already passed laws like this and 30 other states have introduced similar ones.
Defenders of the bills say that trans women and girls participating in sports is biologically unfair because they have an inherent advantage over their competitors.
The legislation has become a flash point for the trans community and their advocates who say that because trans women often use puberty blockers or cross sex hormones like oestrogen as part of their transition, they don’t actually have a biological advantage.
They also say these bills will harm the mental and physical health of trans people.
Like this father of a transgender child who testified against one of the them in Missouri.
“I need you to understand that this language, if it becomes law, will have real effects on real people. It will affect my daughter. It will mean she cannot play on the girls volleyball team, or dance squad or tennis team. I ask you, please don’t take that away from my daughter.Brandon Boulware
Caitlyn Jenner has repeatedly said that she believes trans youth playing sports damages the integrity and equality of girls sports.
“I think we have to make sure the integrity of girls sports is there. I think thats extremely important. “Caitlyn Jenner, Fox News
In response, she has been accused of supporting the bills to try to get Republican funding and voters – and being transphobic herself.
“She’s appealing directly to those GOP donors, in hopes of either a cash grab or attention, or both…Dawn Ennis, Press Play KCRW
That was Dawn Ennis, managing editor at Outsports and a trans woman. She also accused Caitlyn Jenner of ‘flip flopping’ with her views.
And if you heard Caitlyn Jenner speaking last year you might think she had a point:
“I think every trans person if they’re into athletics should have an opportunity to compete and to improve themselves I think sports is such a great way to learn a lot about yourself. And, yeah, I want to hopefully they’ll have the opportunity in the future to do whatever they could do.”Caitlyn Jenner, The Trans Sporter Room
So where does the wider sporting community stand on trans athletes? Well, it’s a pretty fraught question.
Trans athleticism has become a mish-mash of cultural and scientific assumptions, with one side arguing for inclusion and the other for fairness.
But the Olympics does officially allow trans athletes. In fact, it was announced this week that the first trans woman is set to compete at the delayed Tokyo Olympics.
Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who previously competed as a male, proved her testosterone levels were below the threshold required by the International Olympic Committee.
The Committee decided in 2016 that testosterone levels, rather than trans surgeries, were the best measure for an athlete competing. This was based on the evidence higher levels of testosterone can increase muscle mass, endurance and ability.
And of course, Caitlyn Jenner knows the world of sport really well.
So will Jenner win the election – and gain Republican support?
It’s unlikely. Her position on trans youth and her celebrity may not be enough to swing votes in a traditionally democrat state.
Especially as California is one of the few states where there are currently no bills proposed to ban trans youth fom playing sports.
But, too many trans athletes, her comments have had an impact.
“What I don’t think Caitlyn understands is by taking the stance about trans athletes, she drags, all of us into the mud with her – every one of us.”Dawn Ennis, Press Play KCRW
Whether or not she wins, it’s clear that the heated debate around trans athletes will continue.
Today’s story was written by Phoebe Davis and produced by Imy Harper.