In the two years since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, there have been multiple efforts to roll back protections for transgender people in America. Shortly after his inauguration, language pertaining to LGBTQ communities and their issues were removed from the official White House Page. Last summer, he attempted to ban transgender recruits from the military. (It didn’t work.) In October 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a memo announcing changes to an Obama-era guidance said civil rights law doesn’t protect transgender workers. And that winter, the Trump administration reportedly directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to omit “transgender” from its 2018 budget documents.
Now, in what many analysts are calling a partisan political play right before the midterm elections, the administration will attempt to roll back the recognition and protection of transgender people under federal civil rights laws. According to the New York Times, Trump wants to define sex as an unchangeable condition determined by genitalia at birth. This means total erasure for transgender people, who will not only lose access to rights, but who will likely face violence and trauma in both the physical and mental form in a country that refuses to acknowledge their existence.
But, there are still people willing to fight back. People like Jennifer Williams, the first openly transgender Republican delegate to attend a Republican National Convention. A Republican in many rights—Williams has attended 10 Conservative Political Action Conferences, is a member of the Log Cabin Republicans and the National Rifle Association—she also finds herself at an impasse with her party. A party that, in their hopes ignore the transgender community will also erase and alienate her in the process.
Below, Williams shares her story and what she hopes for her community—and the Republican party—moving forward.
Over the weekend, I watched as a memo from inside the Trump Administration leaked to The New York Times. In it, the Department of Health and Human Services argued for defining a legal definition of sex to be a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” It’s a move I disagree with. But, I’m still a Republican.
I grew up with two Democrat parents. They grew up in an era between FDR and John F. Kennedy. But I was a kid who grew up in the Reagan and Bush 1980s. At the time, we were in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. I saw what happened with the hostage crisis in Iran, I witnessed how weak our country was. It really drew me in a different direction than my folks. So, when I walked in to register to vote, I ticked off “Republican.”
Yes, I’ve voted for Democratic candidates locally along the way, but for my entire adult life, I’ve been a proud supporter of my chosen party. And now in my New Jersey community—one dominated by the Democrats—I see the need for both. I see a need for two parties that will vigorously fight and try to win over voters, and two parties that will present new ideas, alternative ideas.
I still like a lot of the core ideals and beliefs that the Republican party holds. But, unfortunately, those are being challenged today, with memos just like this. And ultimately, these ideas are contrary to the original founding of my beloved party.
As a Republican, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed on how a minor offshoot of the Republican party—one that’s very bent on religious freedom—is really directing our current administration to take away the liberty, freedom, and equality that millions of Americans who just happened to be LGBTQ currently enjoy.
These liberties shouldn’t be limited. Rather, they should be expanded.
Afford us the same opportunity that everyone else in the country has to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let us be free of discrimination in the workplace so we can make our own way in the world, so we can provide for ourselves. Ensure we aren’t discriminated against regarding medical care and housing so we may have liberty. Help us all get on an equal playing field rather than trying to limit what we can be. Stop limiting who I can be, and what I can achieve in life.
As a Republican, I am sad. I am sad that my party is being hurt by potential policies like this and what’s happening at large. I don’t believe President Trump has animosity toward transgender people, however, he owes a lot to many people who voted for him who do indeed want to take away our equality.
But, as a Republican, and as a transgender woman I’m still hopeful. I’m hopeful that we will be able to reduce some of the anti-LGBTQ language on the next go-around following the midterms.
And part of that includes me continuing to speak out.
By me being in the room as a transgender American, I’m able to represent my community where otherwise my community would not be represented at all. In that room, I am able to make sure that I challenge viewpoints that would hurt our community, but also being, hopefully, a positive example of our community and that we’re not the stereotype that people think.
No one wants to be a member of a party of discrimination. But, there are still people on the inside who are willing to fight to be on the right side of history. People like Bob Hugin from New Jersey, who is currently running for the United State Senate, who, on Monday said: “Bob Hugin strongly supports equality and opportunity for the LGBTQ community and will be a leader on these issues as Senator. If President Trump wants to roll back equality and opportunity for the LGTBQ community, Bob Hugin won’t hesitate to stand up to the president.”
That statement, to me, is worth staying a Republican.
I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know what my party’s future holds. But, for now, my first priority is protecting my community.
Jennifer Williams is the Chairwoman of the Trenton Republican Committee, a Master Poll Worker for the Mercer County Board of Elections (NJ) and a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment in her hometown of Trenton, New Jersey. In 2016, Williams attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as the first openly-transgender Delegate from New Jersey.