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Regional Interests

Caitlyn Jenner for Governor? Trans Leaders Say No Thanks

In joining the growing group of Republicans seeking to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in California’s upcoming recall election, the reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner has thrust herself into the hottest political conversation in the state.

But although Jenner is among the first transgender people to run for the state’s top office, her candidacy is not being widely embraced by the transgender community, to say the least.

Jenner’s transition to a woman six years ago captured the nation’s attention — making her one of the highest-profile faces and voices among transgender Americans. Last week, in her first major television interview since jumping into the race for governor, Jenner gave Fox TV host Sean Hannity a heartfelt description of her decision-making process to get involved in politics.

“Do I need to come out and make a difference in probably the most marginalized community in the world?” Jenner asked. “After a long thought I said, ‘You know what? At this point in my life, my kids are raised, everyone’s fine. Maybe it’s time I take care of myself.’ ”

“I have a lot of feelings about Caitlyn Jenner running for governor. When I first saw it, I was really disappointed, to be honest,” said Honey Mahogany, a transgender activist and legislative aide to San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney.

She and many trans people she knows resent the role Jenner has taken on, Mahogany said.

“Caitlyn Jenner is somebody who I think is sort of seen, I think, by the outside world as a leader for our community,” Mahogany added. “But our community, I think, feels very strongly that she doesn’t represent us. I am a Black trans person living in San Francisco. And, you know, my background is very different from, and life experiences are very different from, those that Caitlyn has gone through.”

It’s a point echoed by Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition in Los Angeles, who notes that most transgender people face a myriad of hurdles far higher than the ones Jenner cleared on her way to a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics.

“As a trans woman, she will never feel what it is walking down the street and being fearful for your life,” Salcedo said. “She will never understand what it is to take public transportation as a trans woman and be harassed on the streets. And so I would say she’s not a representative of our community. Because she’s really detached from our community.”

Salcedo considers Jenner’s candidacy as something other than serious.

“It really is like a circus,” she said. “This is a total publicity stunt. I believe she wants to just try to keep relevant.”

Someone who knows a thing or two about running for office as a transgender candidate is Lisa Middleton. Four years ago she became the first transgender person to win a local government race in California when she was elected to the Palm Springs City Council.

“Clearly [Jenner has] raised the profile on transgender issues,” said Middleton, who was recently reelected to serve another term. “I applaud anyone who stands up to the truth that is inside them and takes on the demands of moving from one gender to another.”

Still, Middleton feels that Jenner — a Republican — betrayed her own community by siding with its political enemies.

“She very strongly supported Donald Trump for election in 2016,” Middleton said. “Donald Trump turned back the right of transgender Americans to serve in the United States military.”

In her run for governor, Jenner may be trying to borrow a page from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who parlayed his Hollywood celebrity into office during the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis. But GOP consultant Sean Walsh, who worked for Schwarzenegger, wonders if Jenner has what it takes to win a statewide election.

“My concern is she doesn’t have experience in politics and she doesn’t have experience in government policy. So it’s very easy to step on a landmine or get derailed without having a background and credibility among the voters,” Walsh said.

Although a relative political neophyte at the time, Schwarzenegger had at least dabbled a bit in politics. He helped pass a ballot measure to expand after-school programs and used that as a springboard to office. Mahogany, the San Francisco activist, says she hasn’t seen that kind of civic engagement with Jenner. “Has she actually been involved in passing ballot measures? Has she been engaged in the creation of legislation? Has she been engaged with her local government and served on local policy bodies? Like, those are the types of things that I would want to see from someone who is seeking higher office, especially governor of one of the largest economies in the world,” Mahogany said.

A new poll this week indicates how heavy a lift the race for governor will be for Jenner. Among the four leading Republicans in the race to replace Newsom, Jenner came in last with support from just 6% of voters.

Copyright 2021 KQED