Last week Bruce Jenner, the Olympic gold-medal winner, admitted to ABC’s Diane Sawyer and a national television audience that he is transgender. What that means is Bruce Jenner, despite his masculine accoutrement, feels more like a woman and would like to identify himself as one.
Jenner won the decathlon in 1976, the most grueling event in the games, requiring strength, endurance, and a will to win. If you were living in the United States in the 70’s, you know that we all celebrated Jenner’s achievement. As a kid, you were proud to eat your Wheaties featuring Jenner’s picture on the box. Perhaps, more importantly, you dreamed of reaching similar heights of athleticism and achievement.
Having done only a smattering of research on transgender issues, I have to admit that as a born-again believer I am just as uncomfortable as I am uninformed on the topic. But I am not averse to learning in the hope of building bridges to understanding. None of us should be.
Now some, who may not watch television promotions disguised as news, might well ask: Does anyone even care about Bruce Jenner’s gender identity?
You better believe we do. Americans are obsessed with the sexuality, sexual and gender identification of our fellow citizens. Our media knows it and is ready to supply us with our daily dose of sexuality crack so we can be titillated or repulsed, depending on our own particular bent.
Some Democrats, who have long championed LGBT issues, were simply repulsed by Jenner’s admission that he is also a Republican. He’s got a ton of money, so he doesn’t need Democratic sympathies.
In this regard, Jenner is an anomaly. Most transgender and gender non-conformists can barely afford to buy a boa. They are four times more likely to live in poverty in the U.S. and according to a 2011 survey, most are rejected by their families and are three times more likely to experience homelessness. They are 79 percent more likely to be incarcerated and over 50 percent more likely to commit suicide.
While being a wealthy, white celebrity doesn’t do much to protect you from family rejection and suicidal tendencies, it is highly unlikely Jenner will have to worry about incarceration, homelessness, or poverty. He can easily afford a sex change and the expensive hormone treatments. His celebrity daughters have already told tabloids how excited they are to dress him up.
Don’t be surprised if Jenner winds up being a featured speaker (early afternoon, of course) at the Republican National Convention to show off their new big-tent. It will not be an honest attempt to appeal to the LGBT community. The real effort will be to swing independents who are neither, L, G, B, or T; independent voters who may be reluctant to pull the lever for a party considered intolerant and unaccepting of the LGBT community and other minority groups.
Tea Party “patriots” and evangelicals might revolt. There are candidates, like Ted Cruz, who speak to the voters who fear and loathe anti-discrimination legislation. They will try to convince voters that the LGBT community is full of sexual deviants and criminal behavior. Never mind that there is no evidence and there are no statistics that support the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered individuals are more likely to commit sexual assault or be sex offenders than heterosexuals. In fact, the vast majority of sex offenders are heterosexual men.
We all need to be better educated and to understand that behaviors are not always consistent with sexual orientation and attraction. How many men, seemingly heterosexual men, will go through the motions, marry and have children only to come out later admitting they are gay?
Americans should prepare for a seismic shift regarding LGBT legislation nationwide. While the majority of our U.S. Supreme Court is no bastion of open-minded liberalism, all signs point to them allowing for same-sex marriages and prohibiting states from creating laws that would discriminate against gay couples. A lot of state laws will likely have to be rewritten if not axed completely. For instance, right now Mississippi public school teachers are forbidden to even mention homosexuality.
Fortunately, many of our communities are being proactive. Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman, a progressive trying to move his university town forward, was the first in Mississippi to propose and pass a city-wide anti-discrimination ordinance regarding LGBT employees. Shortly thereafter in a likely illegal, closed door session, his city alderman balked and embraced continuing discriminatory practices against the city’s LGBT community. One step up and two steps back for Starkville. Still, since then seven other Mississippi cities passed anti-discrimination ordinances.
While progress is being made at the local level, don’t hold your breath for anything from state leadership until the Supreme Court ruling and the justice department drag them into action kicking and screaming. Our state leadership has gotten plenty of mileage pandering to the hatred and fear of our small LGBT community. Such pandering will continue until that community and those who care about them become more vocal and politically active.
Start with this question: What does it matter to anyone, to you or your traditional family, if someone else is able to name a beneficiary in case of their own death? It’s a recognition of a relationship not an embrace of the practice. It’s a recognition that they at least care for someone other than themselves. Whether we understand the nature of that relationship or the sexual or gender identity of the individuals involved should not matter to any of us.
Then ask this one: Why would we deny orphaned children adoptive parents who are LGBT and not provide those parents with all of the rights associated with adoption? To think that LGBT parents are incapable of loving or caring for a child is no longer a sign of self-righteous arrogance. It is a sign of fearful ignorance.
Bruce Jenner identifies himself as a Christian and believes his transition into a woman is part of his purpose in life. This may offend evangelical Christian sensibilities. But there are those who feel and love differently from the rest of us, a biological and scientific fact. If you are led to view the behavior as unnatural or sinful, remember that only you and your like-minded believers are called to repent from such sins. In the meantime, care for everyone and work hard to share God’s love, not your own judgment.
» David Dallas is a political writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.