Dee Culp

LIVING YOUR TRUTH: Caitlyn Jenner’s speech was inspiring, though her politics need work

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How amazing was Caitlyn Jenner at the ESPY Awards, delivering her acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award? Of course she was amazing, and I felt all the feels.

The part that got to me, most of all, had to be where she thanked her family for standing by her and supporting her, stating that she didn’t want to hurt anyone. It got to me because I felt the same way when I came out. I didn’t want my family to be embarrassed. I didn’t want to alienate my friends. I was afraid of how people would perceive them because of the way they perceived me. I’m so very fortunate that it didn’t turn out negatively at all. My life has been enriched, and my friends and family have stood by my side stronger than ever. Embarrassed? No. They couldn’t be prouder of me. The continued outpouring of love and support sustains me in ways I can’t even describe. If not for that, I don’t know where I would be now. I really do feel heartache for those who aren’t as fortunate and have to make it on their own after their family and friends reject them. Perhaps that’s why I often feel the need to pay it forward, to help people I meet who are on the same journey. And perhaps this is what has made Caitlyn come out and talk about how much she supports the transgender community.

In her speech, Caitlyn was quick to point out how much is yet to be done when it comes to really accepting us. “It’s not just about me,” she said, “it’s about all of us accepting one another. We are all different. That’s not a bad thing; that’s a good thing. And while it may not be easy to get past the things you always don’t understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible if we only do it together.”

I’m more than happy to take Caitlyn’s statements at face value. I believe her. I believe she’s made it clear that she understands how fortunate she is compared to many others who are struggling to get by while living well below the poverty line with no access to healthcare or basic human rights. And, as she stated, we are free to doubt her intentions. I’ve heard it more than once from the transgender community that this is a publicity stunt and nothing more. Personally speaking, I don’t believe that. If so, it’s a hell of a stunt to pull when there are far easier and better ways to get attention. I really don’t know anyone who would go through what I’ve gone through just for attention. And yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t still watching what she does with a tiny amount of trepidation, because the thing I’m waiting to see is how she’s changed her tune on her alignment with the Republican Party.

In her interview with Diane Sawyer several months ago, Jenner stated that she is a Republican, and I wonder how she can continue being so in light of the terrible way Republicans have treated LGBT people. Does she realize that the work done by many Republican politicians has been incredibly damaging to people like her? I would rather not get political in this space, but this really needs to be said: The Republican Party is completely toxic to us.

A few days ago, Al Franken, a Democratic senator from Minnesota, attempted to garner support for a bill that would “end discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.” In a powerful speech, he told the story of Seth Walsh, a gay teen who hung himself in his family’s backyard in September 2010. At 13 years of age, he finally succumbed to the constant pressure and relentless bullying. Seth Walsh was not the only youth to do so that year, and far too many have followed since. Every year, the list of names just grows and grows.

In response to Senator Franken’s plea to extend rights and privileges already given to countless other youths, nearly the entirety of the Republican Senate voted against it. All but six Republican senators turned Franken down, voting to continue to allow bullying, discrimination, and violence against LGBT youth. Among them was Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, there was not a single Democrat among those who were opposed to the bill. Senator Bob Casey, for example, the Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, voted for the bill. He sided with Franken and the entire Democratic Senate to vote to help end bullying of LGBT youth.

Even if I knew nothing else about our elected officials, I know this much about the Democrats: they voted to help us. They stood with us while Republicans stood against us. Republicans continue to fight against marriage equality while pushing for so-called “bathroom laws” that seek to require people to show some form of gendered identification before they can use a restroom. These few examples, along with the continued outright denial of basic human rights, is utterly disgusting. It would have cost nothing for those Republicans to vote to extend these rights, but they didn’t. In fact, they continue to work towards taking some of those rights away from us. Why is that?

This is one of the many reasons I cannot remain neutral. When there are those in power who are actively seeking to do harm to the LGBT community, I can only stand against them. I won’t tell you who to vote for, and I don’t even know who I’ll vote for, but these things matter to me, and that’s going to influence my decision when it comes down to it. From local politics all the way up to the president of the United States, I do not believe I can afford the luxury of complacency. I don’t believe any of us can, in fact. Our lives may very well depend on getting involved and becoming very political in every space we can.

What does Caitlyn Jenner do with her life moving forward? I hope she changes her mind on who she votes for, for one thing. I hope she sets up some kind of foundation and uses her platform and her celebrity to push for equal rights for all of us. If she continues to vote for people who would discriminate against us, that’s her choice. I just hope she understands that her words aren’t nearly as important as her actions, and that her votes work against her best interests when she helps to place those people in power. It completely undermines everything we have worked for. From the days when it was practically illegal to walk down the street while being transgender to the passing of marriage equality, everything that has been worked for stands to be lost if those who voted against Franken’s revision of the No Child Left Behind Act continue to have their way. Jenner’s speech was powerful and motivating, but without action, they are only words. I’m more than willing to accept what she says as she continues to live her truth – I only hope she decides to help the rest of us live ours.

Living Your Truth is a weekly column about the empowerment that comes from being true to your authentic self. It focuses on the LGBT community in NEPA and the news and events that impact it.