Meet the elephant in Caitlyn Jenner’s room

By Garry South

May 10, 2021

Capitol Weekly

Republican recall candidate John Cox, who Gavin Newsom demolished in the 2018 governor’s race, is so desperate he’s started campaigning with a 1,000-lb bear. But there’s a different animal stalking the campaign of Caitlyn Jenner.

The elephant in the room — quite literally — with the Jenner candidacy is how willing Republican voters are to vote for a transgender person, famous or not. Maybe it’s considered politically incorrect, and that’s why media is not addressing it, but it’s a topic that needs to be confronted.

The California GOP is down to an historic low of 24% of registered voters. That means what’s left is basically the racist, misogynistic, anti-LGBT dregs at the bottom of the barrel.

And especially the T part of LGBT. It offends the moral sensibilities of conservative, evangelical (my religious background as a kid) Republicans perhaps even more than gays and lesbians. In their view, transgenderism violates the biblical statement in Genesis, “Male and female created he them.” Hey, stay in your lanes, everybody, God put and wants you there.

Trump summarily threw all transgender service members out of the military, regardless of their distinguished records. Fully 48 of the 50 GOP senators — and every one of the males — voted in March against confirming the highest-ranking openly transgender person ever to serve in the federal government, Dr. Rachel Levine. GOP-controlled legislatures all over the country even as we speak are passing bill after shameful bill to egregiously penalize and discriminate against transgenders — including transgender teens. They’d be doing it here, too, if the GOP controlled the Legislature.

The anti-gay stance among California Republicans is not a new phenomenon — and not just a factor of Trump’s ascendancy in the party. In the last two state ballot measures over the past two decades that banned same-sex marriage, GOP voters overwhelmingly approved both of them. With Proposition 22 in 2000, Republicans supported it 85-15%. 2008’s Prop. 8 won 82-18% among GOP voters. So homophobia is not a recent development among Republicans.

In addition, having managed numerous campaigns in California over the last 30 years, one of the most common GOP whispering campaigns against Democrats is to start the rumor that they are secretly gay – as if that is the most pejorative thing that could be said about a Democratic candidate. The rumor followed the Jesuit-trained former seminarian Jerry Brown for years, despite his very public dalliance with Linda Ronstadt. The same whispering campaigns followed Gray Davis as well, in spite of tabloid revelations about steamy trysts he reportedly had with actress Cybill Shepherd on a beach in Hawaii in his 20s.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s win in ’03 was fueled by young male voters – and even older male voters — who bought into his machismo and his blow-‘em-away movie persona. He was a he-man’s he-man. So does anyone in their right mind really think that the very conservative, mostly middle-aged-white-male base of the Republican Party in CA is just dying to vote for a transgender woman — and perhaps the best-known such person in the world currently — for governor?

Don’t get me wrong, I admire and respect Jenner for going through the (in her case, very public) travails of becoming who she wants to be. I have a transgender nephew who I love dearly, and helped through his transition.

Just put me down as skeptical that Republican voters are prepared to abandon their biases and homophobia and vote for a transgender woman. All of Jenner’s Hannity interviews and TV biopics are less critical to her candidacy than the answer to this question.

Editor’s Note: Garry South is a veteran Democratic strategist who managed Gray Davis’ 1998 and 2002 gubernatorial campaigns and was senior political adviser to Gov. Davis.