Politics

Republicans have supported transgender rights in the past, but what about now?

The transgender flag held up by several people
Protesters raised the transgender flag outside the White House in July, 2017, to denounce Trump's transgender military ban. Photo: Ted Eytan/Flickr

If the first of America’s trans birth certificate statutes was a person, it would now be eligible to collect Social Security.

But, within that magical scenario of legislative transubstantiation, would it be a Democrat?  Or might it be a Republican?

Related: Caitlyn Jenner has been secretly lobbying Republicans on Capitol Hill & that’s a good thing

The year that law was born was 1955.  The state was Illinois.  And the governor was William Stratton.

Republican.

For several decades, that wasn’t such an anomaly.

Robert Ray signed Iowa’s trans birth certificate bill in 1976.  Democrat Jerry Brown signed California’s in 1977, but he only got the chance to because a conservative Republican senator, Dennis Carpenter, spoke up to support the bill.  The next year, William Milliken signed Michigan’s.  A year after that John Dalton signed Virginia’s and then two years later Vic Atiyeh signed Oregon’s.

And as for anti-discrimination law?  The first (and now only remaining) sexual orientation-only state civil rights law was signed by Wisconsin’s Lee Dreyfus in 1982.

Okay, that’s nothing to cheer about. But a decade later, the first trans-inclusive one was signed by Minnesota’s Arne Carlson.

Rest assured.  This brief, and far, far from complete civil right history lesson should not be read as a 2020 Republican campaign commercial.  More Democrats than Republicans were positively involved in achieving all of that.

But it is a reminder that Republicans were there.

Well, some Republicans.

And it is a reminder that all of the milestones listed above are in the past.

No, not the laws that resulted from the bills being signed.  Some still read exactly as they did when the Republican ink dried.  Others do not.  Oregon’s birth certificate statute, for example, now no longer privileges surgical transition – aided by a 2013 signature from Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The Illinois law has also changed for the better.

And relatively recently.

And via the signature of a Republican.

As a result, last November’s statewide ballot included the name of a Republican who had done something good for trans people – good as in something substantive, something whose existence can be proven.

The Republican who signed the Illinois birth certificate modernization bill was Bruce Rauner.  In 2018 he sought a second term as governor of Illinois.  Signing such a bill was not something he had to do in 2017 – though perhaps he thought that he needed to.

Rauner’s policies overall were indistinguishable from those of other notorious Midwest Republican governors of our current decade.  He differed, however, from Scott Walker and Rick Snyder in that he lacked a Republican-controlled legislature that would sign off on all of his anti-teacher and anti-worker dreams.

Despite doing everything he could on his own to weaken the rights of workers, Rauner drew a primary challenger from the christianist right, Jeanne Ives.  She used the trans law against him, arguably even to a greater degree than Illinois-born trans people will ever use it for themselves.  She saturated the media statewide with a ferociously disgusting, bathroom-centric anti-trans commercial.

It was a strategy that almost worked.

Ives did lose, but only 51.4% to 48.6%.  As a sitting governor who only survived his own primary by the skin of his teeth, Rauner became the political equivalent of the walking dead.  Following the primary, no one took his reelection effort seriously and he lost badly in the general election.

It would be wrong to say that Rauner lost because of signing the trans bill.  But it also would be wrong to discount the obvious role it played in creating a viable Jeanne Ives.  (The 2018 elections may be over, but don’t think for a moment that we’ve heard the last from her.)

None of us should back down from dissecting Republican (and, for that matter, Democratic) platitudes proclaiming friendship and support for LGBTQ people.  None of us should ever accept any platitudes at face value.  Demand to know how politicians actually define each word they are speaking.  Demand to know what is actually being said.

Proclaiming the GOP to be the “party of Lincoln” means nothing – or at least nothing good – when a person so proclaiming subscribes to the History of America According to Dinesh D’Souza and Dennis Prager.

But we can’t devolve into D’Souzas ourselves.  Criticizing what the Republican Party has become requires being honest to a degree that so many who wave that party flag are unwilling to be – or perhaps even incapable of being.

Hi! I’m a Republican! Vote for me because the GOP is the party of LGBTQ freedom! Please don’t ask me what I actually mean by that!

We have to be honest and acknowledge that some Republicans actually have actually done some good things for us.

But we also have the right to point out that the vast majority of those things happened a long time ago in a political galaxy far, far away.

As for here and now?

Bruce Rauner’s signature on one trans-positive bill is the exception.  Everything the Republican presidencies of the 21st century have done is the rule.  Everything that their judicial appointees have done and will do will be the future.

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