- Samira Burnside
Trans Rights as a Multi-Partisan Issue: An Interview with Jordan Willow Evans
Only a week after the nationwide march for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy, Joe Biden announced a proposal for how to include trans people, particularly trans students who play sports, in title IX, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. And, while the proposal would do away with categorical, broad bans for trans athletes, it would not put a stop to them. In fact, the proposal provides a playbook for how a school could go about prohibiting a trans student from engaging in sports if their involvement would “undermine competitive fairness” or “raise the risk of sports related injuries”.
(One of many marches for trans youth rights)
This is, obviously, a betrayal. In a time when trans rights are more under attack than ever, not only does the current administration not address the more serious issues that affect all trans people, such as any number of healthcare bans popping up around the country, no, instead the administration opted for the issue that would get them the most clicks and controversy.
This, most of all, solidified the fact that the democratic establishment had no more love for trans people than the republican party. Thinking about that, I remembered an interview I performed with Jordan Willow Evans all of 5 months ago, and how evergreen it remains.
(Jordan Willow Evans)
Jordan is transgender advocate and analyst, she works as the foundation chair for the Liberation Policy Institute, an organization dedicated to making communities better “through both legislative policy proposals and voluntary actions for people to take without waiting for government”. She also serves as the treasurer for Mass Equality, a grassroots advocacy organization in Massachusetts fighting for the right for people in Massachusetts to live free of gender and sexuality based discrimination. This, along with many other achievements in the realm of LGBTQ+ advocacy, such as the co-authoring of a book called “Transgender student safety and equality for all students'' and working with Log Cabin Republicans in the Yes on 3 coalition shows that Jordan has been invested in the fight for rights for trans people for a long time. She’s also a registered republican.
Most of the time transgender activists and advocates are found left of center ideology wise. After all, every state with a trans care ban is a red state, and it’s mostly republican and right-wing figureheads and legislators that are championing the current wave of anti-trans legislation. So, after all of that, how could Jordan be a republican?
When asked about her status as a member of the republican party, Jordan had this to say:
“So, uh much, much, too many of my friends' frustrations. I'm still a registered Republican and I think a lot of people are confused about that now because they see me posting a lot about Libertarianism and all of that. But as for my day job I'm actually a consultant and I do a lot of uh different political work… I talk a lot about Libertarianism and the Libertarian Party and really just any kind of third party, but I'm still a registered Republican and I think that's what makes me so controversial... And I completely get it.”
(A map of Anti-Trans legislative risk. Source: https://erininthemorn.substack.com/p/march-anti-trans-legislative-risk)
So, then comes the question, why take part in the republican party? Is there something beneath it deeper than the hate we see on the surface?
“Most people will ask me what, what, what I'm trying to accomplish at this point because I think it's safe to say that the modern Republican Party has really shown itself to be vehement towards the trans and queer communities. I mean, modern republicans have started to really move in a more, I guess you can say a nationalist populist direction.” Says Jordan. While Populism is meant to be for the people, over time it has become weaponized by far-right groups. Trans groups are not perceived as wanting the same rights as everyone else by right wing populist groups, they are framed as wanting more, wanting to be above the people, wanting to be given special privileges and advances. So, they are framed as a violation of populism, as a group that is in fact STEALING rights from other peoples. This is why trans sports have become the big issue that the culture war wraps itself around despite being an issue for only a miniscule amount of the population, if the GOP can prove that trans people have an advantage that others don’t, then they can invalidate the trans movement as a movement for equal rights and instead paint it as an elitist issue stealing rights from the American people.
“So you have a lot of positions that are rooted in, uh they call it the culture war.” Says Jordan, “ But the culture war in the 90s, I would definitely say a lot of what we're seeing now is directly born from what wasn't resolved then. And it's just been allowed to fester. And we've reached a point where trans and queer people have been able to actually make some progress in the broader zeitgeist (of) our society.”
“And I always tell people who are very discouraged and dissuaded by what's happening that this is the natural pushback. The only thing is, is that this natural pushback is kind of coinciding with a lot of other different unrelated things in politics. And unfortunately, we as a community are very, very appealing as targets.”
"And unfortunately, we as a community are very, very appealing as targets."
Progress always begets pushback, it’s the cycle of politics that goes back farther than any of us have been alive. But this doesn’t answer the question of how someone like Jordan, a transgender woman, could remain in the same circles as the people who want to oppress her and people like her. When asked about this, Jordan said the following:
“It's not without understanding because I absolutely get it. It's just, I'm, I'm someone who's of the belief that people are pretty nuanced. We have different perspectives on different issues. You rarely find someone who is a complete monolith with you on how you believe you might find allies and people who agree with you close enough. I'm someone who has a lot of more niche views that may put me outside of the mainstream um Democratic party, but I am someone who absolutely has views that would put me in the Republican Party. Even now none of those views are on the social side of things.”
In the same way that an anarchist leftist has different views than a federal actor like Joe Biden, there are different views and perspectives to be found right of center as well. However, Jordan isn't quiet about her views, whether that be her more right of center politics or her views on LGBTQ+ issues. She actively mingles and communicates with the other actors in her party. So, her experience in the party has been more unique than the average cis, line-towing politician.
(The 2022 CPAC)
“I've had positive experiences, but I've also had negative experiences. I made my reputation by being an advocate along with another trans woman who was very involved in Republican circles whose name is Jen Williams. Jen and I used to go to CPAC every year too, and if you're not familiar with CPAC, it's the Conservative Political Action Conference… It used to be this big annual gathering of conservatives and typically Republicans who would meet. it would be the grassroots, it would be the people who are definitely the deep red of the red. And it would be an opportunity to just kind of network with candidates with other advocates, activists, anything you can think of. And that includes a lot of organizations that are vitriolic with us. So you have to understand that we would definitely have conversations and altercations that would be a bit less than desirable. One thing that always sticks out to me and I believe it was my 2019 CPAC. I think that was the last one I ended up going to because after that CPAC just really moved in a uh, very Trump-y direction.” Said Jordan, before continuing:
“But at the 2019 C PAC, someone from an organization called Identity Europa, it has a different name now, But at its heart, it was a white nationalist organization, I'm sure it still is. They called me and my friend, they called us the downfall of the West. And I think that that's a pretty apt summary of what you should expect from the modern conservative movement right now.”
"They called me and my friend, they called us the downfall of the West. And I think that that's a pretty apt summary of what you should expect from the modern conservative movement right now."
And, this is where the nationalist part of Nationalist Populism enters the conversation. If trans people in the eyes of the people become a threat to the traditional family structure, to the soul of America, the west itself, then it becomes a matter of national security that trans people are eliminated from public life. Jordan acknowledges this, but also says:
“But what people often fail to understand is that most queer and trans people I know also prescribe to a traditional family type model like that. A lot of things that the typical um let's just say: I'm a trans woman and I am in a relationship with a bisexual cis man and our life looks pretty mundane, boring and day to day the same as anyone else's. But that doesn't move polling numbers, that doesn't excite a base that doesn't get people to like turn up at the polls and vote against issues of equity and equality. Making us out to be degenerate and a threat to the typical family unit (is a) way more convincing in doing that.
And, and that's the problem is that we've gotten to a point now where our conversations are so heavily rooted in that kind of approach that for the people who don't know a queer or trans person, the people who have never really encountered us outside of say, whatever bit of media they may consume or the internet, they're (not) going realize that we're people behind it all.”
One of the very first steps in the genocide or subjugation of a people is the dehumanization of them. If a minority stops being thought of as people, then it’s okay when their rights are taken away, then it’s okay when the state takes them away from their parents, then it’s okay when their right to healthcare is restricted. This is why the social contagion theory is so dangerous- it shifts the needle from “trans people are human beings” to “transgenderism is an affliction that can be fixed, cured or suppressed”. And, it helps that a degenerate group to fight against gets poll numbers up, as Jordan says:
“Like we're not political capital, we're everyday people and we have been turned into political issues because like I said, it gets people up the vote at the polls and it gets things moving. Now when that happens, you end up with our community being demonized like it is and God forbid the the inevitable outcome will be violence because like, history has proven it time and time again that when you demonize a group of people, there are people who will respond and act in the most illogical and dangerous ways. And that's what I'm always trying to warn people about and why I continue to do the advocacy that I do because right now our community, and I speak as both as a queer person and a trans woman, our community is not really making any inroads or attempt to court people who openly identify and associate with conservatism or any kind of ideology right of center.
And particularly in the Republican party. And when we fail to do that, we are letting the Republicans turn us into a political football, which we cannot allow to (happen) because there are average Republican voters that I mean, we see all of these voters and these political activists who are engaging in this abhorrent behavior and some very, very dangerous forms of politics, but at the end of it all, the average voter is still just a typical person and they may not have ever really given this considerable thought and they only see what they see through Fox News and other such similar media.”
(Jordan Willow Evans)
Jordan capstones this by saying: “if we're not trying to be a presence, if we're not trying to show up and be at that table, even if that table isn't necessarily with people that, you know, a lot of us have any great interest in being (around), at least if we're trying to show up and be there, we can reach those allies, we can reach those potential supporters who we need to make this not a political issue but a human rights issue.”
“Ultimately, and I, I've said this time and time again that if we don't turn our fight for equality into what it is, a human rights issue and just let it be a political issue, every single election will be completely terrifying to us because every single election will be another opportunity where our rights and dignities are at stake. So it, it's, it's, it's rough. I, I'm not gonna pretend that I don't know why my colleagues and peers are critical of the approach that I take to politics. But I genuinely believe that we need a strong multi partisan approach to these things because we're not a political issue. I just want everyone to know that we're people and that we can be found anywhere and everywhere and you should treat us the same as you would any other person.”
(Jordan Willow Evans at the 2018 CPAC. Source: https://www.metroweekly.com/2018/02/cpac-2018-transgender-republicans-want-conservative-acceptance-not-bathroom-debates/ )
"But I genuinely believe that we need a strong multi partisan approach to these things because we're not a political issue. I just want everyone to know that we're people and that we can be found anywhere and everywhere and you should treat us the same as you would any other person."
Trans rights are human rights, and that extends to transgender republicans as well. In a dream society, where transgender rights have been achieved, our liberties should not be placed on the ballot, our rights should not have to be campaigned for, and transgender republicans and conservatives should get to exist alongside the faces of transgender democrats and progressives. And this process starts with integration, with transgender people putting themselves into republican spaces and making those inroads. And Jordan acknowledges that there is risk in putting yourself into those spaces, and says that she does it because “I know how to talk the talk. I know how to walk the walk. And if we're able to at least win even a few more people over to the side of equality and dignity for all, that's just a few more people closer to actually seeing it become a reality.”
That’s a wonderful idea, but how can it become actionable? Making inroads in a community that traditionally doesn’t accept you is hard, and if we want change, if we want to shift the needle, then we need to all take action to make those connections. When asked how everyday trans people and allies could make those connections and bring that change into being, Jordan said this:
“I think that you have to just go through with it. And I realize it's easier said than done, But you have to remember at the end of the day that and of course, now I'm speaking of the trans woman that we, we as a community can do anything that (any) community can do, if they have the gall and the audacity to show up and do things, so do we. We should be doing that because this is how you get these conversations started. This is how you make those small incremental pushes you have to show up and be visible and do the work. And sometimes people are gonna be really mean to you and sometimes they're not going to understand and they won't care to understand, but it's not their life, it's not their happiness, it's your life and your happiness.
And that means you have to sometimes put yourself out there and do those things. And if it's anything I have learned in my experience as a very proud and out trans woman, who knows very many other proud and out trans individuals, both binary and not. It's that our community is full of some absolute rock stars who will not just roll over and take their shots, they will, they will fight back. And that's the kind of energy that you need to channel if you want to see some of these things move forward because we deserve every right to be anywhere that any person is.”
"our community is full of some absolute rock stars who will not just roll over and take their shots, they will, they will fight back. And that's the kind of energy that you need to channel if you want to see some of these things move forward because we deserve every right to be anywhere that any person is."
Trans rights needs to become a multi-partisan issue, it needs to be considered as the fight for human rights that it truly is. When we allow a request for human rights to be seen as a war on the soul of America, we put our lives and our liberties at stake every ballot. And as long as we rely on any given party to protect us, we become dependent on them. It can be easy to become attached to politicians, to think they care and become upset when they “betray” us, but when considering the Title IX proposal, consider what made you think that the current administration ever cared for trans people? Sure, Joe Biden met with trans influencers and said good things about trans people, but what were the actions he took that made you believe that? Was it the appointment of a transgender assistant secretary of Health, a hollow figurehead who hasn’t taken action on our behalf? Was it the tears that the democratic establishment shed over the laws across the country? Was it his saccharine trans day of visibility statement? Was it him co-sponsoring the “defense of marriage act” which would outlaw gay marriage?
We can’t depend on any one party to support us, we need to craft our own support systems, made up of bipartisan support in order to achieve broader progress. In a fight for human rights, every ally is valuable, no matter the D. or R. next to their name, if they are willing to fight for trans rights in any way they can then they are allies. We need all the help we can get.
When asked what she would say to all trans youth everywhere, Jordan said the following:
“There's no rush. Honestly, I, I think, and this isn't necessarily political, but I think that you can apply it to all things political as well as social and personal. But there really is no rush to anything that we do. I mean, we are who we say we are at the end of the day. I'm a woman. Would I have wanted to transition earlier? Yes.
Yes, I would have wanted to have done everything earlier. Sure. You know what, I think about this from time and time again, like there's so many things I would have liked to have just done and, and started as soon as I could. But you know what I still did it, I got it done. I'm happy. Life is good and it took a little bit longer than I anticipated.
And that was still ok because there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with having to take some time to carve out your identity and build yourself into the person who you know yourself to be. The only thing that is wrong are the people who are forcing you into feeling differently about yourself. They are the only incorrect thing in all of this, but you are not incorrect.
And I cannot believe how many queer and trans people I have this conversation with who think that if they don't try and be out and proud as fast as possible that there's something wrong with them that they're never going to have the opportunity that they're never going to be the kind of person who they are imagining themselves to be. And that's not true.
Life moves at a very different rate than it feels in your head sometimes. And that extra time that it sometimes takes that it sometimes takes maybe you need to wait for safety reasons. Maybe you are still asking yourself the important questions. This is your life, this is your identity. You are, you are the captain of this ship and how the ship moves where you want to take it and what it looks like is purely on you.
But it takes time to build these things and that's OK. You're still valid and all the things that make you who you are, you're still you. I think I, I'll be honest, I'm a huge fan of Undertale. I think most queer people are. And I remember a famous, god, I remember, I think you, you, you see it right outside the Asgore scene and there's a mirror and you look into it and I believe it's like: above all else, you are still you or a variation of that.
And I think it's so important to remember that because above all else you are still you and there's no rush. You're gonna get there and you're gonna be happy. But for the people who are trying to hold you back or give you grief along the way, sometimes continuing to push forward is the best thing you can do to tell them how wrong they are. So, how does that relate to politics?
Not entirely sure. But it does relate to life. And I think that that's a very important thing just to remember. There are so many people right now who think that, you know, it's, it's easy to go after trans youth because so many of them now have these opportunities to explore themselves in ways that their, their demographic and their generation never had the ability to do.
And they see that as something bad, something wicked, something to push back against. But I think that's beautiful. I think it's so great that we're in a society right now where queer and trans youth can actually explore themselves the way that they are. And I know so many who think that because they can't move as fast as they want to, that this is a bad thing.
Let me remind you right now because you may not have been around for when things were rougher that or more rough that things really (are), this is an amazing time, even still, even with all the awful things that are out there right now, even with all the pushback, this is still a great time to be able to come out and discover your identity because it really was just that difficult a decade ago, two decades ago, three decades ago, this is a pushback.
It will stop, it'll get a little bit worse before it gets better. But that's the natural cycle of politics. The thing we need to work on is making sure that the cycle breaks and it just ends up being a cultural norm that people can express and identify as they know themselves to be who they want.”
This article was written by Samira Burnside, (she/her), Head Editor of The Queer Notion and Transgender activist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find Jordan Willow Evans and more of her work at https://jwevans.co/ or at @jordarooski on twitter.