By Asawin Suebsaeng
The Daily Beast
July 9, 2016
Caitlyn Jenner will be in Cleveland, Ohio, during the Republican National Convention.
However, when the sports and transgender icon touches down there later this month, she won’t be headed to the Quicken Loans Arena to show support for the GOP or Donald Trump. She’ll be headed to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to discuss the need for the Republican Party to be more open to the LGBTQ community.
On the morning of July 20—two days after the start of the convention—Jenner is scheduled to appear at a brunch organized by pro-LGBTQ conservatives, hosted by American Unity Fund, to call for increased bipartisan support for LGBTQ rights. The brunch and Jenner’s Q&A is not affiliated with the RNC, and will serve as counterprogramming to the Republicans’ four-day presidential nominating event. Jenner will be introduced at the event by TV personality and military veteran Montel Williams, who supported Ohio Governor John Kasich in the primary.
“The party conventions are like the political Olympics, and I’m excited to be headed to Cleveland to stand with my fellow LGBTQ Republicans and allies,” Jenner said in a statement sent to The Daily Beast. “As a proud Republican and transgender woman, I want to support courageous Republicans who advocate for LGBTQ freedom. Our country’s nondiscrimination laws must be updated and this cannot be achieved without bipartisan support. Congress needs to act, along with almost thirty Republican states, to update our nondiscrimination laws. I want to do my part to persuade more Republicans to support freedom for millions of LGBTQ Americans.”
So far, Jenner has no plans on the books to attend the GOP convention itself, which has been having trouble lately at attracting star power, both political and pop-cultural. She was not announced as a speaker, and when the Trump campaign kept bragging about all the sports stars and celebrities they were courting—or even simply thinking about courting—for the convention in Cleveland, Jenner’s name did not come up. (Names that were floated included convicted rapist Mike Tyson and tennis champ Serena Williams.)
The event, billed as a “big tent brunch” (in part because it will literally be hosted underneath a big tent), will be co-hosted by Log Cabin Republicans, Equality Ohio, the College Republican National Committee, SAGE, the LGBTQ Community Center of Greater Cleveland, and the Ohio College Republican Federation. The Q&A will be moderated by Margaret Hoover, president of American Unity Fund, a pro-LGBTQ conservative nonprofit that has been lobbying convention delegates in an effort to make this year’s party platform less anti-gay. (Disclosure: Hoover is married to The Daily Beast’s editor-in-chief John Avlon.)
“As a veteran, I put my life on the line to defend all Americans,” Montel Williams told The Daily Beast. “I’ll be there to help ensure the right of the LGBTQ community to serve and defend the Constitution… We need to get this straight. If you want to send people to war, some of those people are going to be our fellow LGBTQ Americans.”
Williams also expressed outrage for who he called “punk-ass” anti-gay politicians who “wouldn’t go do it” themselves, when it came to serving in the military or going off to war overseas.
Williams, who has repeatedly and emphatically stated that he will not be voting for or supporting Trump, is working with American Unity and attending the Cleveland event in the hopes that he can help contribute to nudging the Republican Party towards a pro-LGBTQ shift.
“I’ll fight to defend [their rights] until I drop,” he said. “I really hope American Unity’s presence is felt [in Cleveland]. “The fringe of the Republican Party [has] not stepped up.”
American Unity is still in the process of confirming the roster of elected GOP officials who will be attending their event. “The goal is to demonstrate that there is a growing number of Republicans who are supportive of LGBTQ issues,” Hoover said. (Most recent polling of young Republicans shows that a majority now favors same-sex marriage, for instance.)
She said that she and her group have recently struck up a “new friendship” with Jenner and have been privately discussing with the trans celebrity about how they can continue to work together in the future.
“When we lobby in the states in our state campaigns, legislators ask us about her,” Hoover said. “She wants to help on LGBTQ issues, and to help change hearts and minds in the GOP.”
“Caitlyn has been able to bring a national spotlight to issues facing transgender people,” Alana Jochum, executive director of Equality Ohio, said. “Ohio is one of the states where these issues are real. We don’t have full equality for the LGBTQQ community here.”
Despite Jenner’s relatively recent reinvention as an LGBTQ-rights advocate, she still remains a staunch Republican.
“I sit on the Republican side, and when we do get a candidate, I certainly will talk to them,” Jenner said in March. “I admit that the Democrats, as far as trans issues, are better than the Republicans,” she added.
Before Trump secured the Republican nomination, Jenner was a strong supporter of Ted Cruz, and has since praised The Donald as being “very much for women,” and for seeming “very much behind the LGBTQ community because of what happened in North Carolina with the bathroom issue.”
Jenner’s complex political identity has sometimes made supporters confused as to why she would remain a member of a party so hostile to the advancement of LGBTQ rights and legislation. “I have gotten more flak for being a conservative Republican than I have for being trans,” Jenner told University of Pennsylvania students earlier this year.
If Jenner and her new political allies had their druthers, the GOP would emerge out of Cleveland this summer with a reformed party platform that removes any and all anti-LGBTQ language. She may be fighting the good fight but, in all likelihood, Caitlyn Jenner will be waiting at least a couple more election cycles until her party recognizes full and equal rights.