2016 Presidential Candidates Mostly Silent About Caitlyn Jenner and Trans Issues

June 5th 2015

Laura Donovan

Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known as Bruce) inspired a positive week on the Internet by making her world debut on the cover of Vanity Fair. Many reacted with joy and praised Jenner for finally living her truth after more than six decades of private struggle. She also beat President Obama's record of acquiring more than one million Twitter followers in five hours. 

There was plenty of love to go around for Jenner all week, but many of the 2016 presidential contenders were notably silent about Jenner's transition. Granted, they're seeking political office and probably not interested in commenting on everything that happens in pop culture, but Jenner's big moment was huge for the transgender community, and that should matter to anyone trying to run the country.

Huckabee and Pataki

When asked to comment on Jenner's magazine photo shoot, Republican candidate Mike Huckabee said, "Not going there."

The refusal to show support shouldn't be surprising, as Huckabee joked about the transgender experience earlier this year when he said during a National Religious Broadcasters Convention speech that he would have loved to use the trans status as an excuse to use the female locker room as a teen.

“I wish that somebody would have told me in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in P.E. I’m pretty sure I would have found my feminine side, and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today,” Huckabee said. “You’re laughing because it sounds so ridiculous, doesn’t it?”

Huckabee went on to insinuate that the transgender lifestyle can be difficult for children in public facilities to understand and potentially make them uncomfortable.

"And yet today, we’re the ones who are ridiculed and scorned because we point out the obvious: That there’s something inherently wrong with forcing little children to be a part of this social experiment,” Huckabee said. “I’m not against anybody; I’d just like for somebody to bring their brain to work someday and not leave it on the bed stand when they show up to govern.”

Fellow Republican candidate George Pataki swiftly responded to Huckabee's locker room comments on CNN, telling Wolf Blitzer, "I think it was ... humor, obviously he didn't mean it seriously. But I think that the more important point is we should give people their dignity and let them make their own decisions. People often make decisions that I don't agree with, but in a government where it's supposed to be of the people, if someone chooses a path that's different from mine, we should respect that as opposed to mocking it."

Rick Santorum

Shortly after Jenner did a highly-publicized interview with Diane Sawyer about choosing to transition in late April, GOP contender Rick Santorum voiced support for Jenner.

"If he says he’s a woman, then he’s a woman,” Santorum told BuzzFeed News at the time. "My responsibility as a human being is to love and accept everybody. Not to criticize people for who they are. I can criticize, and I do, for what people do, for their behavior. But as far as for who they are, you have to respect everybody, and these are obviously complex issues for businesses, for society, and I think we have to look at it in a way that is compassionate and respectful of everybody."

Santorum later clarified that he wasn't trying to change public policy on the matter, but show some compassion for a fellow human:


Many of you may have read a story published by the website BuzzFeed where I was asked for my thoughts regarding Bruce...

Posted by Rick Santorum on Sunday, May 3, 2015

Santorum, however, has yet to comment on Jenner's transition to Caitlyn.

The silence of others

GOP contender Rand Paul's rep told E! News that Paul had no comment on Jenner, and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio's reps have yet to respond to the publication's request for comment. It's somewhat surprising to hear that Paul didn't want to release a statement, as he's known for taking a more libertarian approach to public issues. 

Also absent from the discussion were Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, and Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. 

When Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley saw Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair, he merely said, "Wow," but also told the IJ Review that he was the first presidential candidate in history to use the word "transgender" in an announcement speech.   

Of course, none of this means these candidates are outright against Jenner's publicity. Even those who have publicly come forth in support of trans rights might be worried about what speaking up on this news item could do to their election prospects. Conservative politicians often face criticism for supporting non-traditional lifestyles, so it's possible that Santorum, Paul, and other GOP candidates just don't want to alienate the far right that finds Jenner's transition unnatural. Liberal candidates might fear backlash as well from more conventional left-leaning voters. 

"[If Republicans don’t condemn Jenner], you might as well just forfeit the 2016 election now,” Steve Deace, a syndicated talk radio host in Iowa, said this week. "If we’re not going to defend as a party basic principles of male and female, that life is sacred because it comes from God, then you’re going to lose the vast majority of people who’ve joined that party."