Transgender Republicans, a small, beleaguered group within the GOP, have reacted with dismay to the Trump administration's new policy rolling back Obama administration reforms.
"If we (Republicans) are going to talk about personal responsibility, not using government force, and individual liberty, we come off looking like hypocrites with this policy," said Jordan Evans, who was elected town constable and library trustee in Charlton, Mass., an area that voted heavily for President Trump. She began transitioning to female last year.
"I can’t say that I’m really surprised that this is happening. I’ve been following the administration since the administration came to power," Evans told the Washington Examiner. "I saw this on the horizon. I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case. ... I’m definitely devastated by it. I find it completely antithetical to our (Republican) principles."
[Opinion: The Trump administration's transgender memo isn't trying to erase anyone]
During his Republican party convention speech in 2016, Trump promised: “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology," a reference to the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. His previously released remarks left off the "Q," which can stand for "queer," "questioning," or both.
The Trump administration's Health and Human Services department has called on agencies to adopt terminology that defines gender on "a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable." HHS wants gender to be defined at birth and immutable.
There are roughly 1.4 million Americans that identify as transgender. That number includes those that have decided against undergoing reconstructive surgeries.
Jennifer Williams, who was the first openly transgender Republican National Committee delegate, said of the new policy: “It is ridiculous. Unfortunately, the administration, whether this draft turns into a reality we won’t know, but is putting forth a terrible idea.
“If we are going to be a party that embraces faith and religious freedom, these actions don’t show that,” Willliams said. “Ultimately, I think the brand of conservatives pushing this isn’t actually true Republicanism. This isn’t the party of Lincoln putting this forward.”
The president and members of his administration have taken aim at a number of Obama-era transgender protections, Evans and Williams pointed out. Among those mentioned were the administration's attempts to ban transgender troops from the military and revoking Obama-era protections for students to use transgender restrooms, locker rooms, and other designated spaces in schools and others.
Working hand-in-hand with the Log Cabin Republicans, who represent gay GOPers, in 2017, Evans helped write a white paper and brief Trump officials at the Department of Education on the importance of keeping protections for transgender students in place.
Jess Erbst, a former Democratic mayor of New Hope, Texas, said the policy sent a negative message to young transgender people and members of the LGBTQ community.
“For young transgender people, in general, it sends a horrible message. We have had a period of time where they can finally come out and express themselves. We are pushing them back to that day where they can’t tell people who they are,” Erbst said. “They have to hide in plain sight. That is a horrible signal to our children. You are basically throwing them under the bus.”
Some claim that Trump has anti-LGBTQ beliefs. Williams doesn’t believe the president himself is anti-LGBTQ, but rather the stream of anti-transgender policies are to satisfy a “small portion” of the conservative base that holds these beliefs.
“I don’t think he [Trump] personally holds any animosity towards the LGBTQ community. Certain factions within the GOP holds those views. A lot of this is coming from evangelical leaders on our side of the party,” Williams said, adding that she believes Vice President Mike Pence is a “big driver” of the anti-transgender movement within the administration.
“Part of this is going after the LGBTQ community, particularly transgenders, has been done and is un-Republican and un-American. He (Trump) has to put these things together to placate a small wing of our party.”
Evans believes that the transgender community and allies of the LGBTQ movement need to work locally with voters, who are more accepting of the movement than some of the current GOP politicians in Washington.
"We need to ramp up our advocacy. We need to keep the focus on our elected officials. We also need to start gearing it towards other members that make up our parties. State and local officials maybe more so than Washington. Those are the candidates for tomorrow," Evans said. "That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to push our lawmakers now. Anyone who sides with this deserves the pressure from frightened and vulnerable members of our marginalized communities. You can’t write out someone's identity."
She says that when she speaks to members of the GOP "who are just trying to live their life and aren’t involved in the grind of national and partisan politics," those are the ones that are the most receptive to the transgender and other marginalized communities.
"Those are the ones we should be reaching. ... Those people, those voters are ultimately going to be the ones who control the direction of the party. In my experience, younger Republicans are far more inclusive on these issues, specifically the trans community," Evans said. "It is a gradual change but that change is very important in seeing this become an established part of American culture and our society. That is the only way we are going to see real change."
Another thing that might help, Erbst argues, is for more education and exposure for nontransgender individuals. Erbst said she recently had a Republican state-elected official come up to her on the last day of a three-week higher education course. The man was anti-transgender prior to attending the course and meeting Erbst, but slowly changed his mind after getting to know and listen to her.
“He said, ‘You really changed my mind, and you have shown me that transgender people are real and just like everyone else.’ We need education to show that we are really like everyone else,” Erbst said.