By Ashley Naftule, December 2018 issue.
I guess I’ve always been an optimist.”
Sitting on a couch inside Tempe’s Mulligan’s Manor, Caitlyn Jenner addresses her repudiation of Donald Trump with bemused nonchalance. She’s seated next to the executive director of the Caitlyn Jenner Foundation, Sophia Hutchins, and both women treat the topic of Jenner’s The Washington Post mea culpa editorial with a “That old news?” style exasperation.
The Foundation was in town to offer their support and advocacy on behalf of Mulligan’s Manor, a home for at-risk youth in the LGBTQA community. The Caitlyn Jenner Foundation has been an active force for good in the trans community, raising funds for scholarships and supporting smaller community organizations who are doing vital work to support and uplift some of the most vulnerable members of society. But it was hard not to talk about the elephant in the room: Jenner’s recent face turn from the Trump administration.
Published on October 25, Jenner’s Washington Post piece attempted to lay out her reasoning for supporting the Trump administration and why she’s now backing away from it. Believing that the Trump administration would be friendly and open to hearing about LGBTQ issues, Jenner thought she could use her celebrity status to help sway them on issues that impacted the community. But as she concedes in her editorial, it was a hopeless attempt. Fed up with watching Trump demonize the trans community to fire up his base, Jenner washed her hands of it all.
Some stains, though, can’t be washed off so easily. And there are a lot of questions that her piece doesn’t answer. If seeing Trump demonize an at-risk community bothered her so much, why didn’t Jenner object to the way Trump built his Presidential campaign around demonizing the Latino community? Where was Jenner’s hand-wringing over Trump appointing anti-Semites and ideological fascists in his administration, or in his choosing the virulently anti-gay politician Mike Pence as his number two? And how could anyone think that an unrepentant misogynist like Trump would give a shit about the plight of transwomen?
When faced with these questions, Jenner and Hutchins repeatedly stated that The Washington Post said everything Jenner wanted to say on these matters and left it at that. The closest thing that came to an unguarded moment was Jenner’s rueful admission to being an optimist.
Following up with Jenner and Hutchins over the phone a few days later, the duo explained the foundation’s mission and how they’re trying to separate the organization’s charitable work from Jenner’s political work.
Echo: Tell us about the Caitlyn Jenner Foundation. What’s your current mission, and how are you helping the LGBTQA community?
Jenner: Honestly, we’re doing a lot of things. We’re about 18 months old. And we constantly change. At the beginning, I just tried to help organizations in the Los Angeles area. I have a very unique platform in the community. I’ve been blessed with all this privilege, you know, because of my life. For me, it’s how do I use that to help the community? I have celebrity privilege, white privilege, all these things. I have a job. I’m not like a normal trans person who’s out there and I get that. So, when I’m using that platform, how can I use it to make a difference?
And one of those things obviously was not just creating exposure, but also raising funds. The LGBT community, the trans community, is by far the most misunderstood and most discriminated against- especially for trans women of color- and also the most underfunded. So, we started a foundation to raise money to help a lot of these organizations.
Like I formed an association with MAC Cosmetics to fund a transgender initiative. And between that and what we’ve been able to do with my foundation, we’ve been able to put out there about $2.5 million. So that’s probably been the most rewarding thing. We are trying to see the best way to help the community, to help this next generation coming up.
Echo: In your Washington Post column, you talked about your efforts to change people’s minds in the government about the trans and gay communities. Do you feel like your efforts made any headway at all? Do you feel you changed somebody’s mind?
Jenner: Well, um, I try to stay out of the political side of this. I did make a statement in the Washington Post a few weeks ago which kind of clarified my thinking on that. And to be honest with you, I want to move forward. Going that direction kind of moves me backwards. I want to move forward with the foundation. The media tends to focus on one thing and that is politics right now. And honestly, I don’t want to. You know, I want to raise money, I want to keep the foundation going. I spend 60%, 70% of my time on foundation work, not politics. And I just want people to know that my heart and soul is in this community and I’m very blessed to be in a position where hopefully I’ll be able to do even more work to help people in the future.
Echo: Because of your outreach efforts with the Trump administration, and that there were many folks in the community who condemned and questioned that decision, have you found that it made harder to be involved in the community? Has it been a challenge to regain the community’s trust?
Hutchins: No matter how many people on Twitter are saying, “Oh my God, I can’t support that Caitlyn person because she’s on the conservative side,” they still love taking our checks. They still take our support with open arms. It’s like Caitlyn said, ‘Politics is so not what we’re doing. 70-80% of our time is fundraising: Getting in front of people that can really back us financially… This is how we’re going to change the culture, and it’s not through politics.
But the critics – they may have a bit of a platform on social media behind a blocked account or behind some troll fake accounts. But in reality, they love when we send them a check. They never turn down those checks.
Echo: You’ve talked about how you want to steer clear of politics. But so many of the things you talk about – education, creating opportunities for the disadvantaged, the oppression that gay and trans communities go through every day- that stuff is inherently political. How can you change the culture without touching on politics?
Hutchins: As a foundation, we are apolitical. It’s purely philanthropic. We are pro trans, pro LGBT. That’s where our mission takes us. We’ve retained a lobbyist for the National Center for Transgender Equality, which is the premier lobbying group for trans rights on the federal and state level. That lobbyist has been one of the most involved in ensuring that random Trump tweet about banning trans people from the military has no meaning whatsoever in the Department of Defense. From that standpoint, we did get political, but it wasn’t about Republicans or Democrats – it was about standing up for trans rights.
Jenner: Most of the things I’ve done over the last two and a half years, I’ve done them very quietly. Making under the table phone calls. I do my best to try not to talk about it publicly because I feel like I can get more work done if I do it quietly. You know, in the future, if we can get through some legislation, hardcore legislation, on equality in this country, amendments to the Civil Rights Act when it comes to equality for the LGBT community, I would get behind that and I would back it up.
Hutchins: But that’s not really foundation-related. Often, I think people relate what we’re doing at the foundation with what Caitlyn does with her celebrity. Obviously, if there’s any pro-trans legislation, we’re going to back it. We’re going to be Tweeting about it. Yes, you’ve seen Caitlyn endorse candidates for Congress. You’ve seen Caitlyn take positions on initiatives. But that’s all Caitlyn doing that. The foundation doesn’t get involved in that.