As a millennial woman living in the Northeast who identifies as a Republican, 26-year-old Jordan Evans is already considered a rare breed by some. But when you add to the mix that she's an openly transgender GOP elected official, it should come as no surprise that she's no stranger to puzzled looks.
"I get questions from the transgender community and from the Republican party," she told Refinery29. "The same general feeling is there: I can’t believe you exist."
Some organisations have deemed 2017 "The Year of the Trans Candidate." Election Day proved huge for the community: We saw candidates who were open about their gender identity win up and down the ballot, in many cases making history. And even though most of those who won identified as Democrats, it was an emotional experience for Evans.
"To see that, in the era of an administration that has so frequently enacted policies that have tried to set back the trans community, we were able to pull a historic win like that, means a lot to me," she said. "As a trans elected official, it’s lonely because there's so few of us and we carry the community. Sometimes, it’s a hard thing to do. As of Tuesday night, it’s become so much easier because our family became bigger."
In 2015, Evans was elected to fill a vacancy on the Charlton Public Library’s Board of Trustees in Charlton, MA. She was still not publicly out then, but in January 2016 she decided to disclose that she is a transgender woman. She said that people in the town were supportive. Her constituents re-elected her to a full term as a trustee and also elected her as town constable. "I was running on the things that mattered to me," she said. "If someone wanted to ask me about being trans, that’s fine. But that’s just one part of me."
Of course, not everyone within the party is supportive. Throughout her political career, Evans has occasionally faced sneers and rude questions from local and regional GOP members. At the state level, we've seen efforts to block people from going to the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. And the Trump administration has enacted several policies that can be harmful to the community — from determining that protections against workplace discrimination don't apply to transgender folks to banning them from serving in the military. For Evans, these policies go against what the party is supposed to champion.
"There is a wing of the Republican party, the one now calling the shots, that espouses values that I think are contradictory to what Republicans claim they stand for: This notion of compassionate behaviour; responsible, small government; the individual," she said. "And it’s hard to show your stance for the individual when you’re actively advocating for policies that seek to disenfranchise and discriminate against an entire demographic of people."
Evans sometimes clashes with members of the transgender community who can't seem to understand why she would belong to a party that actively legislates against her interests and humanity. But she thinks that as a public official, she has to do what's best for her town, and that her identity uniquely positions her to change hearts and minds in the GOP from the inside. For example, during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this year, Evans not only protested Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' actions on protections for transgender students, but used the opportunity to engage fellow conservatives in dialogue on the issue.
“I have the policies and positions that are best for my district at home, that I feel resonate from where I come from, and that will make my community a stronger place," she said. "I understand the criticism and concerns from those in the trans community who think that I’m helping the enemy or engaged in activities that are antithetical to our community. But I feel like I have a unique opportunity to hold those who are hurting us responsible and reach out to those who actually support LGBTQ rights."
But with great power comes great responsibility, and being a Republican transgender woman trying to change certain views inside the party is not always easy. She said she's asked herself a lot of times whether there's a line in the sand that if the GOP crossed would lead her to abandon the party. On one hand, sometimes she said she just wants to throw up her hands and leave. But on the other, she feels she might be "too libertarian and too right-leaning" to join the Democrats. So, for the time being, she is staying.
"If I ever get to a point where I feel there's nothing more I can do, or that the party decides that being anti-trans is a calling card for how they think they will win elections, that's another issue," she said. "But as of now, I still feel there's people I can reach. I still feel there's more I can do. I still feel that I can work with people in the GOP."
She added, "I do what I do because I care about my community — both where I live and my community as a trans woman. Whatever my future brings me, I want those communities to know that I have their interest at heart. I want to see a better country for all of us."
Gender and sexual orientation are both highly personal and constantly evolving. So, in honour of Transgender Awareness Week, we're talking about the importance of language and raising the voices of the LGBTQIA community.