CLEVELAND—Caitlyn Jenner's praise for President Obama and his repeal of the ban that prevented trans people from serving openly in the military was not a big applause line.
But her opener—"Hello, my fellow Republicans!"—totally killed.
The former Olympian and "I Am Cait" star was in Cleveland on Wednesday for the Big Tent Brunch ("Freedom means freedom for everyone"), a pro-LGBT side event at the Republican National Convention. It was a strange brunch.
“I get it. The Democratic Party does a better job when it comes to the LGBT community, the trans community, all that kind of stuff,” she told the crowd, which was about half reporters and half mimosa-sipping Republicans. "I want to help the Republican Party in so many ways."
Like on, say, the Republican Party's new platform position on same-sex marriage (the committee rejected proposals to make its mission statement more inclusive):
We condemn the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, which wrongly removed the ability of Congress to define marriage policy in federal law. We also condemn the Supreme Court’s lawless ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges […]
And anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people, including basic access to public accommodations for trans people:
That same provision of [Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972] is now being used by bureaucrats—and by the current President of the United States—to impose a social and cultural revolution upon the American people by wrongly redefining sex discrimination to include sexual orientation or other categories. […] Their edict to the states concerning restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities is at once illegal, dangerous, and ignores privacy issues. We salute the several states which have filed suit against it.
"Where I came from, how I was raised to be fiscally responsible, I don't feel like I have a choice but to be a Republican," Jennifer Breitinger, a lobbyist and national board member of the Log Cabin Republicans, told me after Jenner finished her remarks. "I'm not happy with the platform right now, not happy with the party right now, but I'm not going to quit."
I asked her whether she would still vote for Donald Trump, who has pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn same-sex marriage at the federal level and tapped Mike Pence, the Indiana governor who signed one of the most muscular anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws in the country, as his running mate. "I probably will," she said with a shrug. "But I'm going to keep agitating."
Rachel Hoff, a delegate from Washington, D.C., said she wouldn't vote for Trump in November, but she wasn't abandoning the party, either. "I have never not voted for the Republican presidential candidate," she said. "This will be the first year that I'm not able to do it."
But why stay with the GOP at all? Beyond the anti-LGBTQ demagoguing, the last year of campaigning has been a circus of anti-Muslim demagoguing, anti-immigrant demagoguing, and just like, you know, a lot of demagoguing in general.
"I consider myself a conservative," she said. "My reasons for supporting LGBT rights are rooted in my own core beliefs in equality, justice, limited government, and those are very much the founding principles of the Republican Party."
Amy (who asked that I not use her real name) offered something similar. She believes in limited government and free markets, she said. Republican hangups on same-sex marriage and trans rights have muddied what she described as a more authentic kind of conservatism: "I'm a young Republican who believes our party is putting us at a disadvantage because of how unaccepting it is, and I'd like to see it change."
Amy wasn't planning on voting for Trump, but said she might write in Marco Rubio. (Notably, Rubio supports all of the same anti-LGBTQ laws articulated in the platform.)
Each of the women I spoke to defined their support for LGBTQ rights in terms of marriage equality and equal access to public accommodations—which is narrow, but also pretty common in both parties.
But the Republican platform affects LGBTQ people's lives in more ways than just bathroom bills and wedding cakes. Even if the GOP were to change course on those issues, its positions on things like protections for LGBTQ workers and its dismantling of social safety nets that support people in poverty (trans people are four times more likely to live in poverty than cis people) leave millions of LGBTQ people vulnerable.
Narrow as it is, Hoff still sees the issue of equal marriage as something that could doom her party: "Sixty percent of young Republicans support marriage equality, and it won't be long before a majority of Republican voters as a whole support marriage equality and it will simply be political suicide for a presidential candidate to do anything otherwise."
I asked her whether she thought the GOP was doing that now.
"We're certainly trying."