TRANSCRIPT: TransLash Podcast Episode 57, ‘Unpacking the 2022 Election

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Imara Jones: Hey fam, it’s me Imara Jones. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast, a show where we tell trans stories to save trans lives. Well, as we’ve been saying on TransLash, both this podcast and across all of our platforms throughout the fall, Trans Bodies were on the ballot in 2022. It was the election of bodily autonomy. And now since we have the results or at least most of them, we can see what happened and what it means for us right now and what it means for our community, moving forward.

In so many ways, it was a relief and a historic breaking year for our community. There were 678 LGBTQ candidates nationwide, a record-breaking year for queer candidates, and a record-breaking year for trans candidates as well like the first-ever trans man elected to a state house in US history, James Reznor in New Hampshire happening and also the election of Zoe Zephyr in Montana showing that trans people can run and win everywhere. 

It is also the case that we also have two lesbians who are governors of our country, which is also an important first. However, there’s also an other hand where, virulently, anti-trans governors, namely Governor Abbott of Texas and Governor DeSantis of Florida, both of whom have made targeting trans people a key part of their elections, swept to victory, setting them up as possible candidates for the GOP in 2024. At the time of this podcast, Donald Trump is poised to also run again, possibly in 2024, the most directly anti-trans president we’ve had who has increasingly made targeting trans people an issue for his campaigns and the growing use of anti-trans rhetoric in federal races for the first time. 

So, there’s a ton to unpack and so that’s why I’m excited to talk with Katelyn Burns about all of this, given her deep experience as a trans reporter in Washington, looking at all of the aspects of politics and how it impacts all of us. But before we get deeper into this podcast, I want to let you know that we recorded the conversation with Katelyn last week when some of the results were uncertain. Although at the time of this recording they haven’t changed that much. The Democrats were poised to take the senate, which they ultimately did, and the house remained yet, uncalled. But our conversation is so much more than those specific results, so make sure that you tune in because it was a wow of a conversation for me. Regardless of the sigh of relief however from the election, we’re going to start out like always with some trans joy. 

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Imara: It’s no secret that trans people have been excluded from the political process across this country, but the National LGBTQ Task Force is working to harness the power of our votes by helping bring queer people and allies to the polls. Over the past few months, they’ve hosted Queer the Vote’s Kikis, where volunteers canvassed and phone banked for critical elections across the country. Here’s their field director, Rae Leiner to tell us more about the Queer the Vote initiative. 

Rae Leiner: I’m really drawing inspiration from the folks that we canvassed with for the school board elections. Their contributions were pivotal in being able to move people to the polls. And these are LGBTQ identified folks, and like the parents who refuse to allow their children to live in a culture and a society that sees them as not valid. And like, you know, how do we also continuously be in places where we’re able to just like, woosah, breathe, sleep. ‘Cause I’m tired and I need this nap, I need this rest. Like, I’m gonna do the things that are going to help sustain me for the long haul because I have every intention on continuing to be here in this fight for queer and trans liberation.

Imara: Rae, you and everyone else at ‘Queer the Vote’ Kikis’ are trans-joy. 

[music]

Imara: I’m so glad to have the opportunity to unpack this election with award-winning journalist and friend of the show, the Katelyn Burns. Well her name is Katelyn Burns, not, without the ‘the’. Katelyn has been writing about US politics for many years. She made history as the first-ever openly trans reporter to cover Capitol Hill. She’s worked as a political reporter at Vox and is a freelance journalist and columnist at MSNBC. She’s written for the Washington Post, Teen Vogue, Vice, and more than 45 other Publications. 

Katelyn’s also the winner of the Triumph Award for journalism from Outsports in 2021 because of her trailblazing coverage of transports and athletes. Given Katelyn’s sharp mind, impressive career, and many accomplishments, we’re lucky to have her here at TransLash as a contributor to our news and narrative platform where we share personal essays in journalism from a trans perspective. She’ll be helping to figure out what’s ahead in politics through her writing. Katelyn’s introduction wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that she’s the co-host of the podcast, ‘Cancel Me, Daddy’ which I’ve been on along with our very own, senior producer, Oliver-Ash Kleine. Katelyn, thank you so much for joining me and we’re so excited to see what you’re gonna write for TransLash News and Narrative.

Katelyn: Thank you for having me on. [chuckles]

Imara: As we mentioned at the top, we’re super excited that you’re going to be writing some really insightful pieces for us over the next couple of months, so thank you for that as well. And I can’t wait to, for everyone to be able to see that.

Katelyn: I just further dressed this morning for you as a matter of fact.

Imara: There you go. There you go, real-time. So, by the time people will hear this, we will probably know the fate of the races and Nevada and in Arizona, and a lot of the house races which are not yet decided. There are so many house races that are up in the air. And so, while Kevin McCarthy has said that he’s going to be the speaker of the house, we don’t really know that at the time that we’re recording this. So, let’s just push that to the side for a moment and I’m curious for you, with respect to LGBTQ candidates and trans candidates and issues, how do you think this election fared?

Katelyn: I think it was somewhat good, actually, which kind of seems weird to say, given [laughter] wherever his head was at earlier in the week. The biggest takeaway for me is just a relentless anti-trans hate that has been spreading for the last couple of years. And particularly ramped up in the last year, appears to have fallen flat on its face for conservatives. In most places, I will say that, I think there are exceptions to that, certainly you look at Texas and Florida in particular where voters specifically endorsed the anti-trans messaging of their governors there. You look at other places, you look at the purple states and the transphobic messaging just didn’t land with regular moderate suburban voters. So, I think in that regard, it was mostly a success for LGBT people, and in particular, trans people who have been so scared and I say that, of course, with caveats that I mentioned earlier. [chuckles]

Imara: Yeah, I think I agree with you. I mean, I think that for me, what I’m really struck by is how, for instance, in Nevada, the amendment including gender identity and sexual orientation protections into the constitution are actually faring better than [chuckles] both of the democratic candidates, like the governor and the senator. Like, it’s outpacing that in a swing state, which has been targeted by Republicans. And it seems as if, you know, with regards to anti-trans messaging, overall, tha-, as you say, it plays in Florida, and it plays in Texas, but it really wasn’t as decisive for them as they thought.

Katelyn: You know, honestly, okay, this is gonna sound weird given that I, what I do for a living, but I, I don’t think the average voter really cares much about [laughter] trans people. I don’t think it’s an everyday thought for the average voter, what’s happening with trans people. Yeah, as much as I want them to be thinking about trans people and caring about what happens to trans people, I just don’t think it’s top of mind, right? Like, people have other issues that they’re more concerned with. So, I think the fact that Republicans thought this is a winning issue, and let’s talk a little bit about why they thought this was a winning issue. They, they looked at Glenn Youngkin’s run for governor in Virginia last year, that was very much revolving around education and what’s happening in the school systems. 

If you bring your mind back to last year, a lot of that concerns started with COVID restrictions, right? People were angry that their kid’s educations were getting a setback without making a value judgment on that issue. I think that’s where it started, right? And it kind of grew into the critical race theory panic and the gender identity panic. But I think the backlash from voters was mostly over the COVID restrictions and not the other two things. And I think Republicans took the wrong lesson from that win. And they tried to go all-in on the culture war, made the culture war all about trans people and libraries and, of course, you’ve seen venues for drag queen story hours, like getting fire bombs throughout the country. I think that turns people off. [chuckles]

Joe Biden’s approval numbers are not great right now, by old measures, mathematically, and based on history, democrats should have gotten shellacked. You know, other presidents who are in the first term with similar approval ratings, you see the opposite party just completely rolling in that first midterm. And that just, flat-out, didn’t happen this time. So, there’s obviously something about the Republican message that just didn’t land, didn’t connect with regular voters. I think the fact that they tried to turn so much of this election into a referendum on trans people and then lost, is a good sign for trans people. And not necessarily saying that supporting trans rights will outright win elections, but democrats should have more confidence that defending trans people will not end up costing them at the ballot box. 

Imara: I think that for me the part about Joe Biden’s approval rating is that it’s always in relative comparison to ‘what’. So, yeah, Joe Biden’s at 45, but what is Trump at? What are some of the local candidates like Herschel Walker at? People are like, “Oh, economy’s the number one issue.”. And I was surprised that when they ask people questions about inflation, for example, that they said that like the number-one issue was not Joe Biden but the war in Ukraine. So, I just think that there was a lot of misreading of what was going on. But on this particular issue around trans issues, they saw the success of things in Florida. 

They saw Youngkin weaponize a supposed case in which someone who was trans sexually assaulted someone in a bathroom in a school and that is one of the things that he used at the end of his race, and they did use it to overestimate. And I also think that they did it because as reporters have told me at Donald Trump rallies, that his anti-trans stuff is among his biggest applause lines. And I think that they had a sense that this was going to do something for them that, that it just didn’t. Given that, do you think that they’re going to desist in the attacks on us? Do you think that those are gonna lessen? Like I, I, I don’t know, I can tell you what I think but I’m, I’m curious. What do you think? 

Katelyn: I’ve, God, I wish I had a crystal ball for this one. I think you could go one of two ways. I think, certainly, what you’re gonna see from the Republican party is they’re going to be doing an autopsy into why they didn’t have the performance that they expected out of this midterm election, and they’re gonna try to draw conclusions from it. I think it depends on who is doing the autopsy in terms of how they’re gonna change on trans issues. But it was a very real possibility that they look at Greg Abbott in Texas, and Ron DeSantis in Florida and decide they need to get even more transphobic, which would obviously be a disaster. I think the other possibility is they look at all of this and they say well trans issues are really just a base concern and they’re not gonna wanna upset any moderate voters, which is the analysis that they should take out of all of this. 

I don’t necessarily trust that they will for several reasons. The first is that, because this issue appeals so much to the base, a lot of the conservative activist movements depend on anti-trans messaging for things like, fundraising, or like you said, applause lines at rallies. Either they’re competing commercial interests that are running against what is probably most politically expedient for the Republican party. And I’m not sure that the political apparatus has the power or will to rein in the media and activists’ side. But it’s definitely something that I am going to be watching. I think other people should keep their eye on as well. I wish I could tell you for sure which way this is gonna go, I have no idea. 

Imara: I agree. I don’t think that this is going to change anything and the reason why is because one, Ron DeSantis is going to be a leading candidate for the presidency and this is something that he’s relied on, it’s been one of his key pillars and so you revert back to type. The same is true for Greg Abbott, I can easily see him running as well. And I also think that, you know, they’ve done focus groups to say that this is something that makes parents really uncomfortable. And I agree. I think that they’re going to take a lesson that they should amp this up, that they should be doing more on this than in the past. And I think that for 2024, they’re going to lean even harder into this because they’ll say, you know, well, Ron DeSantis made this a key thing for his race and his politics, and it’s worked. 

So, I agree with you. I think that there’s more to come and I think that I just feel that in general, like, I don’t know how you feel Katelyn, but we both know that part of like, the anti-trans hate machine and just what’s going on, Christian nationalism and the right-wing overall is the growing militancy of their side. And that kind of wing of the Republican party has been silent right now, but I can’t imagine they’re gonna stay silent. I can’t imagine that Steve Banta is just gonna go away. Can’t imagine that the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters and The Oath Keepers are just gonna look at all of this and say “It’s totally fine.”, I, I, I don’t know.

Katelyn: Yeah, I think another interesting question to ask is, how are Democrats going to react to all of this? I hope that Democrats are going to be less afraid to stand up and defend trans people. So, I hope that Democrats have the guts to actually take a stand on this but I don’t necessarily trust them too, if you know what I mean. 

Imara: Because they run scared. I mean, I, I had people tell me that they were running scared, like, from national organizations on trans issues.

I feel like I’m in an election twilight zone where not only are a lot of races undecided, and it’s not clearly, what’s going to happen, that’s one thing. Two, alongside of that, it was much better than anybody thought. Three, the Christian nationalist forces and the militant armed wing where Steve Banning is a Pied Piper. Steve Miller, you know, they released all of these anti-trans ads. And Spanish, like, they’ve been really silent in the wake of this election. Like, they don’t know what to say. 

Katelyn: Yeah. 

Imara: And fourthly, you know, overall our issues didn’t play out in the way that we thought. And in places like, as I said, Nevada, you know, the gender identity amendment is doing better than the Democratic candidates. I, I, it’s kind of a weird space right now. But one of the good news, things that’s happening, are one, the number of queer candidates that ran. And then we had some history making, trans candidates such as James Reznor, who’s the first trans man, to be elected to a state legislature that we know of, uh, in the history of the country in New Hampshire and other trans candidates who won. So, how do you square that with what happens and is that giving you hope? Like, how are you saying that? 

Katelyn: I mean, it’s always good when more trans people are elected to state legislatures. I also wanna particularly point out uh, Zoe Zephyr in Montana who won and will be a very welcome voice in that legislature, which has been one of the most anti-trans in the country. Uh, I’ll be interested to see how her colleagues react to having a fellow trans representative in the chamber. And you also saw trans candidates win re-election, so Sarah McBride won in Delaware. And it’s interesting to me that it’s like, smaller states or bright blue areas of red states that are often these trans legislators and you don’t see it in like the bigger democratic states. There are no trans legislators in New York, for example, what is it about the party system in these bigger blue states that is preventing trans candidates from getting traction that we’re seeing in, maybe, blue areas of redder states. 

Imara: You know what I think it is, I think it is in these, uh, the areas that you described, I think there’s less of a machine and they’re in smaller states where communities can get to know their candidates better. Do you think the Democrats will be more encouraged to fight back? Because they’ll see, you know, we didn’t really lose last time so we can speak up about this. 

Katelyn: There was a NBC exit poll, they actually asked to voters about this. The first question was, “Do you feel like society’s position on gender identity and sexual orientation is worsening?”. And half of respondents said yes to that question. 

Imara: Mm-hmm. 

Katelyn: 25% said society’s views on gender, uh, identity and sexual orientation are getting better and 25% said neither. Why it’s going neither direction, it’s just staying about the same. Of the people who said it was getting worse, something like 81% voted for the Republican party. Of those saying is getting better, it was like 81% and these numbers aren’t exact. So, please don’t quote me on this. Um…

Imara: Too late, you gotta send a recording. You’re on a recording. 

Katelyn: [laughs] Um, but like, yeah, somewhat equal percentage that said that gender identity and sexual orientation and perceptions are getting better voted for Democrats. But the interesting one was, the respondent who said like, they don’t care, it’s like, not getting better or worse, which I interpreted as like, moderates in this, ended up voting for Democrats, right? So, it’s an extremely partisan split when it comes to feelings about trans people. I know they mentioned sexual orientation in that question. But let’s be real, that question was about trans people. It was, what do you think of the, you know, the trans people [laughs] becoming more visible. I wish I just had a magic ball and I could tell you what, where things were gonna go over the next two or four years. 

Imara: Yeah, I think that, again, I think why we are so, like, flummoxed on this call, and why people who are listening are gonna be like, “What?”. It’s because, it’s because, it’s because, yeah, all of this is strange. Like, it’s a strange election. It’s a strange reaction by certain people, where we are in our issues is strange. Like, it’s kinda not adding up, which to me, makes me feel like there’s another shoe to drop. Whatever the process is, it hasn’t completely played itself out, which is why we don’t really know yet and we’re not going to know. 

But I think that if I were a republican operative listing to the exit poll that you just mentioned, I would think, “Okay, well, if people who think that it’s getting worse, vote for us.”. Then we really gotta drive up those worst numbers next time. We have to convince people that this is a thing. And so, one of the things that we have to do is to like, really begin to pour more money into that. And so, I think the good news is that right now for trans people, as of today, it’s a relatively good result. But it feels like we’re in the middle of the eye of the hurricane, kind of, where everything goes quiet. But then, kind of, the back end is coming and that’s where the tough part is. And I guess that, that maybe where I feel that we are, and I think that that’s why this just seems so strange. 

Katelyn: I’ve been covering elections as a journalist since 2016, when Trump beat Hillary Clinton. This is the first election where in the week after election day and we don’t have these pundits on TV or in the New York Times, [inaudible] people for why Democrats lost. 

Imara: That’s right. 

Katelyn: So, I think that in and of itself is a good sign. The second thing I’ll say is imagine what getting worse on trans issues looks like, right? ‘Cause think back over the last six months, you have children’s hospitals getting bomb threats from conservatives. If conservatives firebombing venues that hosted [inaudible], you had LGBT people branded as pedophiles on a daily basis. Things were already bad. Now, imagine them getting worse from there. Do you think that is going to persuade anybody that voted for Democrats in this election to switch sides? 

Imara: Yeah, I think that that’s the point. And I think that one of the things that we’ve underestimated is how the threat of violence overall… Like, when people think about crime, they think, “Oh, we mean like urban crime.”, but I really think that people interpret that as violence and instability. That’s what I think. And I think that you can think about crime as “Oh, I might robbed when I go to the drugstore.”. 

But if you live in a community where there are mass shootings or have been mass shootings, if you live in a community where health care facilities that provide health care to kids are being threatened with bombs, or having to close down out of fear.  And if you feel like there are armed insurrectionists that, for example, in Michigan, I think one of the reasons why they did so well, there is that there was a plot to kidnap the governor, try her in the woods and execute her there. That, that is also a feeling of violence. And I think that you’re right, that there’s an underestimation of the way in which feeling like we’re in an unstable society is playing into this. And a part of that is trans issues. Like, if someone, if this continues, I think you’re right. I think it adds to that fear. 

Katelyn: But I think Democrats can respond by saying “Look at these guys.”, like, “Look at these a-holes. Look at what they’re doing. Is this what you want, you know, representing you?”.  And I think that this election is proven, can be a very effective way to push back. And then, the only question then is, will Democrats have the spine to actually do that? 

Imara: Well, that’s all what we used to question, indeed. But for me, I think I will end with hope which is the more trans people get elected to office, the more other trans people get inspired to run. And so, I think, what’s amazing is that I think that we’re gonna see even more candidates run in 2024. And I think that, uh, more of them will win and that’s really good news for us. And the other good news is that by and large, we have a president in the White House who, although hasn’t moved legislatively on trans stuff, is generally supportive of our issues and has spoken out about it. And so, those are two good things for us to be hopeful about over the next two years. 

Katelyn: Yeah, for sure. And I’m definitely feeling a lot better waking up this morning than I did waking up Tuesday morning. So, uh, that has to count for something, right? 

Imara: Well, on that note, we will end, surprisingly, for everybody listening on a tremendous note of hope in this election and what is to come, even if we remain slightly confused and slightly reticent but it’s, it’s good for now. So, that’s good enough. Katelyn, thank you so much for joining us, really appreciate it. During a crazy time in which we’re also trying to figure out what the world is going on, really appreciate it. 

Katelyn: Yeah. Thanks again for having me on.

Imara: That was journalist, Katelyn Burns. 

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Imara: Thank you for joining me on that TransLash podcast. Now, listen all the way through to the end of the show for something extra. Special thanks however, first goes to Derek for giving us five star review on Apple Podcast. Derek says “Thank you for reminding us and the world that there are so many ways to be trans. It’s a pleasure to hear Imara interview my favs and be introduced to new artists and activists for changing the game. Special shout-out to the section on Trans Joy, because we are so much more than the challenges we face. We’ll be recommending.”. 

Well, Derek, thank you so much for your kind words and for recommending the show. If you, out there, besides Derek, want to help support the show, go ahead and leave your five star review on Apple Podcast. As I’ve said many times, trolls are out there dragging down our ratings. So, we really need you to weigh in, give us those five stars and write your review. The TransLash podcast is produced by TransLash Media. The translation team includes Oliver-Ash Kleine and Aubrey Calloway. Our intern is Marana Munson Burn. Sandra Adams is a contributing producer to the show and our sound engineer. Digital strategy is also handled by Daniela Capistrano. The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of ZZK Records. 

The TransLash podcast is made possible by the support of foundations and listeners like you.

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Imara: What am I looking forward to? Well, I’m looking forward to next week because we at TransLash have the whole week off. Bring down the balloon. Super excited about that. Like many of you, we are exhausted and so need the time off. I’m also ecstatic because this is the first time that me and a group of friends are actually going to get together since before the pandemic. I can’t believe that it’s been three years. So, that’s going to be a good time and I can’t wait to connect with them. I don’t know about y’all but I have a really weird connection with time. Sometimes, 2019 feels like last year and sometimes last month feels like 2019. So, I just don’t know what’s going on but I’m thrilled to be connected with them. 

And I’m just sending the best to you, I know that for many in our community, next week is not going to be easy. So, I hope that you will be able to do things that make yourself feel special and loved. And for those of you who are not going to be with your biological family, I hope that you’re ‘friendsgivings’. If you are able to do that, are also going to be, uh, good and nourishing for you in so many ways. And that we all take the time to take a breather because there’s a long way to go. And as we spoke about in this podcast, we might have a breather right now but it probably won’t last. So, try to make next week as good as you can. And I don’t know, let’s see if [chuckles], if, let’s see if, like, the Black Friday deals help us beat inflation? I don’t know.

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[END]

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