TRANSCRIPT: Translash Podcast Episode 88 ‘Election 2024: Primaries Update’

The 2024 Presidential Primary season is underway, and Imara talks with two political journalists about the state of U.S. politics. First she’s joined by POLITICO’s Playbook writer and White House Correspondent, Eugene Daniels. He discusses why he refuses to sacrifice his personal style while working in D.C, what he saw in his reporting in South Carolina, and how President Joe Biden’s campaign is thinking about the reelection strategy. Next, Imara is joined by journalist Katelyn Burns to talk through the stakes of this election for trans people, and the declining demand for trans perspectives in journalism.


Person: Just a quick heads up that this episode of the TransLash Podcast was recorded before Tuesday’s primary elections in Michigan. [music]

Imara Jones: Hey fam, it’s me, Imara. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast, a show where we tell trans stories to save trans lives. Well, it’s been a turbulent presidential primary season so far from the rise and fall of Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign. Not everyone booed at once to Donald Trump’s mounting legal problems and the surprising shows of strength for Joe Biden. Just last weekend, South Carolina’s Republican primary notched, another win for Donald Trump, but also revealed stubborn support for his opponent, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. And all of this is just at the presidential level. There are wild things happening as well in Congress and in the state capitals across the country. To try to make sense of all of this, I wanted to talk to two journalists who have their fingers on the pulse of politics. First, I’ll chat with political reporter Eugene Daniels about his perspective on the latest developments in the primaries.

Eugene Daniels: This feels like 2016. That should be a red, like a scary alarm bell for the Biden folks. But they feel deeply that the decisions they’ve made and will make-will make sense to voters in November.

Imara: And after that, Katelyn Burns comes back on the show to talk through what she’s keeping her eye on.

Katelyn Burns: I think on a federal level, the more important races is for Congress and Senate. I think our Republican trifecta would be extremely bad for trans people.

Imara: So I’m really looking forward to these conversations because listen, I mean, we all need to process this mess of an election, and we need more political coverage that’s accessible to our community. That’s why I’m excited to tell you about a new initiative we’re launching for our most dedicated listeners. It’s a new show called, The Mess, more as guide to our political hellscape. Every other week, I’ll be unpacking all of the wildness going on in our world to bring you the news that you need to know. And even though things are kind of dark right now, it’s not all going to be dreary because there are so many laugh-out-loud, funny, ridiculous moments happening that of course, we can all shade because we’re gonna go through this upside-down world of politics together. Now, you’re gonna have to pay for this show, sorry to say it, but it’s just 4.99 a month. I mean, a pack of gum in New York City where I live is almost $3, and the mess is even less if you subscribe for the whole year, helping to support the free content we’re always making at TransLash. The Mess will only be available on Apple Podcast. You can subscribe by getting a TransLash fam membership in the Apple Podcast app. Just go to the top of this show and click subscribe. Do it now so you don’t miss the show. That’s gonna help us all get through 2024. Now, before we get to the rest of today’s episode of the TransLash Podcast, let’s start out as always, with some trans joy.


Even though politics is a lot right now, there are so many incredible people working every day to make our political system more fair and inclusive. Chanel Haley is one of them. She was the first Black trans person to be hired by the Georgia House of Representatives and the first trans person to chair a city of Atlanta Board. Chanel has also sat on school advisory boards, conducted trainings for police departments, and led efforts for trans-inclusive housing programs and she’s been celebrated for all of this hard work. Chanel received two national awards from the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition and was honored as the 2019 Atlanta Pride Grand Marshall. She’s currently serving as the director of education and community engagement for Georgia Equality. Chanel shared some of her wisdom about the ways that we could all become decision-makers in state and local politics. Here’s what she had to say.

Chanel Haley: Well, first, obviously, um, registering to vote is something that everybody who lives in the United States should be doing. And then the other thing is how you can get involved to be a policymaker without actually even getting elected to office is by, you know, being on board to commissions. And so, one thing is that you would talk to, you know, a policy maker about an issue that’s important to you, and then when it comes time for them to appoint a person that will be able to speak on that, then that is when you wanna put your name and best foot forward to be able to be there, to be that resource and to kind of guide how that should go. I think it’s a great training ground and this is the way that you have the ear of the media and that you are making policies that affect your life and your community’s life, again, without even having to be elected to office.


Imara: Chanel Haley, you are trans joy. [music] I am so excited for this conversation with the sartorially inspired White House correspondent and co-author of Politico’s Playbook, Eugene Daniels. Eugene has been covering everything from the midterms to the Democratic Presidential primary at Politico since 2018. He’s also part of the Playbook team, which is essential reading for anyone wanting to keep up with the latest developments in DC. As an out-Black gay man, Eugene is breaking all kinds of molds in the political world, and he’s bringing a critical perspective to the conversation. For instance, Eugene was the moderator for Politico’s Confronting Inequality Town Hall series, which examined policing housing and more in 2020. You might also catch him regularly on MSNBC as a political analyst and Morning Joe contributor. Before Politico, Eugene covered the 2016 primary and general election as a political reporter at Newsy. He is also on the board of the White House Correspondents’ Association and set to take on the role of president starting in June. Eugene, thank you so much.

Eugene Daniels: Thank you so much for having me. What a fun intro. That was very nice. Thank you very much.

Imara: Thank you. Well, it’s easy to do a nice intro with you. Um, I, I did say that you were sartorially inspired because let’s just face it, your fashion is, its own thing. It’s a brand. Honestly, if you just go to Google and Google Eugene Daniel’s wedding dress or outfit, it speaks volumes. Um, first of all, I just wanna know like how in a town renowned for no style, like do you actually have style and you have the bravery to have style and you have a style that breaks gender conventions and norms in a town which is rife with them. Like how, how did you have the courage essentially to do that?

Eugene Daniels: You know what’s funny is one, thank you. That’s very, that’s very kind.

Imara: It’s just true.

Eugene Daniels: It’s, I mean, I do like color. I like, you know, big shoulders. I like, uh, you know, high-waisted pants. I love a boot, with a heels…

Imara: Tight fits.

Eugene Daniels: Tight fits, exactly. Um, I think part of it, and this is gonna maybe sound silly to people, but do you remember Scandal with Olivia Pope, Kerry Washington?

Imara: Yes. Yes.

Eugene Daniels: So like, there was something about that show before I, watching that show before I came to DC that kinda was like, “Oh, you can kind of do whatever you want.” And sure, it is completely fictional, right?

Imara: Hmm-mm.

Eugene: But seeing this like really strong Black woman walking around in whatever the hell she wanted to in Washington DC kind of gave me this idea, I think in the back of my head to do it. And then when I got here, I was like, “You know what? I’m just gonna…” I just, it, I started slowly, right? It was like a lighter blue to see how that worked in the, in the White House briefing room, you know, a belted black jacket instead of like a belted blue jacket and see how people are taking. And what I realized is that one, people, you know, they, they’re very complimentary, but two people are not looking at me as much as I think they are sometimes, uh, when it comes to like the clothing, um, because everyone’s so focused on the things happening in their own lives. There’s so much going on in the world. Um, and so I take solace with that. And I also, I came out late-ish and I, when I was 27, so about eight years ago. And when I did that, I told myself, and I made a promise to myself and to everyone who I came out to, including my family, that, like, I am never again going to be anyone but myself.

And so if that means I want to start wearing nail polish, I will do that. If that means I’m gonna grow my hair out as a big afro. And that’s something that you don’t see in Washington DC and definitely not in the White House briefing room a lot. If I’m gonna wear a purple ensemble on Morning Joe. Today, before I came here, like, I’m just gonna do it. And it really wasn’t about breaking anything, or even people always asking me if I was trying to make a political statement, and it kind of wasn’t. It was just like me being me and I wanted to like honor that promise to myself. And I hear from young Black queer kids or their parents or their teachers who see me on television and talk about how the kid wonder where nail polish, but he got made fun of at school and then she asked me to send pictures of me on television or next to the president and vice president with nail polish on, the gravity of what that means for queer kids like me who did not get that, right? Who did not have that kind of outward expression so much. And so it is both fun and also I am starting to really grapple with and understand that it actually means something to, to a lot of people other than, you know, a fabulous color.

Listen to Episode 76 of TransLash Podcast: Trans Fashion Week

Imara: That’s right. That’s right. And your nail polish always matches. [inaudible] add that. So it’s always well thought out. I, I think I totally relate to everything that you’re saying because when I was in DC in the early 2000s, it felt really stifling to me. And every time that I was in the West Wing or in the executive office building, which is part of the White House complex, it feels very, it felt very gendered, like very stifling.

Eugene: Yeah.

Imara: And so I think that for people who may not be as familiar with that world, the fact that you are who you are makes a statement because of that, right?

Eugene Daniels: Yeah.

Imara: Because of the fact that you are breaking barriers just by showing up.

Eugene Daniels: I feel like, you know, I’m already, I’m six-three, I played college football, so I’m like broad-shouldered. I have a huge Afro, I’m Black, I’m already like, kind of not in these spaces as is. [inaudible] a small part of me also. Like, let’s give them something to look at. You’re gonna be looking, if you’re gonna be looking over here at this Afro or like, you know, I’ve been in spaces where I’m like the only Black person in there. And so it’s like I, you, you know, and you’ve been to those spaces too, where people are like, “What the hell? What the hell are they doing here?” And so, you know, there’s a part of me that also kind of gets a little bit of, um, petty joy from, from the haters who are, who are looking and not wanting me to be in space. It’s like, “Well, baby, you can’t kick me out. I’m here, so. You may not like this purple, but I’m here.”

Imara: It’s, that’s also the way that Black people and queer people historically have used fashion, right?

Eugene Daniels: Yeah. Yeah.

Imara: Exactly as you are discussing, you know, like if you’re gonna look, I’m gonna give you something to look at

Eugene Daniels: Exactly. Exactly.

Imara: And ponder, give you something to ponder. [chuckles] Well, that was probably the most laughs and fun we are gonna have this conversation because now we have to actually get to-get what you paid to do to talk about.

Eugene Daniels: Yeah. Yeah.

Imara: And that is politics. And I wanna start in a place that is unexpected probably, uh, because for our listeners, it probably is the area that most immediately will impact their lives. And that is the situation in Congress and specifically with the appropriations bills and the degree to which the Republicans are making the writers that they’re placing on these bills. And for listeners, writers are essentially policy direction for the government. That don’t have anything to do with how the government spends money but it’s a way, if you can’t pass a bill, for example, to restrict gender-affirming care, you’ll attach something called a right or to the appropriations bill, which does that, which has the, the force of law, if it’s passed. The degree to which they have attached, I think it’s over 40 LGBTQ writers, and a large chunk of those deal specifically with gender-affirming care, right? The way to which anti-trans politics has made its way into kind of a gladiator sense in the Republican Party of how they’re willing to shut down the government over these issues. And so, I am wondering if you can just talk a little bit about the decision-making in the caucus to fall on this sword and be willing to shut down the government because you want to deny gender-affirming care, or because you don’t want there to be DEI taught in schools including LGBTQ issues.

Eugene Daniels: You’re right. We always see these, right? And, and here in DC and people call them poison pills, right? There are also things that they put in knowing that they’re probably not gonna go through, but they wanna just make a statement. As a reporter, you’re always struggling with, how do you talk about Washington DC it being broken when it doesn’t feel like it’s both parties doing the breaking all the time, right? Like…

Imara: That’s right.

Eugene Daniels: And so, so we kinda have to take it moment by moment. And in, in this current moment, you have a lot of members of the Republican Party who are one not interested in governing, right? Who are, who came here with the idea that government’s not working, so we should destroy it instead of what Republicans used to think, even if you disagree with them, which was, you know, that’s government, you know, that kind of thing. How do we make their less things happening for certain people and-and-and prying into certain people’s lives? And so what you have now is members of the Republican, the far right, and the Republican Party, and more importantly the House Republican Conference, who are willing to gum up the works, who are willing to shut down the government, who are willing to not pass anything, who willing to not do anything because they want to make a point, right? A lot of these writers are one, the, the, for folks who are worried about them, Democrats are paying attention. The-the-the Biden White House is paying attention. So if they get in the bill, it’s unlikely those with those poison pills would pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate that they would get to President Biden’s desk. And even if it were to, President Biden is very, very unlikely to sign something that has some of these anti-LGBTQ, anti-DEI writers in them.

But what it tells you kind of about this moment is that these folks know that the people back home are uncomfortable with hate, upset with, don’t like certain groups of people, right? And largely marginalized people. LGBTQ, people, people don’t, you know, some of these folks for them are telling their, their congressmen and women, I used to be able to say stuff, but now I can’t say stuff. And they feel like there’s a “control over their life” from this like liberal elite in Washington DC and New York City as opposed to a shift in culture about how we all engage with each other and talk about things. And language has always changed, right? There are a lot of words that, you know, when language first started that meant one thing and now they mean something completely different. And the kind of mindset in the Republican Party right now, and with Mike Johnson, who’s the speaker of the house, people don’t have a lot of faith in his, how he operates.

They don’t know him that well. When you heard the Speaker of the House was Mike Johnson and you said, ”Huh?” A lot of people in DC did as well, right? A lot of people had not heard about him. The folks at the White House had not really heard about him. He was a backbencher. He was, um, someone that was on the far right. And the more that you find out about how he operates, he keeps things very close to the chest. He has made a lot of promises. And as a member of that kind of far-right constituency on house Republicans, they feel like they are going to be able to do, get all the political and policy ones that they’ve been wanting to get through him, right? They feel that these writers are gonna make it through, it’s gonna, that he needs to score some political points outside of the idea of spending less money in government, right? And so you have a situation where the, all these appropriation bills we have about a week now before the government would shut down, t is very, um, it’s-it’s hard to see how you get all of those, you know, things out of committee onto the house floor, to the Senate, to the president’s desk. It’s much more likely one that we’ll have a partial shutdown or two, there will be some kind of continuing resolution, which basically says, kicks the can down the road and gives them a few more weeks or months or whatever to do this. When the last continuing resolution was signed, the way they did it, and Mike Johnson wanted to do it, was kinda like this laddered way. And so, it won’t be all of the government that would shut down. It’ll be this weird partial shutdown. And so, now in which people were like worried about anyway, it’s like, if we couldn’t get a entire shutdown from happening, what makes you think a partial shutdown is gonna make it feel better? Because the stakes are lower, right? For people in Washington DC but for all of the people listening, all of the people around this country, these are things that they will deal with their lives on a daily basis. And it’s gonna, that’s when you start seeing the political backlash is when people start losing access to things that they were having before.

Imara: Yeah. I think that that’s exactly right. And the more they do continuing resolutions, which are just these short-term extensions to fund the government…

Eugene: Yeah.

Imara: …in a political year, it gets harder and harder to get a budget for the entire, uh, year because of, um, the increasing politics. So, so we’ll see. I mean, also I think that, as you say, like it’s really important for people to understand Mike Johnson, right? Mike Johnson, for anyone who’s listening to this podcast or our companion anti-trans hate machine, you know, Mike Johnson is a dominionist, right? This sort of far, very, very particular extreme version of Christianity and how it intersects with politics and also really longstanding ties to Alliance Defending Freedom. So I think that, you know, Mike, as you say, is an unknown quantity. And the more that people get to know him, it’s just not clear what he’s gonna do. One of the questions that I think is really important right now as well is the Republican primary and such that it is.

Eugene Daniels: Right.

Imara: To what extent is this a show primary? That is to say where it’s pretty much baked in with the wins that Donald Trump has been making, the way that he’s gaining even tighter control over the Party. The current Republican Party chair, Ronald McDaniel, who’s related to Mitt Romney is resigning and they’re gonna put in a Trump acolyte. People are saying it could be members of his family, like he’s has growing control over this Party. And so we know that. And so to what extent is this a show primary or are we learning things that are important and gonna play out in the actual election?

Eugene Daniels: Yeah, I’m gonna say it’s both actually. Um, I sound like a politician, but, um, but, you know, I was just in South Carolina for that primary, my family’s from South Carolina, so it was the one I was like, I wanna go to South Carolina where it’s warm and I know people. Um, and so, you know, when I went there and when talking to the reporters and, and kind of just the feeling that we’ve kind of all had, is it, it does feel like a show, right? It’s like we know how this book is gonna end. It’s like we’ve already read it, it was okay the first time this book, it was fine, you know, there was a lot of weird characters, but it’s gonna end with the same result. And so, it takes a little of the, as reporters kind of like the excitements of the twists and turns, right? Of politics where it’s, you know, that-that kind of horse racey feel that I know a lot of people don’t like, but it tells you a lot about how a political Party is thinking, how it’s changing, how it’s moving, what the, what bills and policies they may chase, right? Based on the primary and based on the conversations that those running ha-having during that time, that has not been the case here, right? Donald Trump didn’t do one debate this primary. And so the conversations we heard, it was basically like the people who are not gonna win, the people who are probably going to be, who are who, some of them are on his vice presidential shortlist or long list, and people who will probably be the future of the Party. So what they said on stage was great for 2028, and for those who are governors and-and such for people to pay attention to what may be coming in the states, right? But not a real, not-not to the, to the federal policies that are gonna be coming forward. And you know, Donald Trump is running kind of as this quasi-incumbent, right? He’s not the incumbent, he hasn’t been president for more than three years at this point, and yet the hold he has on this Party is something unlike we’ve ever seen in politics, right?

It-it is a-a cult of personality. He doesn’t really care about policy. He doesn’t really have kind of a North Star on ideology. It’s all about, a lot of it right now is revenge and retribution. It’s about knocking down the other team. It’s about appearing to be strong in the way that he thinks about strength in a way that, uh, the Republican Party is talking about strength currently. And you have Nikki Haley, who her whole point is that Donald Trump in her eyes cannot win a general election. She is proving by staying in and getting the votes that she’s getting, with the coalition she’s getting that Donald Trump, there are red-red sirens for Donald Trump in the general election, right? He’s not gonna have a problem in this-in this primary. He lost 40%. She got about 40% in South Carolina [inaudible]. That’s not great if you’re an incumbent, right? Like if you’re, if I’m Joe Biden and I was only getting 60% in the state like South Carolina, which is tailor-made for Donald Trump, I would be worried, right? Like, I would be a little concerned that that happened. But the feeling within her campaign is that they have to point these things out and, and at some point, people are gonna, you know, realize that she’s the general election candidate and then change their minds. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. She’s trying to get from A to C, which is the general election without going through B the primary, right? Like, she’s like-she’s-like she’s telling people, you know, “I’m the general election candidate, I can win the general election” And that may be true, but like, you have to get through the primary. It’s not just an ideological hold that Donald Trump has over this Republican Party.

It’s also like, just actually the, the tactician, like the-the way that after 2020 and even during that election, his team began to professionalize, right? And the way that we think about politics, right? Understanding delegate math for the first time, understanding that you put people in the state parties who are, who are acolytes of yours, then you are able to control the primaries, you’re able to control the process a little bit more. Those people are gonna make decisions that will benefit you. This quasi-incumbent running in a field that at one point had about 10 people saying they were running for president. That is the, on the Republican primary. But all of those red sirens that I’m saying, like they should be worried about, um, white suburban women. they still don’t have a kind of coherent strategy or, or messaging on abortion. The IVF ruling in Alabama has really sent them into a tailspin, not to mention all of the other bills that, you know, they are just kind of out of step, or policies they’re out of step with, with the American people, right? And if you look at the coalition that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump with, it is very similar to the coalition of Nikki Haley is building and losing in the Republican primaries. It’s not a Republican primary group of people, but it is very much a general election coalition. And so, as you see people say that, you know, one in five of these Republicans who voted in South Carolina and say they’re not gonna vote for Donald Trump in November, that doesn’t matter really in South Carolina. South Carolina is a very conservative and red state, but we can-we can zoom out and see that happening in a lot of the swing states, right? And in Arizona, in a Michigan, in a…

Imara: Georgia.

Eugene Daniels: Georgia, in a Georgia, in a Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin, those kinds of things will matter around the country. And the Trump people should be more concerned than they are about the things that are popping up. And we’re seeing in the kind of cross tabs of, of these polls and exit polls.

Imara: One of the things that strikes me is the way that which the political establishment continues to cover the Republican Party as if it’s a standard Republican Party, um, from recent American history, right? And generally in line with the political party system that, you know, we’ve had since actually post the Civil War, right? Um, and the interesting thing is that we’re, people talk about Nikki Haley and Donald Trump, and from the outside, Nikki Haley looks like the moderate in that party, right? But when you actually look at their policy positions, a lot of times there’s not that big of a difference between the two.

And the two final candidates in the Republican Party are both virulently, anti-trans in terms of the laws and legislation that they are saying that they would produce. I-I’ve heard certain political reporters tell me that when they’re out on the stump with Donald Trump, you know, people have kind of heard that speech over and over, you know, and kind of glaze over. But that some of his biggest applause lines now are when he is talking about issues related to gender and gender identity, for example. And so, I’m wondering how the political establishment can make that adjustment to actually covering the Republican Party as it is, because, you know, we’re talk– they look as if they are a contrast, but when you look at their policies, they’re both what would’ve been even in the Reagan era considered to be, you know, far-right kind of Pat Robertson politics.

Learn more about the #AntiTransHateMachine.

Eugene Daniels: Yeah. I mean, it is a really difficult needle of threat for political reporters, but more importantly, the institutions in which we work, right? I’m lucky to work at a place like Politico where we are allowed to say something is racist or something was a lie, or something was transphobic or, or homophobic, right? When that language is allowed to be used, that is not the case everywhere. And so, what you’re seeing is these organizations try to figure out, “Okay, we know these things, you know, and within their minds and hearts and kind of the definition are racist, whatever, transphobic. And yet, how do we say that without seeming so one-sided?” Right? And so that is, that is at the heart of the struggle of-of-of this conversation. And also there’s a lack of diversity in a lot of these places, right? Like…

Imara: That’s right.

Eugene Daniels: There is… right? Like there’s a think about how many trans political reporters, you know, out trans political reporters that you know, right?

Imara: Hmm-mm.

Eugene: You know, I could name some, um, you could probably name some, but the problem with being able to name some, it means there’s only so many, right? And so, you know, one at the 19th, there’s-there-there are others, not all of them are out also, right?

Imara: That’s right.

Eugene Daniels: Because that’s your retribution. And so, there aren’t always people in the rooms being able to say and push, “No, no, no, no, no. Wait a second. What-what-what they said here has nothing to do with policy and it’s about culture.” Right? I’m obsessed with pop culture and I’ve always been obsessed with politics. And for me, both of those things really tell you where the country is, right? The conversations you’re having, uh, in and about politics and the conversations you’re having in and about culture, it tells you where the country is and more importantly, for many of us in marginalized groups where it’s going. And the Republican Party at this point, leaders of that party, the people with the biggest bullhorns in that party are not just saying the quiet part out loud, right? About-about how the-the many of the party feel right? About the gender identity. My, um, sibling is gender non-conforming. And so, we as a family, when they came out to us, we had to, we had to switch from to they, right? And it was for, especially for the older people, you have to be like, they’d be like, da,-da-da, she, they, they, they, you know what I mean? And, and, and kind of lovingly do that. It is very hard to have that conversation at the national level, right?

Imara: That’s right.

Eugene Daniels: It is, it’s not easy it on a personal level, but it is very, very difficult and almost impossible to have that conversation at a higher level because people will come at you with talking about, “Well, that’s just not grammatically correct.” It’s like, we use plural for singular all the time, first of all. It is about people in the Republican Party, and largely these are, uh, tend to be older, white, very religious people. People who consider themselves conservative, kind of in a cultural sense, not so much in like the actual fiscal policy sense, if that makes sense. Like it’s a, it could, the, the word conservative has changed a little bit changing language, um, and they don’t want to be told what to do or what to say. And when I talk to those folks, sometimes they basically say like, I don’t want them telling me how to talk, right? And so what they’re saying is, “I’m at the top of this heap. I don’t want the people at the bottom or the middle of this heap telling me what I have to say now.” And that is with, that is without question within the Republican Party, it is with the many of the policies that we’re seeing and what Donald Trump did not, he didn’t create this, right? He has uncovered it. He’s given I think agency and-and-and given people license to-to say what’s on their mind, say what they were saying behind closed doors and not be embarrassed about it, not feel shame about it. And that is something that I think this country, the Republican Party for sure, but this country is gonna have to continue to grapple with for years and years and years. Because that huge shift of no one can tell me what to do, no one can tell me what to say. I feel like a victim because the world is changing. I’m seeing people who didn’t have power before have all this damn power. Where did they get it? Did they take it from me? Did they take it from my kids? My non-existent grandchildren? Like, where did this power come from? When I’m talking to these folks, what I often hear without them saying is like, they think of rights as like pie or cake, like cake, like that If you take a slice out, now there’s a missing slice, right? But it’s not cake or pie, right? Like, just because I have more rights or I have more agency, or the country’s listening to me more they put me at-at a table, doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be there, right? That is the difference in these conversations. And add into that this Republican Party consistently needing boogie people when they move forward, and they have currently chosen trans people, gender non-conforming people, right?

As the scary people who are gonna come after you that, you know, these scary trans kids playing in these, on-on these sports teams and creating laws for everybody, when really the-the amount of kids who are trans, who are looking to play on a team that is in line with their gender identity is so small, right? But what’s much larger is the amount of trans kids who are seeing the way that this country is talking about them, talking around them, shaming them, saying terrible things about them. That group is disproportionately large when it comes to kids who are going to commit suicide, who are going to be homeless, who are going to go through this life feeling completely alone, right? It is-it is a often, um, a solution looking for a, a problem. And when you have those politics and culture so intertwined, and the person at the top who’s willing to take on people’s worst instincts, sometimes, oftentimes, um, is the way that Donald Trump thinks about it, that is just gonna get worse and worse. And, you know, you can also hear if you’re paying attention, CPAC, this conservative conference that happened over the weekend here around Washington DC, there was someone who went up there and talked about marriage equality, right? So it’s like there, it is not just about creating laws for things that they see on the horizon, it does-it is also sometimes for these advocates on the Republican, on the conservative and Republican side, you know, going back to what they see as the country they want, which is they don’t want me and my husband to be married. If you’re paying attention and continue to pay attention in this election, you’ll hear what future fights folks are willing and-and-and really excited to have.

Imara: Right. That’s right. That’s right. And you know, we can see that these words have consequences with the tragic death of Nex Benedict, right? Like these are not, these words are not consequence-free, right? They have a real-world impact. Lastly, I wanted to switch sides a little bit and talk a little bit about Joe Biden and the reelection of Joe Biden. I think you sat down recently as well with the, with the Vice President and one of the things I am wondering is, does the campaign hear and or recognize the weaknesses that everyone else perceives about them, right? Like, that’s the thing that you often wonder about, right? Because if kind of campaigns and a candidate recognizes that the perceptions and the things that people are saying about them are driving their willingness to show up for them, or questioning about showing up for them, that they, you can begin to fix those things if you acknowledge them. And I’m wondering if there is an acknowledgment of the actual series of weaknesses that people perceive about Joe Biden, right? Uh, about age, about unfulfilled promises, about, um, the war which has split the Democratic Party along some key constituencies. We’ll see what in the Michigan primary, but that could be a, an interesting test if, you know, not voting for any candidate shows up a lot for the Democrats. ’cause that’s an option. I’m wondering what are you hearing from the inside of the Biden-Harris administration about their perception of what everyone else is saying? Or do they think that it’s just noise?

Eugene Daniels: So you have to acknowledge that there’s a problem and you have to believe that the people that are coming to you have some leg to stand on. And I think largely, and I’ve written about this and I’ve talked about this, this is a White House, and now, a campaign that has been told over and over and over again, “They can’t and they won’t and it won’t happen.” Right?

Imara: Hmm-mm, that’s right. All their bills and things that they passed, yeah. That’s right.

Eugene Daniels: Exactly. Exactly. So doing that, they always say like, “You guys, you reporters, told us that, you know, the infrastructure bill wouldn’t happen then Inflation Reduction Act wouldn’t happen. This gun bill wouldn’t happen.” And we did it.

Imara: That’s right.

Eugene Daniels: And so, other democrats were saying that Democrats were telling them to stop talking about abortion and small democracy going into the midterms to only talk about the economy, right?

Imara: That’s right.

Eugene: And so…

Imara: And those things carried them closer to victory than they thought was possible.

Eugene Daniels: Exactly.

Imara: They almost won the house over it. Yeah, that’s right.

Eugene Daniels: Exactly, exactly right. They had this historic performance in-in 2022 as Democrats. And so what that tells you, what that told them is that we should continue to look and listen internally, right? And so President Biden, um, has a very close group of people who have been with him for a very long time, right? When you’re trying to write stories about him as vice president, it’s very difficult because a lot of those people work in the White House, right? So they’re not talking. And so that circle really believes in itself, right? In-in its abilities and, and when you talk to them and say, ”Hey, these people are saying this.” “Well, these people said this before, and look at what we got?” And they name off these things, right? And so, they said basically the proof is in the pudding. We have defied expectations. People have, um, written us off before, and look at what we did. People didn’t think he was gonna win the primary, people didn’t think he was gonna win the election,people didn’t think all these bills were gonna happen, and they’re right, right? They are right. People didn’t think those things were going to happen. A 2024 election in the ge-general election is completely different, right? It is not a bill, it’s not a policy. And it’s not just a question about like whether Republicans are mad at J-Joe Biden. It is a question for, for him and the campaign. Do you see the cracks within your, not your base, which is older Black people, but with groups that you really need young people, Black and brown people, people that feel like you didn’t fulfill promises, and whether it was you or the Senate that stopped, you know, voting rights or whether it was you or the courts, is the reason people don’t have $10,000 off on their, or $20,000 off in some cases on their student loans, even though they are doing other things to forgive student loans. People don’t wanna hear all that.

I recently just talked to some Democrats who were just frustrated. They feel like it’s falling on deaf ears. They-they are concerned and worried, and they feel like they’re not, that concern and worry is not being matched and that it’s not operating that way. But internally, the way these folks work is like, you know what? We’re gonna make our decision. We’re gonna move forward. And they’re very like pragmatic about it in a way that I think is really frustrating for Democrats outside of the White House, because they’re hearing, like in Michigan, for example. The Michigan lawmakers and advocates, um, who are Democrats will say, ”We’ve been hearing from people for a long time that they’re not gonna vote for Joe Biden in this state, not just now, but in November because of what’s happening in, in Israel and Gaza.” They have been telling them, and these people tell us they don’t understand the gravity of this. So Michigan will be a test, right? We will see in Michigan, if I think the number was 10,000, is that they’re trying to get to, get 10,000 Democrats to vote uncommitted in the election, um, in the primary. Is that gonna happen? I don’t know. They try this with ceasefire in New Hampshire, right? And, and that did not impact Joe Biden. So there will need to be some kind of tangible like, “Oh, this did hurt for that shift to happen.” The way people are thinking is like, it’s February, we have a lot of time to continue to work with these constituencies and tell our story, but politics is about making people feel a certain way. It’s not always just like facts and figures and charts, right? Which is how, you know, Democrats often point to things, right? If people don’t feel like you’ve done something, it, it almost doesn’t matter.

Imara: That’s right. I mean, fundamentally, you know, a vote is actually an emotional choice and it is about, it is actually your declaration about how you see yourself and how you see the world, right? That’s actually what your vote is. And so they have to contextualize the Biden presidency within those two parameters for people. And if you’re not, then that could possibly spell trouble. The other thing is that we don’t really talk about is how there also been tangible rollbacks in people’s lives that they blame on Joe Biden. And what do I mean by that? The fact that the childcare credit went away, that people got, I think it was $300 a kid per month during the pandemic, that’s gone.

Eugene Daniels: And it pulled people out of poverty. It pulled 50%, they like say it pulled them out of poverty, yeah.

Imara: That’s right. And the child tax credit, those things are gone. And those things affect, you know, Black and brown people, especially people who are marginalized. But that’s, ’cause in Washington, no one got that right [laugh]. You know, you didn’t get those things. So it’s not a part of your radar. But you can understand the cynicism where, you know, people have these things, it did vastly improve their lives for a two year period. And as you say, for whatever reason, when you’re at the top, you get the blame, right? Um, those things went away. And that is also a part of the, that there are these tangible things that were in those COVID bills that Biden initially passed that people had. And now, now those things are gone and people feel that.

Eugene Daniels: It took them a while to understand that. We would ask them like, hey, people don’t feel like the economy’s better. And they’re like, look at the macroeconomics. And it’s like, well guys, right, I understand that. I’m reading that. I’m talking to the people who are operating in that world too. Like, I understand what you’re saying. I’m asking you why you have not been able to convince people that you did it, right? And Biden has been quite frustrated with that. He’s told his aides, he, he’s been basically kind of pissed off that people aren’t getting, giving him credit for those things, but they’re giving him credit for the CTC going away, even though he and Democrats have continued to fight to get that back in there, right? And to figure out a way to do more for kids. People do not care. They just don’t because the baby formula crisis, remember that? Like, that isn’t…

Imara: Yeah.

Eugene Daniels: It’s not something that a president has to do, but he had to figure out and this administration had to figure out a way to show people they are moving and operating for you, the person that lives in this country.

Imara: That’s right.

Eugene Daniels: And they were able to tell those stories, but then it went away. They’re not consistent enough. Republicans are very good at this. Whether something’s true or not, they repeat it from top to bottom. They have this media apparatus that does it. They go out and say it over and over and over and over again for months and months and months. So much so that when you go to these rallies, people just believe it. Whatever it is, Democrats don’t do that. And this, you talk to people in this administration, they will say, we haven’t done that. They have to figure out how the hell they’re gonna do that between now and November, right? They have to figure out how to do it or Donald Trump maybe president again, right? It is about, you have to tell the people what you’re doing. Their hope is that the more that Donald Trump is in the news consistently, it feels like he never left for me. I don’t know about you, but they feel like he will be in people’s lives every single day much more as we move forward to November. And people will kind of wake up to how chaotic the Trump presidency was and say, I don’t want that. That’s a big gamble to make, that people will feel that, especially when there’s such an anger at institutions that Democrats are upset with their many Democrats who don’t want Joe Biden to be running again. And so those people may not vote for Donald Trump, but they may stay home. Staying on your couch is, you know, the exact same vote as voting for the other person.

Imara: And the other thing that I think that people should just always keep in mind is that American elections, since 2000, are decided by a very, very small number of voters.

Eugene Daniels: Yeah.

Imara: For Joe Biden, last time, if 40,000 people out of whatever 150 million votes cast had cast their votes in different ways, then he wouldn’t be president. You know, if Donald Trump had had a 65,000 votes swing across three states to Hillary Clinton, again, out of north of 130 million votes cast, then he wouldn’t be president. And so it actually doesn’t take that many people to swing an election. And I think that that’s one of the things that you’re, you’re speaking to when you’re talking about it doesn’t take that many people who are pissed off or apathetic or angry for whatever reason, to decide who’s gonna be president with massive consequences.

Eugene Daniels: It’s that those margins, right? Those margins in a handful of states, and they understand that they’re kind of, do you know, both sides really are, are doing the work in those states, but do you understand why people aren’t doing it? Are you listening to the critiques? The answer often seems to be no on, on, in, on the Biden side at the top, right? Like when you talk to people who are kind of like in that middle tier on the campaign or even at the top of the campaign, but with not a lot of like FaceTime or power, they will talk to you in a different way than what you’re hearing at the top. They understand and saw how tough and rough his decisions as a president would impact him as a candidate, um, when it comes to Israel and Gaza and they get that, they don’t feel like it’s being heard at the top. What you had in 2016 with Hillary Clinton is Michigan, back to Michigan. People in Michigan, Democrats were on, on the state level, were saying, ”Hey, something’s wrong here. Something ain’t right. What we’re hearing from people is not, does not jive what the national polls are saying.” We have to remember, these aren’t national elections. These are elections, state by state, territory by territory. What the Hillary Clinton campaign was often saying to them was like, the data we have, the data, the data, can’t just focus on the, the data, right? And that is the same case now as you’re hearing from Democrats. One told my colleague Elena Schneider in a piece she did while she was in Michigan, this feels like 2016. That should be a red, like a scary alarm bell for the Biden folks. But they feel deeply that the decisions they’ve made and will make, will make sense to voters in November. That remains to be seen.

Imara: [music] Well with this conversation, I can’t believe it’s only February.

Eugene Daniels: Yeah.

Imara: Right. Like it’s February and this is the depth and the complexity of what we’re talking about. And it’s just only going to grow throughout the year. And everything is gonna be more and more complex. But I think that, I speak for everyone who’s listening that we are glad that you are doing your job…

Eugene Daniels: Thank you.

Imara: And continue to report in the way that you do. And I hope even though as election season becomes crazier and crazier that you’ll come back.

Eugene Daniels: Of course. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. This was so fabulous and I, I really take that to heart and appreciate that.

Imara: Thank you so much. That was political reporter Eugene Daniels. [music] I am so glad to have the opportunity to unpack the primary season with award-winning journalist and friend of this show, Katelyn Burns. Katelyn has been writing about US politics for many years. She made history as the first ever openly trans supporter to cover Capitol Hill, has worked as a political writer at Vox and is a freelance journalist and columnist at MSNBC. She’s written for the Washington Post, Teen Vogue, Vice and dozens of other publications, including our own, News and Narrative platform. Katelyn is also the host of the podcast Cancel Me Daddy. But Politics Isn’t All that Katelyn covers and recognition of her trailblazing reporting of trans sports and athletes. She was awarded the Triumph Award for journalism from Out Sports in 2021. Katelyn, thank you so much for joining us again.

Katelyn Burns: Yeah, thanks for having me again.

Imara: Again?

Katelyn Burns: Yes. [laugh]

Imara: It’s just February and I am wondering, as a political journalist, what month in a normal year would this feel like? Like I, it’s, it’s only the second month and I feel like we’re in June or something. I mean, how, how are you experiencing the political season so far?

Katelyn Burns: Oh, God. Um, yeah, it does feel later in the cycle than normal. I was thinking back to the 2020 election and at this point that year, we didn’t know that Biden was going to be the nominee. He had just won South Carolina and we were just at that point where people were coalescing around him. But like Bernie Sanders still was doing really well in that primary, so they had another couple of months to kind of settle who is gonna be the candidate. Whereas now we, we pretty much have known who the two candidates were going to be for a while now. Like he, it was pretty predictable that Trump was gonna come in and sweep the elections, although I would argue that his results are not as dominant as a lot of people have said they have been. It’s just that there’s no political will to oppose him at this point under Republican side. So it feels like we’re already in the sort of pre political convention when the parties get together for the conventions. It feels like we’re already in the runup to that, but it’s only February. We still have months of, you know, BS to go [laugh] to even get to that point, which is wild. From a personal standpoint, it’s been a really weird experience. I’ve felt kind of detached from all of it. I’ve popped up here and there to write a couple of stories whenever candidates mentioned trans people. But unlike 2020, I do not have like a part-time job where I’m covering the election, ’cause I was working for Vox at the time and I was working three days a week writing, you know, two stories a day. And they were mostly election related. There were occasional pieces about other things. I think I wrote about the Olympics one time, but it was mostly like, what is Trump doing?

And that’s all I wrote about or what are the Democrats doing? So been a very different experience, sort of being on the outside, looking in on the whole process this time. I will say selfishly it’s kind of nice because I don’t have to follow the nitty gritty of the every day he said, he said, uh, stuff that comes with the, the, the campaign season because it’s not my responsibility at this point to be covering it on a day in and day out basis. So, uh, it’s really nice for me because I can kind of just observe the higher level discourse and try to draw from it because I’ve switched from more of a reporter role to being more of an opinion call in this over the last several years.

Imara: I think that people are both shocked at kind of the strength that Donald Trump is showing so early, so fast after having, you know, spawn insurrection and you name it, like the litany of things that have happened. And then at the same time you’re saying that there’s some warning signs for Donald Trump. So can you just unpack what you think those warning signs are and what they could mean?

Katelyn Burns: Yeah, I mean, in South Carolina he won with like 58% of the vote. Uh, don’t quote me on that, but that’s the number that I, that I read. And that is not an incumbent number. Like, that is not the number of somebody who’s just the incumbent, who is expected to like goes to victory. Like that’s significant opposition. We’re only seeing it this way now because there were only two serious candidates left in South Carolina. Now granted it is Nikki Haley’s home state, so you would expect her to overperform there versus other places. But that does show that Donald Trump does not have this sort of universal appeal that I think the conventional political press ascribes to him. One of my frustrations with the Republican nomination process so far has been the other candidate’s reluctance to attack Trump. Like everybody has treated him as like this untouchable figure for so long, including press.

Including his rival candidates. And it wasn’t until extremely late when other candidates were feeling particularly desperate that they started to actually attack Trump. Most of the campaign season was them attacking each other and staying away from Trump. And they never like, gave Trump a reason to fight back. Like Trump’s there, you know, he’s doing his thing. He’s calling Ron DeSantis and meet Paul Ron, which I find hilarious ’cause I can’t stand Ron DeSantis. But there’s no like, pressure on him to like get involved. He didn’t even like show up at any of the debates because he didn’t feel he had to, right? And in the meantime, the people who were at the debates were attacking each other and knocking each other down. And it wasn’t until DeSantis dropped out late that Nikki Haley was like, oh crap, I don’t have anyone else to attack. I better go after Trump. And her numbers improved and his fell at that point. But I think if all of them had been united from the start in attacking him, I’m not sure they could have swayed it, but they, I think it, the race would be much more competitive today if they had done that than, than the course that they had chosen at the time.

Imara: A part of it though could be the fear of their personal safety. I mean, I think that one of the things that Mitt Romney said that one of the reasons why he’s not running for reelection is that his attacks on Donald Trump have not only put him in danger, but his family and that he spends an inordinate amount of money just trying to defend his own personal family. And so, and we see, even with Nikki Haley now requesting secret service protection because the fact that she’s now going after Trump more directly it is putting her at risk. So I’m wondering if the reluctance not only is an act of like, you know, political cowardice or even political calculation to be generous and charitable about it, but if it’s also the fact that these people are afraid of what Trump’s supporters will do to them.

Katelyn Burns: Yeah. I think that’s a fair critique of that. I mean, nobody knows what it’s like to be threatened in modern America more than us trans people. So like.

Imara: That’s right.

Katelyn Burns: I, I certainly relate to that fear for my own personal safety is why I personally wouldn’t run for office anywhere, even in, you know, the liberal state that I live in now. So I totally get that. But at the same time, like, um, I kind of don’t respect that approach because if you’re not willing to fight back against the bully, you’re just letting them win. And then those people have even more power to fight back against the next person that comes along to oppose them. So on the one hand, like, yes, I, I get that. And like your family’s safety is paramount, but it’s also kind of the coward’s way out. You’re in a political campaign, you chose politics as a career. That means you have to go out and campaign and fight and run against other people. And that’s just the nature of the this. That’s how democracy works. Maybe it’s a little bit harsh for me to say that, but you know, at, at the same time, like you’re leaving it to everybody else to deal with this mess because you’re afraid.

Imara: And bad news, you’re running for president and you know, the reality is that presidents receive death threats and sometimes even assassination attempts all the time. So if that’s your fear, then maybe you should be thinking about something else, I don’t know.

Katelyn Burns: [laugh] I mean, presidents have died multiple times.

Imara: That’s right.

Katelyn Burns: I was watching the movie, uh, 13 days the other day and I was reminded of JFK, um, and his brother who we were both assassinated.

Imara: Or Ronald Reagan or the… or I mean, you know, on and on. It’s not, not an insignificant number. So let’s talk a little bit about what you have written more about, which is what’s going on in the states.

Katelyn Burns: Yeah.

Imara: And, I mean, the fascinating thing is that, again, only two months in, we’ve already exceeded the number of proposed bills from last year, which is two months in. The bills are even more egregious and in places where you wouldn’t necessarily even expect it, there’s been, you know, some pretty severe bills and legislation already, right? I mean, you’ve written about, for example, what’s going on in Ohio and the fact that the governor vetoed an anti-trans bill and then instituted a really draconian executive order. And then the bill was the legislature overwrote him and it still was instituted and, you know, wild things that are happening in Tennessee, all the rest of it. What’s your take on what’s happening in the states?

Katelyn Burns: Yeah, Ohio is a really interesting example, uh, to bring up. Ohio is one of those like Midwestern red states that has been gerrymandered to the point where it’s almost impossible for Democrats to win on the state legislative level. And you mentioned the Governor Mike DeWine. He did propose regulations to heavily restrict gender affirming care after he vetoed the bill and it was overridden. But I will say he did back off from those regulations once the bill went into place. Now that’s kind of six of one half dozen of the other. It’s almost essentially the same outcome either way. But I have a, some frustrations with the legislative process so far. We are seeing more and more bills proposed, and I think that’s normal in an election year where Republicans really don’t have anything else to run on. We’re also seeing more bills fail. The last couple years we’ve seen the medical care bans and the sports bands have wild success. They basically swept the country and got instituted everywhere that there was a Republican majority and a Republican governor. Um, where there was only one of those, those bills did not pass. But having gotten those out of the way, these legislators now need something else to throw to their base who still rabidly hate trans people and think we shouldn’t exist. So they’re proposing more and more things. They’re not necessarily passing yet. So I want to caveat this by saying we don’t know what’s going to happen next necessarily with a lot of these bills. I think we shouldn’t necessarily panic every time a new bill is proposed in the first place. Uh, first of all, panicking limits our ability to fight back and organize. Um, I do think that trans people in some of these states that have the means to leave and move somewhere else should probably do that.

And I think most of them are. Um, I think those of us who are in blue states already need to figure out ways to organize help for the people who cannot escape because the reality is, it’s a lot to pick up, move your life, leave the only support base, leave your family, leave all your friends behind to go live somewhere. Um, and it’s going to be impossible for some people. It costs thousands of, I mean, I moved from Washington DC to New England a couple years ago, and I had to raise money online to do that because I couldn’t do that. And I’m a relatively well employed trans person compared to like the average trans person. So the bills are in a lot of ways sort of the expression of the bigotry of the party, but the ones that are passing are part of their true sort of execution of their plans to, to rid us from… we know what they want to rid us from public life.

Read TransLash’s article on seeking trans asylum abroad.

Imara: That’s right.

Katelyn Burns: But it’s the bills that are getting close to passing and the bills that are passing are the ones that we need to be looking at. Now, I will say, even with like the medical bands and the sports bands, a lot of them have been stopped by the courts. Not all of them. Some circuits have allowed the bands to go into place. Others have blocked it, creating a circuit split, which means it’ll end up at the Supreme Court, which I don’t have a lot of hopes on them rescuing us out of all of this. I think this court is gonna take the framing of gender affirming care is a form of population control, which of which abortion is a similar way that they look at it. And they’re gonna be like, basically gender affirming care is like a, a pre-fertilization abortion. And I think that’s the sort of framing they’re gonna use to justify all of this. If you notice all of the, the rulings that have allowed these bans to stay in place have all cited the ruling, the overturned Roe v Wade. So they’re all connected to each other. But some of these states have found relief at least temporarily through the courts and that’s a good sign. So I think that these even were extreme that are coming in are gonna have an even tougher time once it hits the court system. So I just wanna remind people that the legal system is long and slow for a reason, even if we all believe, and I certainly believe that in the end, if nothing changes in these legislatures and nothing changes in the court system, I, I do think we’re gonna end up losing in the long run. But it’s gonna take a long time to get there. And, uh, I know it’s not a very rosy picture, but people rarely call me to, to comment on good news. [laugh]

Imara: I mean, I think that it’s a, it’s a mixed and nuanced message that you’re delivering, right? Which is that a lot of stuff that was popular and bad has passed, the other stuff there’s a lot of new stuff, but the new stuff that’s being introduced is not passing as quickly yet. I think that the caveat for me is yet, because I think that you would’ve said the same thing about the anti-trans medical and sports bills in the first year of their introduction, right? A lot of these new bills that they’re test, that they’re introducing anti-trans bills are, are new in terms of their rollout. But that, you know, there’s a delay in the courts, it’s gonna take it a while to get to the Supreme Court. So there’s some running space. And that in that gap is hope and that people have to begin to try to prepare and do, do the best that they can. And I think that that’s just, honestly, it’s a realistic kind of sober message. We know that one of the things that they’re doing by passing these bills is trying to tee up a Supreme Court case because they believe that at the Supreme Court that they have a receptive audience and there’s every indication that they do. So I think that, I think that your analysis is actually just grounded, in fact.

Katelyn Burns: Yeah. I, I do find it, the one thing that with the court, with the Supreme Court that I find interesting is that if you just take the people who ruled on the Bostock v Clayton County, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of being LBTQ, and you like transpose in the new liberal justice that Biden appointed for the one that left, there’s still like five votes ostensibly for LGBT Rights. So we need one of those guys to [laugh], or probably both of them, to stay supporting us. I don’t know that that’s going to happen on a strictly trans related bill or law that comes through. So we need, you know, uh, chief Justice Roberts and Neil Gorsuch to rule our way. And I just feel like that’s a long shot given that, you know, at least Gorsuch joined in, knocking down law. Roberts wanted to do like a half gutting of law, which is his style. He’s always like, yeah, let’s chip away at it until it doesn’t exist. Again, that’s the whole history of the Robert’s Court. I don’t have a lot of hope that the Supreme Court’s gonna save us, but there’s still a chance. And that’s even more heartbreaking. I’d rather just like have more certainty. [laugh] Um, but that’s easy for me to say as you know, a white trans woman in New England, so…

Imara: Well, certainty’s coming, I think either way, I think certainty, certainty is coming. You’ve covered this ramp up and kind of anti-trans sentiment for a long time. I think beginning, you know, kind of in Houston and the city ordinance that was back there, and then the subsequent, um, mayor’s race. And what do you see as the trajectory over the last like six or or seven years? Like when you step back and you look at what you were covering then versus what you’re covering now, what strikes you?

Katelyn Burns: So my first big anti-trans like legislation that I covered was the bathroom bill in North Carolina, HB2. It was a much different time back then, like almost all of society standing up and rejecting this. You had the NBA, you know, pulling the all-star game out of Charlotte, North Carolina. After the bill was passed, you had the NCAA saying you can’t have sporting events in the state of North Carolina. And this was right before March Madness, which is like the number one sport in North Carolina, I believe. You had a bunch of liberal states saying, we will not endorse travel to North Carolina. You had all these big corporations saying, we will not do business in North Carolina. You had PayPal run by Peter Thiel, who’s now like funding a lot of the anti-trans stuff saying, we will not, you know, we will not build our, uh, like headquarters in North Carolina that we had planned. And it was like, uh, millions of dollars that they had already invested. And they’re like, no, we’re not doing it. So like all of these people were pulling out of North Carolina and it, I think it scared Republicans at the time ’cause you had bathroom bills in other states that were starting to make progress when North Carolina passed theirs. And then they all kind of stopped and they retooled. And then I remember the next year, 2017, they all came back and they’re like, okay, we’re gonna do bathroom bills again but it’s only for students, like the Atlantic and the New York Times running pieces going, well, should we actually view trans kids as humans or should we like take away their right to the internet and cut ’em off from other friends until they live the way we want them to live, right? Maybe that’s the way to go. But they put like a liberal veneer on it. And the big story that really radicalized a lot of people on the right was Lia Thomas.

Imara: The trans competitive swimmer?

Katelyn Burns: Yeah. She was a swimmer at Penn, but like the Ivy League is not the premier swimming league in the NCA. So they’re like, oh, she’s breaking all these Ivy League records. This is terrible. And it’s like, well, yeah, yeah, but it’s the Ivy League. [chuckles] Like it’s the definition of mid, right? Like… [laugh] But you had like The Guardian, there’s this weird journalist sports writer at The Guardian who is obsessed with trans athletes. But he writes this article where he’s, again, this trans woman at Penn who’s breaking all these pool records and, and conference records is gonna outpace Katie Ledecky any day now. Which is just a straight up lie. And it really radicalized a lot of people, even I think on the liberal side to be like, no, this is bad. We shouldn’t have this. Once you got people saying, oh no, this is bad. With something related to trans people, it was so much easier to feed them propaganda in other areas. So the conservatives jumped at all of this negative coverage to be like, we’re banning trans athletes and also like these young people shouldn’t be allowed to transition. And they used this wave of anti-trans sentiment to pass through all the states where previously they weren’t getting a lot of traction. Like the school bathroom bill in North Dakota was killed. Like I think there was one in Arkansas that was also killed. And then all of a sudden they started passing and there was just nothing in response. And I was like, oh yeah, okay. Like we’re in trouble at that point.

Imara: Yeah. I mean, I think that the thing is that in addition to Lia Thomas, I also think that in conservative media circles, it was really the case of the two Black young trans girls in Connecticut running on that track team, right? Like, ’cause they were on Newsmax and they were on Fox, and there was all of this, you know, panicking and Barbara E. Hart who passed, you know, the first sports band in Idaho cited that said that what was going on in Connecticut was a reason why, you know, she was really animated. So I think that like, and all those things were happening at around the same time, sort of 2019 ish, which broke the dam. But I, I also think that like, one of the things that the Trump administration gave them was the idea of using administrative policy in a really powerful way to attack trans people. And so while Trump was in office, it was the federal government that was doing all these things. And then the minute that he left, it shifted to the states, right? Where they had kind of power. And I think it really points to the board is flashing red for trans people if Trump wins. It seems to me that if you just look at the trajectory, and if you look at the way in which unlike even four years ago, the way in which like Trump weaves in anti-trans rhetoric and policies in his speeches in a way that he didn’t do before. I mean, his speech at CPAC last year was an indication of that. I think the board is flashing red.

Katelyn Burns: Yeah. Trump actually didn’t mention trans people that often when he was in office. I think there was two times he mentioned us out loud. One was with the military band and the other was in a comment, I don’t even remember what he was commenting on, but he was like, he’s getting on, um, Marine One, which is the helicopter at the White House, and he’s doing a press gaggle there. And he mentioned trans people, but nobody could really hear him ’cause of the helicopter rotors, um, [laugh] Um, but he didn’t actually like personally mentioned trans people all that often during the first, his first term, even though behind the scenes he had a bunch of people, particularly in the Health and Human Services department, rolling back our rights.

Imara: Cranking out policies, yeah.

Katelyn Burns: The, the thing I’ll say about that era is everything that he did has the ability to be reversed by the next president. And for the most part, Biden came in and almost immediately reversed. And there’s still a couple things that are, uh, outlying and, and we’re still waiting on some rules to reverse some of the, the rules that were implemented by Trump, which I don’t expect we’re going to see before the election. I think on the federal level, the more important races is for Congress and Senate. I think a Republican trifecta would be extremely bad for trans people. It would be significantly worse than just a Trump White House that if Trump has the White House, but Democrats have, you know, one of the houses of Congress, I think it’s not gonna be as bad for us because their ability to pass permanent legislation is still hindered. But a Republican trifecta would just be a disaster. I can’t see Republicans keeping the filibuster if they have a chance to like wipe trans people out of society. Maybe that’s the cynic in me, but I just don’t think Republicans are noble enough to keep this legislative rule to stop from passing their entire agenda. It’s not just trans people that are on the chopping block either.

Imara: Yeah, no, I think across the board, and I think that the creative things that they’re doing right now, they would implement such as like, you know, stopping the ability of people to change their names on passports. And there are all these administrative things that they can do to make life really difficult. And then kind of as you say across the board, so…

Katelyn Burns: Yeah, actually I’m glad you said that, sorry for interrupting, but I just wanna say to all the trans people listening, update your passports before this election, please. Just, uh, just because I can, right? Because we don’t know how long that right is going to exist. It’s just a preventative thing. Uh, but if you have the ability to do so, I say go ahead and, and, and get it everything updated.

Imara: Yeah. Yeah. And then, and then even then, there are no guarantees. Like in, you know, Florida Ron DeSantis is generating a list of everyone who’s changed their gender marker on on their driver’s license. So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a very kind of treacherous time to be perfectly honest. But this brings me to my last, which is that all of this shows the, the importance and the reasons that we need trans political journalists in this moment. And we are gonna be on the ballot in ways that we haven’t been before, as you’ve said and, and indicated, um, both explicitly or not. There’s gonna be a moment in this election when Trump spends a weak messaging against trans people. I mean, it’s gonna happen in the general election because it’s a part of, of their, um, political play this year. So where that’s gonna happen. And at the same time, one of the things you’ve been very public about in social media and elsewhere is the way in which you’re getting less gigs. You know, the fact that you’re not as political staff reporter somewhere in this moment, I think continues to be mystifying. And I’m wondering if you can just talk about how you navigate both the fact that you’re, what you do is needed more than ever, and then at the same time, the opportunities are fewer and fewer.

Katelyn Burns: Uh, yeah. So I’ve had, I’ve had six or seven, like regular writing gigs, uh, just get like ended, uh, I don’t know how else to say this. Like, I started, I, it wasn’t a column per se, but a regular pitching agreement with NYC. Which was around forever. Like, uh, as long as I can remember on the internet, Mike was always there. I think they predate the internet even. And like two weeks into that there, they fired the editor and cut the whole section that I was writing for. And then, you know, just the other day I had started writing for Reckon News, which is an independent, you know, website that really gotta start covering like socialist issues from the perspective of people of color in the South. And they had asked me to write a couple of things about the primaries and it looked like I was gonna start writing for them regularly. And then their section got cut. There’s some uncertainty right now with, um, a couple of my other regular gigs. But this has been the recurring theme for me for like the last three years. As I find something, it looks really good. I’m really excited about it, it pays well and then it stops existing [laugh], this is a, a, a, an emotional topic for me, but I’ve literally never been closer to the end of my journalism career as I am right now. In fact, the only reason why I’m still able to do any writing at all is because I had an Aunt pass away last year that left me a little bit of money for me to continue to write, but I don’t see how this career is sustainable for me personally going forward. The era of liberal publications wanting a trans perspective, I think is for the most part over, you know, I remember a time when Vice, which was I thought a very good website employed five or six trans women writers.

And none of those writers I, I believe write for them now and they’re no longer publishing anything on Vice. They were the first mainstream publication to like, give me a chance to write for them. I wrote a personal essay for, uh, Vice Sports, which no longer exists about growing up as a closeted trans girl athlete. And the various ways that I was alienated through gender from that experience. It was a great essay. I’m still proud of it to this day, but [laugh], a couple of months later, they cut the whole Vice Sports vertical. So I would transitioned, I started writing for their LGBT editor. He’s no longer there. Uh, they don’t even have an LGBT desk. They haven’t for a while. And now the whole publication’s gone. Like, I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t think it’s in my power to control any of it. Um, I’m, I’m really thankful that I can still write for MSNBC, I can write for Extra as of right now, they’ve, they’ve cut back on my column. I used to have a weekly column and now it’s every other week. Personally, I don’t know how I can continue doing this work. And like I’ve had it in my mind to try to find an exit ramp from all of this because it’s not financially sustainable for me. Now that also comes with a lot of frustration and guilt because I look around, you know, I see Nex Benedict in Oklahoma, you know, being bullied literally to death. I see all these bills passing. Uh, I see this huge national election where trans people are at the forefront of it. And then I look at myself and I’m like, is there, like, is there a, a more qualified trans person to write about this in the country than me?

There probably is somewhere like, that’s probably open for interpretation and argumentation. But I look around and I say, I should be the busiest that I’ve ever been [laugh] and I’m just not. And I feel really guilty. I feel like I am letting trans people down every time one of my gigs goes away or every time I can’t land a story. I had this story about this, you know, trans teenager, college student who came out and they’re coming out radicalized their mom into forming their local chapter of Moms of Liberty somewhere on the West coast. I had a whole story planned out for it. I sent a couple places. I didn’t hear a response back. Like, people don’t want these trans perspective stories anymore, which is what has been my kind of specialty over the years. And I think that also says something about where we’re at in this moment. You know, the New York Times has what, like six or seven opinion writers who are all anti-trans on staff. They get paid an ungodly amount of money and they don’t have a single trans person who writes for them regularly at this point. Like, that’s insane to me. Like they think that they’re being balanced with this? Come on. [laugh]

Imara: Yeah. Well I think we’ve, I think we know where the New York Times stands [laugh], and I don’t think that…

Katelyn Burns: That’s a whole other episode. [laugh]

Imara: Because is a whole other season for anti-trans hate machine. [laugh] So I think that like we, we, we, we kind of understand where they are. But I, I wanted to lift that up because I think that the reality that you’re speaking about is one that trans people often face in a myriad of workplaces. But I think it’s, it’s is extremely stark given where we are. It’s not like people aren’t doing political journalism as well, right? Yeah. It’s not like political journalism has disappeared. So I think the contrast is something that I wanted to lift up. I also want to say that to you personally, that you’re not letting trans people down. Political journalism is letting trans people down and you’re the victim of that. And you cannot personalize the wave that’s crashing into our community. It is something that people are experiencing. I think the pullback, the discomfort, the backlash, the number of trans people, for instance, that I heard talk about the number of opportunities that they lost last June, for example, when there is the backlash against corporations doing anything with trans people. All of this is real. And it is personally impacting you. It is personally impacting our community, but it is a broader wave of institutions that’s letting trans people down. It’s not you. [music] So I hope that you will continue to do this for as long as you can. And I wanted to lift this up because if anyone is, is listening, I am hoping that, you know, some opportunities can, can flow your way. And I just want to thank you for all the work that you have done and that you’re continuing to do against the odds and sharing kind of your political insights. I really appreciate you, Katelyn. Thank you so much.

Katelyn Burns: Thank you for saying all of that. It means a lot to me.

Imara: Welcome. That was political and sports journalist Katelyn Burns. [music] Thank you so much for joining me on the TransLash Podcast. Now listen all the way through to the end of the show for something extra. If you like what you heard, please go to Apple Podcast to rate and review us. You can also listen to TransLash wherever you get your podcast. Check us out on the web, to sign up for our weekly newsletter. Follow us on X and Instagram a TransLash Media, like us on Facebook, and tell your friends. The TransLash Podcast is produced by TransLash Media. TransLash team includes Oliver Ash Klein and Aubrey Calloway. Sander Adams is a contributing producer to the show and our sound engineer, Alex Gater, is our social media producer. And digital strategy is 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. [music]

So what am I looking forward to? I don’t know if I can say I’m looking forward to, I am glad that I’m doing it. So generally at the beginning of each year, I go and do all like my medical checkup stuff. Um, I just get it all over with rather than like having to think about it later in the year. So I’m going to the dentist, I’m getting my annual checkup and all the other stuff that I have to do at the, at the beginning of the year. So that’s actually what I’m gonna be doing, um, over the next couple weeks. And I’m, I guess looking forward to it, but just glad that I am doing it and I’m saying this because if you have access to healthcare and you can do it, just remember to take care of yourself. I know that like engaging with the medical establishment for us can be traumatic. It’s true. Um, and at the same time, try to find a, a provider that can be supportive of you or if you don’t have a provider that’s supportive of you, then go to your appointments with a friend who can advocate and affirm you as you go get checked up because taking care of ourselves is also, um, how we love ourselves and how we make sure that we can live the lives that we want. So if you can go get yourselves checked out, ’cause that’s what I’m gonna be doing.

[outro music]


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TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.



TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.


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