Just over a week before the 2016 election, presidential candidate Donald J. Trump walked out on stage at a rally in Greeley, Colorado. He pointed to someone in the crowd, who handed him a rainbow flag with “LGBTs for Trump” scrawled on it in black marker pen. He unfurled the crumpled nylon and held it up with a grin.
The flag was upside down. For many of Trump’s LGBT and LGBT-allied critics, it was to prove a telling portent. The administration has since moved to enshrine a number of anti-LGBT policies, with the socially conservative Mike Pence reportedly driving the agenda.
However, for Jazmine Jannelle, a 61-year-old trans woman from Chicago, the rainbow flag moment was symbolic of a president who acknowledges common ground with many different people.
Jannelle is one of a devoted group of transgender Trump supporters who are backing the president despite his anti-trans policy initiatives, his desired military ban at the ugly forefront.
Transgender Trump supporters in 2018 find themselves in a uniquely isolated position. They face being cast out from their communities and families for being transgender, while others in the LGBT community cannot understand how they can be pro-Trump.
“It’s a constant battle,” said Coco Haynes, a 58-year-old trans woman from Evart, Michigan. “Every day people question whether I’m transgender. They see me as a fake. They call me a liar.”
Admitting you have conservative views is often referred to in the conservative LGBT community as coming out for a second time.
As activists and federal judges battle President Trump over the proposed ban on transgender individuals joining the military, his transgender supporters are disappointed.
When Haynes woke up to the first news of the transgender military ban back in July 2017, she was “mad as all hell.” She had served in the Air Force for 21 years, and she had never let her identity affect her job. In fact, she kept it hidden. “I buried it so deep,” she said. “I lived in a shell.”
Haynes wrote a letter to the president expressing her anger and disappointment in the ban.
“He has to learn that this is important,” she said. “If he doesn’t change his ways and start appreciating the community, he’s in trouble.”
But Haynes will give Trump her vote again in 2020, on the condition that he “mends his ways” with transgender people. “I expect him to do the right thing—he’s an honorable man,” she said. Haynes believes Trump is surrounded by “confused people” such as Vice President Pence.
Haynes is not alone in looking at Trump as separate from his administration.
“Pence isn’t in the same ballpark as Donald Trump,” said Tonya Rogers, a 52-year-old trans woman from Dallas. “I cannot stand that sack of shit.”
Rogers, who is also an Air Force veteran, is disappointed by the military ban and is still trying to process it.
“I can’t think of one good reason why [transgender people] can’t be in a non-combat position,” she said. But she remains confident that Trump is still a good president. “It’s not in his nature to be discriminatory,” she said. “Where this stuff is coming from is beyond my imagination. It’s coming from someone other than Trump.”
Rogers believes that Trump has been subject to pressure from Christian groups to pass anti-LGBT legislation. She does not accept that the administration’s stance comes from a place of intolerance on the part of Trump himself.
Trump’s trans supporters don’t deny the transgender military ban has been a blow. But they are still in support of the president’s stance on gun laws, immigration, economic policy, and constitutional rights.
“I don’t push for trans rights, I push for my personal rights,” Rogers said. “Our economy is doing fantastic, people are getting bonuses.”
Rogers has admired Trump ever since she read The Art of the Deal when it came out in 1987. In the period after she embraced her trans identity in 2013, the unapologetic figure of Trump was an inspiration for Rogers at a time when her family members refused to recognize who she was or call her by her new name.
“Trump’s personality really has a lot in common with a transgender personality,” she said, reminiscing about the time when she first wore makeup in public and chose a bright blue eyeshadow. “A lot of us want to shock the hell out of people. Trump doesn’t try to blend in. I can look at him and I can tell who he is. He’s a wild child. I love that.”
Trans conservatives use Facebook as a way to feel less isolated and more connected with others who share the same views and experiences living as both conservative and transgender.
“As far as support, there is very little from anyone. Most of my trans conservative friends are from Facebook,” Rogers said.
Social media is a place where she can find support and solidarity when it is missing from her daily life. She is a member of several groups for conservative transgender people, most of whom are white women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who have come out in the last five years.
The number of transgender Republicans wasn’t huge before Trump. According to a survey carried out by Transequality, 2 percent of transgender respondents called themselves a Republican in 2015. But Haynes believes that transgender women like herself now form a significant group within Trump’s supporter base.
She feels rejected by younger gay, lesbian, and transgender people. “We’re the bastard children of the LGBT community,” she said.
Haynes credits the Obama administration for creating an environment for her to feel safe about coming out. But she voted for Trump after she was deeply disappointed with Obama’s military leadership.
Haynes lives off a combination of military retirement pay, Social Security, and disability benefits. “My money was worth squat under Obama. I was paying all these taxes. Hopefully next year I won’t have to pay so much.”
Haynes is delighted by Trump’s first year in office. “I applaud him for 99 percent of what he’s doing,” she said. “He’s doing what’s right for the country. Things like the North Korea deal are a heck of a lot more important than my gender. In the big picture, I’m nothing. Sometimes you need to make sacrifices.”
For Trump’s transgender supporters, these “sacrifices” outweigh the curtailing of their rights.
The isolation of having spent most of their lives as secretly transgender has been intensified by the isolation of being an open Trump supporter.
When Trump took office, Rogers noticed that a lot of her LGBT friends unfriended her on Facebook. She said people told her they didn’t want any kind of communication from someone who supported Trump and his policies.
“They preach diversity and they preach that everybody should be loved,” she said of her liberal LGBT peers. “There’s hate coming from both sides.” Rogers was recently verbally abused by an evangelical Christian on a bus in Dallas. But seeking help from her local transgender support group, Transcendence, wasn’t an option. She said, “Once they found out I was conservative, they banned me from going.”
The group doesn’t deny it. “There have been people who have been asked to leave the group in the past because they’re contributing to a toxic atmosphere and cause division,” said Katelyn Smith, a representative at Transcendence Dallas. “Unfortunately being transgender in Texas is a really political thing, but we try not to speak a lot about politics.”
Rogers isn’t alone in finding herself trapped between conservatives and the LGBT community.
Heather Dunn, a 35-year-old trans woman from Nevada, Iowa, has spent much of her life feeling ostracized from her evangelical Christian peers, who chastised her first after she came out as bisexual, and later when she came out as trans.
Dunn remains convinced that unlike Christian conservatives, Trump is committed to LGBT issues. She went from being a self-proclaimed “never-Trumper” to a supporter during the campaign when she noticed that, unlike former Republican presidential candidates, Trump said “LGBT” instead of “homosexual.”
But she feels spurned by her liberal LGBT contemporaries for being a Trump supporter. “It hurts because I identify with this community, but sometimes it feels like the doors do not fully open unless I’m silent about what I really believe,” she said.
Sue Hyde, a director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, said people like Rogers and Dunn should be able to walk into any LGBT community center in the United States and find a warm welcome.
“But,” she said, “given how much anger there is towards Trump and his harmful administration, I would not advise anybody who was a vocal Trump supporter to continue that conversation in an LGBTQ space.”
Another issue is hostility from prejudiced conservatives. Edie Dixon, a 31-year-old transgender woman from Portland, Oregon, is careful not to discuss trans issues with her Republican friends. “As long as you don’t talk about being transgender and playing the victim 24 hours a day,” she said, “you’re fine.”
Conservative transgender voters say they will continue to support Trump so long as he continues with his current economic and military policies. However, as Trump’s military ban continues to enrage the transgender community, many of his trans supporters feel it’s time Trump started to take notice of them.
“We supported him when he needed it, and now he needs to support us,” said Coco Haynes.
Many, like Haynes, want to see him take the kind of stance on transgender issues he did during his campaign, when Trump appeared to condemn North Carolina’s bathroom bill and said he would be happy for Caitlyn Jenner to use any bathroom she wanted if she visited Trump Tower.
“While he was running he wanted our support, so he had an interest in us,” said Haynes. “But that changed. Obama opened the door, and now we’re out, we’re not going back in. Trump has to learn that we’re not just a hundred guys and girls. We are thousands.”