- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

CLEVELAND — A pioneering transgender delegate to the Republican National Convention won’t be deterred from using the ladies room at Quicken Loans Arena, saying one transgender’s tinkle for freedom was making a splash for gay rights everywhere.

As the broader struggle over gay rights has shifted over onto the debate over bathroom use, Jennifer Williams, an honorary delegate from New Jersey who not too long ago went by the name Kevin Williams and used the men’s room, is testing her party’s acceptance.

In Cleveland this week, she’s wearing a dress and celebrating an ordnance approved by the city council days before the convention opened that prohibits businesses from telling transgender people which restroom they can use.

She’s also railing against her party’s steadfast support for segregating bathrooms on the basis of biological sex rather than gender self-identification.

“For me, it’s huge,” said Ms. Williams, who compared the bathroom battle to the civil rights struggle, and said the Republican Party, unlike last time, is on the wrong side.

“I don’t know how our party can rectify that they are betraying our principles and our country’s values by what they are trying to do,” she said. “We were basically the party that really came out against Jim Crow, that forced the Civil Rights Act of ‘64 through against Lyndon Johnson’s wishes. The history is there, but we are forgetting where we came from.”

Ms. Williams, who has shoulder-length auburn hair and was wearing a polo dress with a floral print pattern at the convention, said that she has not encountered any unpleasantness or hostility from women in the arena’s restrooms.

“I’ve had great conversations,” she said of her times in ladies rooms.

The bathroom debate has roiled the country with federal lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s bathroom law and the Obama administration’s directive that all schools should allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identities.

To the dismay of gay Republicans, the GOP platform adopted last week included opposition to the Obama administration’s edict about school bathrooms.

Ms. Williams hoped that being her “authentic self” at the convention would help fellow Republicans better understand the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and become more accepting of letting people choose their gender identity, including when going to the restroom.

“If they see me, talk to me, they are going to know that I am just a regular American like they are,” she said. “That’s my call; my role here is literally to begin bridging the gap between [the] Republican Party and the LGBT community.”

Still, her presence at the convention irked some delegates.

“I guess we’re not all right-wing conservative crackpots like me,” Kansas state Rep. John Whitmer, a delegate to the convention, quipped when he learned about Ms. Williams.

He plans to introduce a bill banning transgender bathroom use when the legislature convenes next year.

Mr. Whitmer said that he disagreed with Ms. Williams using the women’s room at the convention, but added that at least there were not many children in attendance.

“For me, the concern is schools and children,” Mr. Whitmer said.

Larry Meyers, a delegate from Utah, said he wasn’t bothered by Ms. Williams being in the ladies room, although he believed bathrooms are segregated by sex for a reason.

“It’s more of an issue for women who don’t want men coming into the bathroom who are perverts — men who [might] abuse that [transgender bathroom] policy,” he said.

Ms. Williams applauded the Cleveland City Council, whose members are all Democrats, for protecting her rights.

“If an activist here at the convention knew that I was transgender, they could make an issue of it and try to see me get arrested,” she said.

Despite the GOP platform that opposed transgender bathrooms and same-sex marriage, gay Republican leaders have called Republican nominee Donald Trump the most pro-gay nominee in party history.

Ms. Williams agreed with that characterization of Mr. Trump. But she said she was disappointed that Mr. Trump walked back his initial opposition to the North Carolina law.

“It kind of broke my heart a bit,” she said.

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