Hillary Clinton believes that we must be “sensitive” to the concerns of those who don’t believe transgender people should be treated in accordance with their gender.
Hillary and daughter Chelsea Clinton sat down with Britain’s The Sunday Times to discuss The Book of Gutsy Women, a forthcoming profile of 100 courageous women. One of the figures featured in the book is Danica Roem, who is the first transgender person in the U.S. to serve in a state legislature.
Given Roem’s inclusion in the book, interviewer Decca Aitkenhead took the moment to ask the Clintons about their views on trans equality. The former Secretary of State expressed some uneasiness about the subject of trans people using restrooms and locker rooms that most closely match their lived experience or playing on sports teams that align with their gender.
Hillary called the topic “a very big generational discussion,” claiming it isn’t “something [she] grew up with or ever saw.” “It's going to take a lot more time and effort to understand what it means to be defining yourself differently,” she said.
Although the full interview is under paywall at The Sunday Times, excerpts pulled by fellow U.K. outlet The Daily Mail illustrate Hillary’s unease with the issue. When Aitkenhead remarks that women of earlier generations may not be comfortable sharing the restroom or locker room with trans women, Hillary is said to have nodded in emphatic agreement.
“I would say that, absolutely,” Hillary said. “Absolutely. Yes.”
When the topic turned to transgender student athletes competing in accordance with their lived gender, Hillary said others must be “sensitive to how difficult this is.”
“There are women who'd say [to a trans woman], ‘You know what, you've never had the kind of life experiences that I've had, so I respect who you are, but don't tell me you're the same as me,’” Hillary said. “I hear that conversation all the time.”
While Hillary was attempting to stake out a neutral middle ground in the conversation, her comments inadvertently sound similar to rhetoric espoused by trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), a subset of feminism which refuses to recognize the womanhood to transgender women. Whether she realizes it or not, similar arguments have been used to oppose equal protection for trans people for decades.
Meanwhile, Chelsea came down firmly in support of trans rights throughout the conversation, repeatedly throwing a “furious stare” at Aitkenhead over her questions.
The former First Daughter endorsed the recent decision from the U.K.’s National Health Service to allow transgender people to stay in hospital wards that match their gender, even if they have not yet undergone any form of confirmation surgery. “How can you treat someone if you don't recognize who they feel and know in their core they are?” she asked.
Chelsea also voiced support for trans children who want to be treated in line with their gender in school. “I think we need to be doing everything we can to support kids in being whoever they know themselves to be and discovering who they are,” she said.
The split between the Clintons on the subject of affirming transgender identities is perhaps surprising given Hillary’s emphatic support of trans rights in the past. During her 2016 run for president, she backed a nationwide civil rights law that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, education, and public accomodations.
In an October 2015 speech to the Human Rights Campaign, Clinton built on her famous declaration that “gay rights are human rights” by suggesting that transgender people were also part of that equation.
“We need to say, with one voice, that transgender people are valued, they are loved, they are us,” she said at the time.