'Bruce Jenner did us proud,' transgender advocate cheers

Bruce Jenner interview: 'It's become a national teachable moment' about transgender people

On Saturday, as she does every morning, Mara Keisling got an email newsletter detailing transgender news stories from around the country. Often, the stories are tragic: violence, discrimination, suicide. 

But on Saturday, after Bruce Jenner’s interview on ABC’s “20/20,” she saw headlines like, “Cleveland-area transgender woman shares her journey” and story after story from news organizations talking to and about local transgender people.

“It went on and on,” said Keisling, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality. “It’s become a national teachable moment.” 

She was struck by the supportive tweets and messages she has seen about Jenner and about transgender people. 

“People are speaking up for us,” she said. “Somebody rang true for us,” she said of Jenner. “Somebody made us realize we weren’t alone. ... That happened in a lot of people’s hearts.” 

In a two-hour interview with Diane Sawyer that aired Friday night, Jenner said he is transitioning from male to female.

“Yes, for all intents and purposes, I am a woman,” Jenner said. (Sawyer said that, though Jenner identifies as a woman, he asked to be referred to with male pronouns for the time being. This article refers to Jenner as “he” and “him.”)

Speculation that he was transgender has swirled around the former Olympian for months. Many transgender advocates were alarmed by the speculation before he spoke for himself, saying the gossip and jokes about Jenner’s body and gender identity were profoundly disrespectful and demeaned the dignity of transgender people.

Like other transgender advocates, Keisling said there is often anxiety when a high-profile person comes out as transgender, about how their stories will be told. But Jenner’s interview, she said, showed “tremendous courage and integrity.”

“I think Bruce Jenner did us proud,” Keisling said. “All over America, there were family members who were saying, ‘Now I get it. Now I’m going to be better to my kid, my brother, my parent.’ There were transgender people all over the country watching this who … maybe said, ‘There’s hope for me.’” 

Keisling was in high school when Jenner became the decathlon champion in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. 

“Everybody knew who Bruce Jenner was,” Keisling said.

One part of Jenner’s story that is so unique, she said, is that younger people care about it too. Even if they don’t remember his Olympics days, they know him from his appearances with his extended family on the popular “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

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