George Pataki's Response To Mike Huckabee's Anti-Transgender Remarks Is A Breath Of Fresh Air In The Republican Field
Earlier this week, Caitlyn Jenner lit up the internet with her striking Vanity Fair cover, drawing appreciation and well-wishes from some, and unfortunately, offensive derision from others. One prominent political figure who falls on the latter side was a certain 2016 presidential candidate, who in February joked that he, Mike Huckabee, wished he could've "felt like a woman" in high school so he could've used the girls' locker room. Classy, no? Now, one of his GOP rivals has weighed in: George Pataki spoke out on Huckabee's anti-transgender remarks on Wednesday.
Pataki's response, given to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, wasn't exactly a a ringing condemnation of Huckabee — he is running for the GOP nomination, after all, and shredding a fellow Republican in service of transgender acceptance and respect probably isn't what the party's base is looking for. He did comment that people often "make decisions that I don't agree with," for example, a sort of disclaimer for anybody who might think he was making an endorsement.
But he did make it clear that he felt transgender people should be respected, rather than mocked, and in the context of many right-wing observers who've been roiled by the Caitlyn Jenner story, that's a pretty meaningful statement.
I think it was meant in humor, obviously he didn't mean it seriously. But I think the more important point is we should give people their dignity and let them make their own decisions. People often make decisions that I don't agree with. But in a government where it's supposed to be of the people, if someone chooses a path that's different from mine, we should respect that as opposed to mocking it, or in any way trying to prevent that.
Pataki's call for "respect" is nice, but it does raise a fair question: how does he feel about transgender issues more broadly, and how did he act while he was serving as New York's governor?
What's undeniable is that Pataki is, by modern standards, a very left-leaning Republican. He's pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, and taking at his word, apparently pro-respecting the transgender community. Basically, if his track record speaks for anything, it's not exactly shocking that he'd carve out this position as a long shot 2016 candidate — he needs to distinguish himself from the others, and that's easy to do with that kind of centrism on display.
It's also significant to note that, during Pataki's governorship (which ran from 1995 to 2006), a significant piece of social legislation was passed and signed into law — the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), which protects New York residents from discrimination on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. it does not, however, extend protections for transgender New Yorkers, except under circumstances where their sexual orientations — not their identities — are being discriminated against. Pataki signed SONDA into law in 2003.
There is another bill that's been in stasis in the New York legislature for over a decade, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which would add transgender protections to the state's books. It never came across Pataki's desk, however — despite being passed by the state assembly multiple times over the past several years, it's never achieved a vote by the State Senate, and, at any rate, Pataki hasn't been in office for nine years.
In short, you probably shouldn't assume Pataki is going to run as a Republican advocate for transgender issues — with the political realities of the GOP what they are, that may be too much to hope for. But at the very least, he seems willing to chime in when somebody else says something ignorant, and if nothing else, that's kind of nice.
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