The tension involved in her unusual profile became acute over the weekend, when the New York Times reported that the Trump administration is weighing a move to define gender as strictly biological, denying the very basis of transgender identity. According to the Wall Street Journal, the scope of the new rules is unclear.
The news drew condemnation from activists and advocacy groups. The American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action. The National Center for Transgender Equality planned a protest outside the White House. “We #WontBeErased, we will fight back,” pledged the Transgender Law Center
“I am afraid,” the Republican politician said in an interview. “I’m absolutely distraught.”
“Not so much afraid for me," clarified Evans, who has been embraced by those closest to her since she first came out as transgender in 2013 and began to medically transition in 2015. "I’m afraid for people who are younger than me — people who don’t have the kind of experiences in the world that I’ve had. They see this, and they’re rightfully terrified.”
The new policy, she observed, would be in line with the president’s attempt to ban transgender troops — an order repeatedly blocked by the courts. The administration has also prohibited officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using the word “transgender” in official budget documents, as The Washington Post reported in December, and the Department of Health and Human Services has archived a page that outlined services available for LGBT people. In February, the government revoked Obama administration protections for transgender students that allowed them to use bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities that matched their gender identity rather than their sex assigned at birth.
Evans said the new move would be “shortsighted of the administration.” The country is growing more accepting of transgender people, she said, as the president is moving the government in the opposite direction. “As a Republican, it’s disgusting to see my party continue to push these types of things through in a world that’s changing. If we don’t change with the world, we are ultimately going to lose.”
She said she has been encouraged by the swift response from the transgender community.
“Trans people have been under attack by this administration from day 1 and in state legislatures for years now,” Laverne Cox, the transgender “Orange Is the New Black” actress, wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Let’s join together America and assert #TransRightsAreHumanRights.” She added, “#TransIsBeautiful.” Both rallying cries were trending on social media over the weekend.
Politicians joined the chorus against defining sex as immutably male or female and requiring genetic testing to settle any disputes.
By and large, however, those who have spoken out differ from Evans in a notable way. They don’t share her partisan affiliation.
“We will always protect our transgender brothers and sisters,” Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts wrote on Twitter. “We must transcend hate every day. And we must transfer power on Election Day.” The Democratic attorney general of New York said her office would “do everything in our power to protect transgender New Yorkers.”
Transgender politicians who have gained a measure of national prominence also weighed in. Christine Hallquist, a Democrat of Vermont and the first openly transgender major party nominee for governor, used colorful language to describe how she would respond if elected. The Virginia House Democrats tweeted its support for Danica Roem, the first openly transgender lawmaker in a U.S. statehouse.
Evans acknowledged being envious of the outpouring of support on the other side of the partisan divide. “Every so often,” she said, she is tempted to abandon the Republicans. “It would be easier, wouldn’t it?”
Where she stands now, she is held at arm’s length by both of the communities that are most important to her.
“I’m met with disdain from Republicans because of my identity and suspicion from the transgender community because of my affiliation,” she said.
Though she voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for president in 2016, she acknowledges that Trump is "the head of the party” to which she has been loyal almost her entire adult life, but which is increasingly hostile to her, she said.
But she has no plans to jump ship. She sees an advantage in sticking with a party that remains less welcoming of transgender people. She enjoys access to people whom the movement most desperately needs to convince — people unreachable by her Democratic counterparts.
Evans also reasons that her views, while consistent with many of the aspirations of the Democratic Party, arise from conservative principles. Her work, she said, lies in persuading other Republicans to adhere to these principles, which mainly revolve around a commitment to limited government.
“For trans people to be phased out of existence, that would be a violation of individual rights,” she said. “How can we stand for individual liberties if we are ready and willing to use the force of government — completely antithetical to what Republicans believe — to deny someone’s ability to exist in our society? As Republicans, we should be appalled at that.”
But Evans strained to name fellow Republicans who have voiced outrage at the news that the Trump administration could seek to write transgender people out of existence. “It’s still pretty recent,” she ventured, hopeful that more would speak out. But she also struggled to list Republicans at the national level who shared her perspective.
“We’re losing Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,” she said, referring to the Florida congresswoman whose son is a transgender activist — and who is set to leave Congress.
“We lost Charlie Dent,” she added, referring to the Pennsylvania congressman who bucked his party on LGBT rights — and who abruptly left Congress this past spring.
“We’re probably going to lose Tom MacArthur,” she continued, referring to the New Jersey congressman who split with Trump on LGBT issues — and who is in a tight reelection battle against Democrat Andy Kim.
Part of the burden of being a transgender Republican, Evans said, is to recruit more transgender candidates to run for office.
But it’s a small pool. “I’ve been called the unicorn before,” she said.
Running in Republican circles as a transgender person can be a lonely, and sometimes frightful, experience, she said. At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual summit for conservative officials and activists, Evans was confronted by someone from what she described as a “far-right nationalist group.”
“He called me the downfall of the West to my face,” she recalled. This encounter was jarring, however, precisely because it wasn’t representative of her overall experience. She has been attending CPAC for years, she said, and has found support from some of the people she has met there, especially younger conservatives.
Evans vowed early on that she would praise Trump when he did something well and speak out against him when he acted in ways that were contrary to her interests and beliefs.
She said it was “tough” to oppose a president who wields so much power within the party. But she criticized other elected officials for simply bowing out — leaving the party or leaving office all together.
“If we’re going to change the party, if we’re going to steer it away from the direction it’s going, we can’t leave,” she said.