This last weekend before Christmas, a Texas-sized controversy closed out the second season of major production of E!'s I Am Cait, as Caitlyn Jenner traveled to Houston, and returned home with a sack full of criticism from allies and enemies alike.
It comes just a few days after Jenner posted an expertly-crafted heartfelt apology on her blog about missteps, for which she said she was "truly sorry."
But buried beneath the usual sensational headlines and social media slams, was word that that Jenner struck a blow for the transgender community, in calling out a fellow conservative for his "highly offensive" remarks against all trans people. And in addition, her most ardent supporters joined some of those who might typically be expected to wave their fingers at the transgender reality series star. They paused, according to news reports and social media, and joined together in a moment of prayer.
The scene was Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, where on Thursday night —while ABC's Barbara Walters was crowning her the most fascinating person of 2015 — Jenner was attending the megachurch's annual Christmas show for children.
Houston TV station KTRK reported Friday that "Caitlyn Jenner and her reality show team" had been filming in and around Houston for a few days, attending what KTRK called an "apparently unpublicized" unity event, and meeting Ann Elder, the mother of a 10-year-old transgender boy profiled last week by the Houston Chronicle.
Houston trans activist Monica Roberts blogged that she learned of the visit from watching the news, and praised Jenner's meeting with Elder, but lambasted her for skipping town without meeting elders who are trans women of color, including herself.
Roberts devoted two blogposts to Jenner and her I Am Cait crew, criticizing them harshly after they, in her words, "stealthily came to my hometown Thursday. They arrogantly dissed me and other Houston trans community leaders who have been doing the work to advance the human rights of this community."
"This is about once again the predominately white trans community conveniently ignoring the fact that some of our trans leaders don't look like y'all, and blowing another opportunity to use your vanillacentric privilege and media access to showcase some of those leaders."
A photograph of the caucasian leaders Jenner did meet, including Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Transgender Center for Equality of Washington, D.C., accompanied Roberts's post.
@TransGriot when will we find a way to keep each other lifted up and always not look for ways to tear each other down
— TransDivaChandi (@TransDivaChandi) December 18, 2015
Sources tell The Advocate Jenner and the show chose to visit Houston because it was just a month ago that the city's voters soundly rejected Houston's equal rights ordinance, with a vote of 61 percent. It would have restored protections from discrimination against LGBT and others, but opponents redefined the ordinance as allowing predatory men legal access to women's public bathrooms, portraying transgender women as a threat to Houston's daughters. And they haven't stopped.
Just last week, the Texas Freedom Network reported that the chief fundraiser for the campaign to defeat HERO, Dr. Steve Hotze, claimed during a radio program that the effort to protect transgender rights was what he called a "satanic movement:"
"It’s delusion. It’s deception and delusion. I think the whole thing is a Satanic movement on our country that is promoting evil of every kind and trying to force it upon the members of society. "
"Getting my friend Caitlyn to understand the way social conservatives have used lies about trans people to further their agenda has been one of my goals since I first met her, and this struck me as progress," blogged Jenny Boylan, an advisor and friend to Jenner who is one of the transgender women regularly featured in the docu-series. "I do believe her eyes are opening."
Boylan, an author, college professor and frequent contributor to The New York Times, titled her blogpost, "Why Caitlyn Jenner and I Prayed with One of Our Fiercest Enemies."
From that post, it's clear it was no accident that Boylan, Jenner and others from the show visited that particular congregation, led by one of the chief opponents to HERO: Pastor Ed Young. The ordinance, Young declared in speeches and videos, “opens up our city and in short order all of the metropolitan area of Houston to something that I think is absolutely godless.”
“I think this ordinance discriminates against men and women and those who believe that female women and children and male men and their children need to have separate facilities — as we have throughout our history — in bathrooms and in showers and in other public entities.”
Young himself came under attack recently in a video by proponents of HERO, claiming he hired a youth minister who was a sexual predator at his Second Baptist Church.
KTRK reported that pictures were taken of Young speaking with, and then praying with Jenner and her group. Boylan explained in her blog how that came about:
"Pastor Young approached us. We all stood up. And Caitlyn Jenner looked him in the eye and told him how much his actions and his words had harmed our people. I was proud of her— given her conservative beliefs, it struck me as a sign of great progress, a first step into activism, gentle though it may have been. The pastor seemed to me to have never spoken face to face with transgender people before, and he clearly did not understand our lives, given some of the things he said to us.
"But we were calm and polite and dignified. We told him about our lives, and he paused to listen. He really did seem to consider our humanity. I thought that moment was breathtaking."
HERO opponent and former county GOP chair Jared Woodfill didn't waste a moment going on TV to condemn Jenner's appearance at the Christmas event.
"You don't go to a kids' Christmas play and use that as a vehicle to send your message," Woodfill told KTRK. "That's just plain wrong." Woodfill, an attorney, certainly understands right from wrong, as he is currently defending a man being sued for photographing women in a bathroom, and for that reason he is also featured in that video posted by HERO supporters which takes aim at the movers and shakers who led to its demise.
Boylan insisted in her blog, their presence in the church was not to generate publicity, nor to shoot a scene for the docu-series.
"We went there without cameras, without microphones. We did not go there for a photo op. We went there in hopes we could have an off-the-record conversation with the pastor, so that we could tell him to his face the damage that he has caused."
Joining Boylan in praising Jenner was author and activist Kate Bornstein, who tweeted that she was proud:
— Kate Bornstein (@katebornstein) December 18, 2015
Bornstein, who also appears on I Am Cait as a mentor to Jenner, tweeted that she recorded a portion of the confrontation with Young but at press time she had not shared the clip from her iPhone.
The person who did in fact snap photographs of this rare moment when transgender women joined an anti-LGBT pastor in prayer is Pastor Ed Young's son, himself a minister, who made headlines three years ago when he included a caged lion and a lamb in his Easter Sunday service.
— Ed Young (@EdYoung) December 18, 2015
Members of the LGBT community have been making their presence known at Second Baptist services since HERO's defeat. About a dozen transgender, lesbian and gay Houstonians attended services there on the first Sunday of Advent late last month, according to Houston TV station KHOU.
“We’re everywhere,” Melissa Murry told the station, which labeled her a transgender activist. “We’re your neighbors, we’re your co-workers, we’re your family.”
KTRK talked about that with a leader at Houston's LGBT center, and about Pastor Young's moment with Jenner.
"I wasn't surprised to see Dr. Young pray with Ms Jenner, but I think it's a great reminder that during this holiday season, there's more that unites us than divides us," said Loftin, who is development director at the Montrose Center.
That message is part of a new effort by Reconciling Ministries Network in Chicago that may interest Jenner. RMN on Friday announced what it's calling the “It’s Time” campaign, aimed at moving the United Methodist Church toward full inclusion of its LGBT members.
The RMN effort is working to win over delegates to the church’s General Conference in May. A spokesperson for RMN told The Advocate in an email that since the conference meets only once every four years, this is "only opportunity to influence and change church policies like those currently discriminating against LGBTQ congregants and ministers."
Find out more about the Reconciling Ministries Network here, read Jenny Boylan's blog post about praying with Caitlyn Jenner and Pastor Ed Young by clicking here, and click here to read Monica Roberts's Transgriot post critical of Jenner's visit to Houston. Click below to watch a report by KTRK on this event.