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Mitch Perry Report for 4.27.15 — Bruce Jenner’s journey

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A really unusual thing happened this weekend — ABC’s much hyped interview with Bruce Jenner wasn’t terrible. If fact, it was riveting, as the former Olympic hero acknowledged what has hardly been a secret over the past year or so –- he’s transitioning to becoming a female.

“My whole life has prepared me for this moment,” Jenner said, adding that he was apprehensive to come out because he didn’t want to “disappoint” people.

It was extraordinary, non-exploitive television, as Jenner becomes this country’ s most famous person to ever undergo such a transition.

I thought (and still do) that ABC didn’t need two hours of prime time coverage to air the interview, but props to Diane Sawyer and the show’s producers for putting his announcement in its proper perspective: referring to the violence and murder of transgender women and how so many transgender teens have attempted suicide.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the interview was the 65-year-old Jenner’s acknowledgement that he’s lived a lie for decades, but simply couldn’t fake it any longer. “I couldn’t take the walls constantly closing in on me,” he said. “If I die, I’d be so mad at myself that I didn’t explore that side of me.”

On the Drudge Report over the weekend, the banner headline was Jenner’s admission that he is a Republican. (Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz was one of the first congressional Republicans to welcome him to the party.) On the Sawyer broadcast, Jenner gave credit to President Obama for his support of transgender Americans, but added, ““I’ve just never been a big fan. I’m kind of more on the conservative side,” Sawyer looked incredulous, asking him if he identified as a Republican, Jenner said, “Yeah. Is that a bad thing?”

Not at all, but it does put him in a distinct minority.

A Gallup poll from last year had only 21 percent of LGBT Americans identifying with the GOP, with more than 60 percent identifying with Democrats.

On a personal note, I hadn’t thought about it until this weekend, but Jenner was an influential person in my life.

I’ve been a lifelong runner, and one of the things that I thought made it “cool” and worth doing was watching Jenner win the decathlon in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. along with some other track stars like Rick Wohlhuter.

For those around at the time, all I can say is that the Olympics were a way bigger deal than they are now. I couldn’t tell you who won the decathlon in London three years ago, and most likely very few Americans could. But everyone knew about Jenner after those Olympics. It was the era of the Cold war playing out on the field of sport — and the fact that there were only four television networks made events like the Olympics such a big deal. Thanks to Roone Arledge’s brilliant “up close and personal” way of broadcasting the Olympics, Jenner’s journey to being “the world’s greatest athlete” was a narrative the whole country could get behind. And when he won the decathlon? People cheered, and cared about it, and Jenner went on to be the classic American sports hero. Until he descended into being, well, I’ve never watched the Kardashian reality series, but I know it hasn’t been Jenner’s finest hour — or decade, frankly.

But he’s come out now. And if that can help out younger people going through the same issues, than he truly has done something as worthy as winning an Olympic Gold medal 39 years ago.

In other news…

The Tampa Police Department on Friday told the ACLU, the NAACP and a host of other activist groups that they have no intention of stopping the way they cite bike infractions in Tampa, despite the allegations that the TPD has been engaged in a form of racial profiling while doing so. The issue has become the first major test of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s leadership after four non-controversial years on the job.

And on Friday, a longtime GOP political consultant admitted at a Tiger Bay forum that, yes, negative advertising helps suppress the vote.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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