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May 03, 2015 12:30 PM

After revealing he is transitioning from male to female, Bruce Jenner now focuses on creating a new existence as a woman. Subscribe now for instant access to the exclusive new details you didn t see on TV and how Kris truly feels, only in PEOPLE.

Bruce Jenner, whose gender transition was recently made public, has a surprising new supporter: former Senator Rick Santorum – a man who has compared same-sex marriages to bestiality and pedophilia and repeatedly opposed expanding LGBT rights.

Santorum told Buzzfeed he loves and accepts Jenner.

“If he says he’s a woman, then he s a woman,” Santorum said during a media roundtable at Saturday’s South Carolina Republican Party s convention. “My responsibility as a human being is to love and accept everybody.”

Jenner’s gender transition was announced in a groundbreaking and widely watched 20/20 special last month. Diane Sawyer said then that it was the last interview Jenner would give as “Bruce,” afterward emerging as “her.”

Support for Jenner’s announcement was swift and near-universal – not just from Jenner’s children and step-children and ex-wife, but also from renowned figures in the LGBT community and beyond.

Santorum is considering another presidential run, according to Buzzfeed, and with these comments becomes perhaps the highest-profile conservative politician to speak out in support.

In the 20/20 interview, Jenner, 65, also “came out” as a conservative, and Sawyer asked if the former Olympian would now take the cause of transgender rights to Washington, D.C., and lobby congressional leaders such as Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell.

“I would do that, in a heartbeat. Yeah, why not?” Jenner said. “I think they’d be very receptive to it.”

In his remarks at the roundtable, Santorum demurred on the subject of bathroom access for the transgender community, which is a visible battle in the ongoing fight over LGBT rights.

“I don’t think the federal government should get into the whole issue of bathrooms. I think those are things that the business community and local agencies and organizations should deal with,” he said.

But Santorum said he draws a clear line between who people are and what they choose to do – and “not to criticize people for who they are. I can criticize, and I do, for what people do, for their behavior.

“But as far as for who they are, you have to respect everybody, and these are obviously complex issues for businesses, for society, and I think we have to look at it in a way that is compassionate and respectful of everybody.”

Editor’s note: Per Bruce Jenner’s request, PEOPLE will continue to use male pronouns until otherwise instructed.

Bruce Jenner’s Journey to Transition

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