Jen Richards Feels Caitlyn Jenner Is ‘Complicit’ in Systemic Transphobia After Athlete Comment

"It just makes this whole campaign seem like some kind of media opportunity," Richards, an actress and trans activist, tells PEOPLE

Jen Richards was already "profoundly ambivalent" about former I Am Cait costar Caitlyn Jenner — and, as Richards makes clear in a new interview with PEOPLE, that hasn't changed in light of Jenner's gubernatorial campaign or Jenner's recent comments about transgender athletes.

"I think I've kind of given up on her," Richards says.

"I'm just ... a little bit cynical right now," the trans activist and Emmy-nominated writer/actress, 45, tells PEOPLE. "Just by the constant onslaught of anti-trans hate that's been occurring over these last few months."

Richards was reacting to Jenner's opposition to trans girls competing in sports teams that match their gender identity, which has become a political flashpoint among conservatives across the country.

"This is a question of fairness," Jenner, a Republican, told TMZ over the weekend. "That's why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls' sports in school. It just isn't fair. And we have to protect girls' sports in our schools."

Jenner soon drew backlash from LGBTQ groups and later tweeted: "I'm clear about where I stand. It's an issue of fairness and we need to protect girls' sports in our schools."

The Human Rights Campaign reported in March that there were 192 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration by state legislatures across the country and, of those, a record 93 bills directly target transgender people.

Many of the bills would specifically impose restrictions on transgender youth participation in sports.

Legislators have argued that trans girls have an unfair physical advantage over cisgender girls in an athletic setting, but doctors and scientists say that is an oversimplification not supported by the facts. And in most cases, these lawmakers have not been able to name local examples of trans athletes having such an advantage, according to the Associated Press.

Speaking with PEOPLE, Richards notes that she has positive things to say about Jenner, 71, as a person — though, she says, she takes issue with Jenner's views of the world.

"With Caitlyn, in particular, she's indicative of the fact that just because you have a marginalized identity, just because you are part of that world in some way, shape or form, it doesn't mean you understand it," Richards says. "It doesn't mean you're in a position to speak to it."

A spokesperson for Jenner did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment about Richards' criticism.

Richards appeared alongside several other trans activists in season 1 of I Am Cait in 2015, which documented Jenner's life after her transition. "I know Caitlyn to actually be a very kind and empathetic person on an individual level," she says.

Caitlyn Jenner and jen richards
Kevin Winter/Getty

"She cares about injustice, she's very kind," Richards says of Jenner. "She would speak out against injustice, if she ever saw it individually around her. What she doesn't seem interested in — or frankly, even capable of — is thinking about those kinds of in justices on a systemic level and the ways in which she's complicit in them."

Since coming out as transgender in 2015, Jenner has spoken candidly about her blind spots with the trans community and how her own views evolved.

"I've changed my thinking in a lot of ways," she told PEOPLE last year, describing herself as "economically conservative" and "much more progressive" socially.

"I just want to try to do the best I possibly can," she said then.

As one of the country's most famous trans advocates, she spoke out against a push to prevent transgender students from using the bathroom matching their identity and denounced former President Donald Trump's ban on transgender service members.

I Am Cait co-creator Jeff Olde also previously defended Jenner to PEOPLE, while acknowledging that she knew she made mistakes. "But what I respect about her today is that she's willing to learn," he said. "And learning can be painful."

Jenner announced her candidacy for governor of California in late April, ahead of the pending recall effort against incumbent Gavin Newsom, who has vowed to fight to hold his seat.

She is running as a "disruptor" and an outsider, criticizing Newsom's handling of COVID-19 and arguing she can tackle California's economy, though she faces an uphill challenge in a state where conservatives do not hold much sway.

"She's got to know that there's no chance she has of actually winning," Richards says. "I can't imagine she has any support. I mean, it just makes this whole campaign seem like some kind of media opportunity."

caitlyn jenner instagram
Caitlyn Jenner/instagram

Decades after she won gold in the men's decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics, Jenner — who experienced another bout of fame with Keeping Up with the Kardashians — came out as transgender in a groundbreaking July 2015 cover of Vanity Fair.

Richards feels that Jenner's own journey is, inevitably, a factor in her politics.

"Regardless of how she felt about herself, who she really is, she was seen by the world and treated by the world as a rich, straight, white man for many years," Richards says. "And that comes with a certain amount of entitlement that is really difficult to undo."

Richards can be seen on Clarice airing Thursday, May 13 (10 p.m. ET), on CBS.

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