Why Barbara Bush had a change of heart on transgender issues in her 90s

When Jenna Bush Hager was asked what would surprise people most about her grandmother Barbara Bush, the "TODAY" show co-host revealed that the former first lady had some surprisingly progressive views.

During an appearance on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” to promote her new book, “Everything Beautiful in Its Time,” Hager explained that despite being labeled a conservative, her grandmother was actually quite contemporary.

“My grandmother Barbara I think was kind of misunderstood. I think mainly because of the way she looked and some of the things she said, people thought she was a throwback, but she was actually kind of modern,” Hager told host Andy Cohen. “She loved my grandfather so much, but she, even when he was president, she didn't agree publicly with everything that he did or said.”

“One of the things that I learned about her in writing this book is that she changed her views even in her 90s,” Hager added, sharing an anecdote about how her grandmother changed her mind about transgender issues after a lunch conversation with the historian Tim Naftali.

In a chapter from her book titled “I Learned a Lot From Our Lunch,” Hager recounts that her grandmother debated the acceptance of transgender people with Naftali in October 2015.

Naftali wrote about the encounter after Bush’s death in 2018 in an Atlantic article titled “Barbara Bush Changed With Her Country.” In it, he said that he initially felt like he had “gone too far” during their conversation but that a few weeks later, fellow historian Jon Meacham, who had hosted the lunch, received a letter from Bush that proved otherwise.

“Please tell him that at 90, I learned a lot from our lunch,” she wrote, noting that Naftali “changed my mind about so much,” including that transgender people are “born that way.”

During her “Watch What Happens Live” interview, Hager said the anecdote provides a hopeful message that resonates today.

“If a 90-year-old woman can sit with an open heart and listen and change her views about anything, we all could do a little bit better of a job,” she said.

In her book, Hager writes that “in this day and age, it seems as though people write one-hundred-and-fifty word credos and then live by them until they die. No one ever seems to say, ‘Maybe I don’ t know what I’m talking about,’ or ‘Teach me more.’”

”I love that she was not like that. She wanted to learn,” Hager added.

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