Activists from the LGBTQ community have praised the Obama administration for being forward-thinking in terms of gay civil rights, and they have another cause for celebration as Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the first openly transgender White House official, goes to work. She is the new director of outreach and recruitment for the White House personnel office and started work on Tuesday. But Freedman-Gurspan isn't just a symbol; she's an amazing activist who has done a lot of work for LGBTQ rights.
Before taking on her new job at the White House, Freedman-Gurspan served as the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative Policy Advisor at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). Senior Advisor to President Obama Valerie Jarrett said in a statement sent to The Advocate, "Raffi Freedman-Gurspan demonstrates the kind of leadership this Administration champions. Her commitment to bettering the lives of transgender Americans, particularly transgender people of color and those in poverty, reflects the values of this Administration."
Freedman-Gurspan has been an advocate for improving the conditions of transgender prisoners, fighting biases in policing toward members of the transgender community, combating violence toward transgender women of color, and limiting the detention of transgender immigrants living in the United States illegally. She has worked with legislators and reporters to bring awareness to these causes.
She is also vocal about how issues such as the pay gap and unemployment affect the trans community, and about forced conversion therapy on children. "Transgender people, we just want to be ourselves. ... Pseudo-science telling us that we are wrong and that we need to conform does immense harm to children. It's frankly child abuse," she said on Breaking The Set.
Members of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, the National Women’s Law Center, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, and the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts have praised her work on social justice causes. According to the NCTE, CEO and President of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights Wade Henderson said, "As the old saying goes, 'If you're not in the room, then you can’t possibly be at the table.' Our nation will be stronger with Freedman-Gurspan, an advocate from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights coalition, both in the room and at the table as the first openly transgender White House staffer."
Freedman-Gurspan was adopted from Honduras and raised by a single mother. At a 2010 documentary panel, she said, "I am trans identified. I came out during college and have always been involved with the broader LGBTQ community, so I think for me, it was just trying to figure out which part of that acronym I was correctly associated with, but I like to say that I'm part of it all."
She has served on the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and as an LGBT liaison for the City of Somerville, Massachusetts, according to her LinkedIn profile. She attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota and has been a public speaker on issues affecting transgender individuals.
The voices heard by transgender people in politics are few and far between. There are currently no open members of the trans community serving in Congress, and Americans have yet to see their first openly gay president, much less one who is openly transgender. Only a handful of openly transgender individuals have run for elected office, often facing shaming and condemning elections: for instance, Massachusetts state legislator Althea Garrison was outed as transgender after winning her seat in 1992.
The acceptance of more diverse opinions making their way into Washington is a huge step in the right direction. The hiring of Freedman-Gurspan is a symbol of members of the transgender community finally getting to speak their opinions in government. White House employees with minority backgrounds have the ability to make the United States a more inclusive country by sharing their experiences and pushing for progress.
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