Transgender activists intend to discuss federal policy issues at an upcoming White House meeting that will be the first ever held by the Office of Public Engagement to focus solely on trans issues.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the meeting, which is set to take place Friday at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, will include transgender leaders who work on federal policy.
“OPE routinely holds meetings with various stakeholders to discuss various policy issues,” Inouye said. “Friday’s meeting, like most OPE meetings, will be closed press and off the record.”
Additionally, Inouye said the meeting will be the first ever for the Office of Public Engagement where transgender issues are the sole focus of discussion.
“While transgender issues have been covered in previous OPE meetings, and transgender leaders have been included in other OPE meetings, this would be the first time OPE has held a meeting solely focused on transgender issues,” Inouye said.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she plans to attend the meeting.
“This is the first president who has allowed trans people — really allowed LGBT people — to bring forward problems and then advocate for them,” Keisling said. “In the Bush administration, we couldn’t even do that. They wouldn’t even listen to us. They didn’t care what our problems were. In fact, they were making most of our problems.”
Michael Silverman, executive director for the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said his organization wasn’t invited to the meeting, but added having the first Office of Public Engagement meeting to focus on transgender issues is “tremendously significant.”
“There was concern at the start that this was a quote-unquote secret meeting and [the fact] that the White House is speaking about it publicly demonstrates there is a commitment to meeting with transgender people and to addressing their needs,” Silverman said.
Inouye deferred to the White House visitor’s access records release process for information on which transgender activists will be in attendance. Informed sources said the National Center for Transgender Equality will form the basis of attendees at the meeting.
The specific topics of discussion during the meeting were unclear. Keisling declined to identify specific policy initiatives that she would bring up, but noted her organization’s larger agenda includes employment policy, access to health care, military policy and immigration detention standards.
“We’re not prioritizing them in that way, and I’m not going to prioritize them that way just so you can have a good story,” Keisling said. “Everybody’s like, ‘Why are you talking about this one and not that one?’ We’re going to say, ‘Here’s our agenda.’”
According to the White House, Obama administration officials in attendance will come from the White House Domestic Policy Council, the Office of Cabinet Affairs, the Office of Public Engagement, the counsel’s office and other offices. President Obama isn’t expected to attend.
Silverman said he hopes employment non-discrimination protections for transgender people will be among the discussion points during the meeting.
“I think there are important things on the agenda for transgender people at the federal level, and that includes things like ensuring that we have employment protections at the federal level and how important that is for the community, and that would be our top priority,” Silverman said.
Advocates have been pressing Obama to issue an executive order that would bar the federal government from contracting with companies that don’t have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity for their workforce. Such a directive has been seen as an interim alternative while Republicans remain in control of the U.S. House to passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar job bias against LGBT people.
Silverman said his organization would back an executive order mandating employment non-discrimination from the president and hopes such a measure would be brought up during the meeting.
“At this point, employment is the top priority of the community,” Silverman said. “A recent survey showed 47 percent of transgender people have been denied a job or a promotion — or fired from a job — just because of who they are.”