The White House for the first time has hired an openly transgender person as a member of its staff, LGBT advocates and the Obama administration announced Tuesday.
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who formerly served in trans advocacy as policy adviser for the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Racial & Economic Justice Initiative, has been appointed to a senior position in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. She’s set to begin her new role as an outreach and recruitment director in the Presidential Personnel Office on Tuesday.
Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, welcomed the addition of Freedman-Gurspan to the White House in a statement to the Washington Blade.
“Raffi Freedman-Gurspan demonstrates the kind of leadership this administration champions,” Jarrett said. “Her commitment to bettering the lives of transgender Americans, particularly transgender people of color and those in poverty, reflects the values of this administration.”
According to the White House website, the Office of Presidential Personnel oversees the selection process for presidential appointments and works to recruit qualified candidates for service in departments and agencies across the government.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she’s “elated” about the addition of Freedman-Gurspan to the White House staff.
“That the first transgender appointee is a transgender woman of color is itself significant,” Keisling said. “And that the first White House transgender appointee is a friend is inspiring to me and to countless others who have been touched by Raffi’s advocacy.”
During her tenure at the National Center for Transgender Equality, Freedman-Gurspan focused on the experiences of transgender people of color and those living in poverty. Among her duties was advocacy on behalf of improving the conditions of transgender people in prison, addressing biased policing against transgender communities, limiting the use of detention for undocumented transgender immigrants and finding solutions to address violence against transgender communities of color.
Carl Sciortino, a gay former lawmaker in the Massachusetts State House and executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, called Freedman-Gurspan a “role model,” recalling her days working for the state legislature.
“Among her many contributions, she was instrumental in helping pass the Transgender Equal Rights Law,” Sciortino said. “I am proud to see her continue to lead by example, as she takes her voice and her passion to the White House. Her hiring is a symbol of progress for the transgender community, but without a doubt I know it will be her skill and hard work that will benefit many.”
The Obama administration has appointed openly transgender people into federal government positions before, but no appointee so far could be considered a White House staffer. For example, President Obama appointed Dylan Orr in 2009 as special assistant in the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, although he’s since left the government. Another openly trans Obama appointee is Amanda Simpson, who’s currently executive director of the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives.
In June, Obama named Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, as another senior openly trans official by appointing him to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.
Aisha Moodie-Mills, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, also praised the appointment of Freedman-Gurspan to the White House.
“For the first time in history, a transgender American will serve the president as a member of the White House staff,” Moodie-Mills said. “We’re celebrating because this is an important milestone for the transgender community, but we’re also thrilled that Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, an incredibly smart, talented, and committed professional, will now be working for the American people.”
Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference for Civil & Human Rights, said Freedman-Gurspan’s appointment represents “a remarkable step forward” for LGBT rights.
“As the old saying goes ‘if you’re not in the room, then you can’t possibly be at the table,’” Henderson said. “Our nation will be stronger with Freedman-Gurspan, an advocate from The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights coalition, both in the room and at the table as the first openly transgender White House staffer.”
Diego Sanchez, policy director for PFLAG National, said the addition of Freedman-Gurspan to the White House is important for transgender people everywhere.
“As a governmental trailblazer myself, as the first openly trans senior staffer on Capitol Hill, I know that educating from the inside is key,” Sanchez said. “Raffi is another example of tremendous LGBTQ standouts chosen by this administration, and it is gratifying that more trans people, including her generation and the ones that will follow, can know that their gender identity is not a deterrent, but rather a benefit that complements their professional prowess.”