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Meet the White House’s first transgender staffer

August 18, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House has appointed its first openly transgender staff member. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan has been hired as an outreach and recruitment director for presidential personnel in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, LGBT groups and the White House said Tuesday.

Freedman-Gurspan “demonstrates the kind of leadership this administration champions,” Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, said in an emailed statement confirming the appointment. “Her commitment to bettering the lives of transgender Americans — particularly transgender people of color and those in poverty — reflects the values of this administration.”

In a news release, National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling said: “President Obama has long said he wants his administration to look like the American people. I have understood this to include transgender Americans. A transgender person was inevitably going to work in the White House.

“That the first transgender appointee is a transgender woman of color is itself significant. And that the first White House transgender appointee is of a friend is inspiring to me and to countless others who have been touched by Raffi’s advocacy.”

Watch a video released by the Obama administration that features staffers voicing their support of efforts to ban the use of “conversion therapy” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender minors:

Freedman-Gurspan recently called for state and federal officials to do more to address a recent wave of trans homicides. “We are at a crisis at this point,” she told Al Jazeera America earlier this month. Noting that there had been 33 trans women killed in the United States over the past two years, she added: “At this point . . . we really would like to see some kind of response from [state and federal] authorities.”

Freedman-Gurspan’s previous job was at the National Center for Transgender Equality, where she worked as a policy adviser for the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative. In that role, she also urged the government to release undocumented transgender immigrants who cannot be adequately protected from sexual violence in detention.

“To really end the suffering transgender detainees face, the Obama Administration must release transgender detainees for whom being in detention makes them a target of sexual assault and violence,” she said in a June statement.

The trans advocacy group announced the White House appointment Tuesday, in a press release containing several statements from the leaders of other LGBT organizations.

“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,” said Aisha Moodie-Mills, president and chief executive of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute.

Added Courtney Cuff, president and chief executive of the Gill Foundation: “As the first openly transgender person to work for the White House, Raffi’s appointment is another important step toward ensuring our federal government fully includes the voices and experiences of our communities.”

A handful of openly trans individuals have worked in the current administration, but not as a White House staff member. Two of them — Jay Davis at the Environmental Protection Agency and Amanda Simpson, executive director of the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives — participated in a White House video supporting a ban on conversion therapy earlier this year.

Other trans administration officials, according to the NCTE, have included Dylan Orr, a former special assistant at the Department of Labor; Chloe Schwenke, senior adviser for LGBT policy and senior adviser to the Bureau on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance; and Shawn Skelley in the Department of Defense.

Obama also appointed trans attorney Shannon Minter to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships in June.

© 2015, The Washington Post

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