The White House has hired its first openly transgender staff member. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan has been appointed as an outreach and recruitment director for presidential personnel in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.
The 28-year-old previously worked as a policy adviser for the National Center for Transgender Equality's Racial and Economic Justice Initiative, and before that as a legislative director with Rep. Carl Sciortino's office.
The executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Mara Keisling, praised the appointment in a joint a statement:
I am elated that Raffi Freedman-Gurspan will become the first openly transgender staff member at the White House. President Obama has long said he wants his Administration to look like the American people," she said. "I have understood this to include transgender Americans. A transgender person was inevitably going to work in the White House.
Sciortino also applauded Tuesday's news of the new White House hire:
Raffi is a role model. As the first out transgender woman working at the Massachusetts State House, she showed leadership and courage, and among her many contributions, was instrumental in helping pass the Transgender Equal Rights Law. 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.
Freedman-Gurspan was adopted from Honduras and raised in Brookline, Mass. As her mother, Marion Freedman-Gurspan, writes in the book Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children, she watched her child transition during college. By Raffi's senior year at St. Olaf College in Minneapolis, her mother writes, Raffi was living as a woman, "learning to fight for her rights as a transgender person as she sought the housing she wanted."
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan has long advocated on behalf of transgender people, especially transgender immigrants in detention centers in the U.S. In June, after a transgender immigrant interrupted President Obama's speech at a gay pride event at the White House, Freedman-Gurspan told The Associated Press that more needs to be done to protect transgender detainees from sexual violence.
"This is all interesting on paper, to say the least, but we need to see how this actually plays out," said Freedman-Gurspan at the time. "We don't think these folks should be in detention centers, period."
The Washington Post reports that though Freedman-Gurspan is the first openly transgender White House staff member, there are other openly transgender people working in the administration, including Jay Davis at the Environmental Protection Agency and Amanda Simpson, executive director of the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives. The Post adds:
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.