BY CLEIS ABENI for The Advocate
For 21 years, the White House’s LGBT liaison has been been either a straight woman — the first was a Bill Clinton-appointee named Marsha Scott — or a cisgender (nontrans) gay or lesbian official. But Raffi Freedman-Gurspan just changed all that.
Freedman-Gurspan is a trans Latina public policy expert who was first appointed to a staff position in the White House last year. Now she becomes the first out transgender person to serve as the White House’s LGBT liaison, reports BuzzFeed. Her official title is outreach and recruitment director for presidential personnel and associate director for public engagement.
Formerly the racial and economic justice initiative policy advisor at the National Center for Transgender Equality, Freedman-Gurspan is no stranger to breaking barriers. She was the first transgender woman to work in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where she was instrumental in passing the state's Transgender Equal Rights Law. Freedman-Gurspan’s work has garnered high praise for her ability to connect issues of racial and economic justice with LGBT concerns.
“Raffi Freedman-Gurspan demonstrates the kind of leadership this Administration champions," senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett told The Advocate when Freedman-Gurspan was first appointed to the White House in 2015. "Her commitment to bettering the lives of transgender Americans, particularly transgender people of color and those in poverty, reflects the values of this Administration."
"Raffi Freedman-Gurspan understands how policy affects real people," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center last year. "Freedman-Gurspan will bring her impressive track record and experience in advocating for social and economic justice to her new position in the White House. Her deep commitment in advocating for those most in need and without a voice in our society will be a tremendous asset to the White House and to the country as a whole."
Freedman-Gurspan’s rise within the White House represents the Obama administration’s progress on issues of trans equality, including its creation of gender-neutral bathrooms within the White House’s Executive Office and the Department of Justice and Department of Education’s determinations that a transgender students are protected under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex.
Credit for some of the White House’s trans-affirming initiatives goes to its previous LGBT liaison, according to the Washington Post. Aditi Hardikar, an Indian-American appointee who left to work on Hillary Clinton’s campaign as a finance director for coalitions, also represented Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.
“White House officials credited [Hardikar] with playing a critical role in some of the administration’s more cutting edge and controversial moves on gay and transgender rights, such as the opening of the first-ever all-gender restrooms at the White House and the decision to light up the White House in rainbow colors the day the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationally,” said the Post of Hardikar’s work.
Freedman-Gurspan joins an illustrious group of transgender presidential appointees. Dylan Orr was appointed as a special assistant in the Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy in 2009. He now works in Seattle city government. Amanda Simpson was appointed to the Department of Commerce in 2010. She now works as the executive director at the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives.
Amelie Koran was the first transgender civil service employee to work directly in the White House, serving in the executive office of the president as an IT policy analyst beginning in April 2014. She has held numerous other positions within the administration, including working for the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Treasury, where she is currently employed, according to her LinkedIn profile. Last June, Shannon Price Minter, a trans man then serving as legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, was appointed to President Obama's Commission on White House Fellowships.