The White House announced Tuesday that it hired its first openly transgender staff member.
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan will serve as outreach and recruitment director for presidential personnel in the Office of Personnel.
Earlier this year, she was one of several advocates to participate in the first-ever White House briefing on the state of transgender women of color. She urged administration officials to develop a national plan on a range of issues, including discrimination, mental health, homelessness and unemployment.
Advocates have been particularly alarmed by the fact that at least 16 transgender women of color have been murdered in 2015, a rate that already surpasses the total number of trans women of color homicides in 2014. Freedman-Gurspan has recommended that the Department of Justice and FBI more closely track hate crimes against transgender women.
Freedman-Gurspan previously served as a policy adviser for the National Center for Transgender Equality. She led the nonprofit organization’s racial and economic justice initiative, which focuses on low-income and transgender people of color. As a staff member for former representative Carl Sciortino, Jr., she was also the first openly transgender woman to work in the Massachusetts State House.
“Her hiring is a symbol of progress for the transgender community,
“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,” Sciortino said in a statement.
Freedman-Gurspan may help influence the president’s immigration reform efforts. She has called for the release of undocumented transgender immigrants who cannot be safely detained and protected from targeted assaults and sexual violence.
The White House opened a gender-neutral bathroom for guests and staff. In June, it hosted transgender service members at its LGBT Pride reception.
The administration has not stopped at symbolic gestures, either.
The president recently signed an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Last month, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the military may soon end its ban on transgender service members.
“President Obama has long said he wants his Administration to look like the American people,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “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.”
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