On Tuesday, President Obama appointed the very first transgender person to work in the White House. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan will serve as the White House’s outreach and recruitment director for presidential personnel in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.
Prior to this position, Freedman-Gurspan worked as a policy adviser for the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). Mara Keisling, the NCTE’s executive director, praised the White House’s decision: “President Obama has long said he wants his administration to look like the American people. I have understood this to include transgender Americans,” she said. “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.”
This past June, Freedman-Gurspan advocated for the safety of transgender immigrants being held in detentions and urged the Obama Administration to release them due to their increased likelihood of being sexual assault victims.
“[Immigration and Customs Enforcement]’s guidelines finally [acknowledge] what we’ve known for a long time: transgender people cannot be held safely in detention,” she said at the time. “Though the guidance represents a significant improvement in how transgender immigration detainees will be treated, ICE’s record on implementing such as this is mixed. 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.”
Recently, Freedman-Gurspan has spoken out about the 33 trans women who have been murdered since August of 2013. “We are at a crisis at this point,” she said. “At this point we really would like to see some kind of response from [state and federal] authorities.”
Valerie Jarrett, one of President Obama’s senior advisers, applauded Freedman-Gurspan’s qualifications in a statement. “Raffi Freedman-Gurspan demonstrates the kind of leadership this Administration champions,” she 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.”
Several leaders of prominent LGBT groups have also expressed happiness over the decision. Aisha Moodie-Mills, president and chief executive of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, described Freedman-Gurspan as “an incredibly smart, talented, and committed professional” and added that the decision “is an important milestone for the transgender community.” And Courtney Cuff, president and chief executive of the Gill Foundation, described the news as “another important step toward ensuring our federal government fully includes the voices and experience of our communities.”
While in office, President Obama has previously expressed support for America’s transgender population. He has had several other openly trans people work for his Administration (Freedman-Gurspan is the first to serve specifically as a White House staffer). Earlier this year, he called for a ban on “conversion therapies,” which seek to “cure” gay and transgender youth but have been proven to do nothing but result in deeply damaging psychological effects. He also introduced the White House’s very first gender-neutral bathroom this year.