Metro Weekly

White House hires first openly transgender staffer

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, formerly of the NCTE, is tapped to work in White House personnel office

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan (Photo credit: National Center for Transgender Equality).
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan (Photo credit: National Center for Transgender Equality).

The Obama White House has hired the first openly transgender staffer to serve in any presidential administration with its selection of Raffi Freedman-Gurspan to serve as Outreach and Recruitment Director for Presidential Personnel. 

Freedman-Gurspan, who most recently served as a policy advisor for the National Center for Transgender Equality’s (NCTE) Racial and Economic Justice Initiative, is best known for her work related to issues affecting transgender people of color, such as incarceration, police bias, and anti-trans violence. She has also advocated on behalf undocumented transgender immigrants by calling for the government to limit its use of detention facilities and improve conditions in those facilities, noting that, currently, undocumented transgender people are more likely to suffer abuse and mistreatment in such facilities. 

According to the White House website, the office of Presidential Personnel is tasked with overseeing, monitoring and suggesting candidates for various appointed posts throughout the administration. In her new post, Freedman-Gurspan will be involved with recruiting and reaching out to qualified applicants who can fill those positions.

Mara Keisling, the executive director of NCTE, issued a statement praising the White House’s selection of Freedman-Gurspan.

“I am elated that Raffi Freedman-Gurspan will become the first openly transgender staff member at the White House,” 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.”

“Our government works best when it reflects the reality of who we are as Americans,” said Aisha Moodie-Mills, president of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, which is involved in recruiting and suggesting qualified LGBT nominees for presidential appointments. “For the first time in history, a transgender American will serve the president as a member of the White House staff. 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.”

Freedman-Gurspan’s appointment has also drawn praise from others who have worked with her in the past. Carl Sciortino, Jr., the executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, says he met Freedman-Gurspan when she was advocating on behalf of Massachusetts’ transgender rights bill as part of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and he was serving as a state representative in the Massachusetts State House. 

“When I had an opening in my office, I quickly stole her from them because she was a pretty remarkable young woman who was already doing great work,” Sciortino says. “She was my legislative aide, so she did everything from policy advising to working on constituent issues, managing our interns, building coalitions on the bills that we were working on. She really particularly excelled in the policy work. She was very well respected by other legislators and staff because she was very hard-working, very smart, very politically and policy-wise skilled in the work she did.”

Calling Freedman-Gurspan a “perfect role model” for the transgender community, Sciortino predicts that she will “shine” in her new position while also serving as a visible example for other transgender folks as to what they can acheive. But Sciortino also says that Freedman-Gurspan will not simply rest on her laurels.

“Raffi is never going to allow herself to just be a token symbol,” says Sciortino. “She works her heart out, she’s smart, she’s dedicated. I think that for the transgender community, what’s going to happen is that in her daily work, people will come to respect her, and know her, and learn from her, on a whole range of issues. And by the fact of her very presence and hard work and skill, the trans community will have, not just a symbol, but someone they can relate to on a personal level. She gives everything of herself.”

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