LONDON – The White House has hired its first openly transgender employee, according to a U.S. official, winning praise from activists for President Barack Obama’s support for lesbian, gay and transgender people.
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, 28, a longtime advocate for transgender rights, will be an outreach and recruitment director for presidential personnel, according to a statement from the Obama administration.
“Raffi Freedman-Gurspan demonstrates the kind of leadership this administration champions,” Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, said in a statement.
“Her commitment to bettering the lives of transgender Americans, particularly transgender people of color and those in poverty, reflects the values of this administration.”
From Obama notching up a U.S. presidential first by using the word transgender in this year’s State of the Union address, to the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, transgender rights are garnering worldwide attention.
Freedman-Gurspan holds a degree in political science and Norwegian, and formerly worked as a policy adviser at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).
Maria Keisling, NCTE executive director and Freedman-Gurspan’s former employer, expressed her elation at the news in a statement on the advocacy organization’s website.
“That the first transgender appointee is a transgender woman of color is itself significant. And that the first White House transgender appointee is a friend is inspiring to me and to countless others who have been touched by Raffi’s advocacy.”
While Freedman-Gurspan is not the first transgender person to be employed by the U.S. government, she is the first to hold a full-time position within the White House itself.
In 2009 Dylan Orr became the first ever transgender presidential political appointee while working at the Labor Department, and 22-year-old Sarah McBride was an intern at the White House in 2013.
The appointment comes amid a wider push from the Obama administration to promote equality for transgender U.S. citizens.
In July, a decades-long ban on the military employing transgender personnel was lifted, and a 2014 bill made discrimination against gay and transgender people working for federal governments or contractors illegal.
But many transgender people still live in fear of abuse and assault in the United States, and face the highest risk of murder within the LGBT community, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.