Meet the transgender activist who has helped the White House become a force for trans rights

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This morning the Obama administration took another strong stance against North Carolina's transphobic bathroom law by writing a letter of guidance to public school districts across the nation asking them to protect trans students' rights.


That's just a few days after Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Department of Justice is suing the state of North Carolina for allegedly violating trans students' civil rights with the new law.

As the administration has made these bold moves to support transgender Americans' civil rights, an influential trans woman, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, has been working within the White House to give the trans community a voice.


In March this year President Obama appointed Freedman-Gurspan, a Latina trans woman, to the role of White House LGBT liaison. She's the first trans person to take the job since the office was created in 1995.

Freedman-Gurspan is an authority on trans rights: she has been heavily involved in working to advocate for transgender civil rights throughout her career. She played a significant role in getting Massachusetts' Transgender Civil Rights Bill passed in 2011 (she was legislative director to the bill's main sponsor, state Rep. Carl Sciortino Jr., at the time).

Last year, she became the first openly transgender White House official when she took on the role of director of outreach and recruitment for the personnel office.

“Her commitment to bettering the lives of transgender Americans, particularly transgender people of color and those in poverty, reflects the values of this administration,” said senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett when Freedman-Gurspan, now 28 years old, was appointed to that position.


Her job now includes being the associate director for public engagement—meaning she will be the main point of contact responsible for coordinating communication between the White House and LGBT groups. She was a policy advisor for an advocacy group, the National Center for Transgender Equality, before moving to the White House.


“Raffi is a great choice,” Mara Kiesling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told BuzzFeed News. “President Obama has said he wants his administration to look like America, and they have moved to include trans Americans. Raffi’s skills and personality make her the exact right person for this important job.”

The White House's support of transgender rights comes in an atmosphere in which advocates say trans women of color are facing a high risk of violence. Last year, 22 trans women were murdered, 19 of those being women of color, according to the New York City Anti-Violence Project.


This post has been updated.

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