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The White House just appointed its first openly transgender staffer

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the first openly transgender White House staffer.
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the first openly transgender White House staffer.
National Center for Transgender Equality

The Obama administration has tapped Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a Latina transgender woman, to be the first openly trans person to serve in the White House.

The announcement was quickly praised by trans advocates, particularly the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), where Freedman-Gurspan previously worked. But it also signals the broader shift in the US over LGBTQ issues — and the growing acceptance of trans rights as a serious, mainstream cause.

"President Obama has long said he wants his Administration to look like the American people. I have understood this to include transgender Americans," NCTE executive director Mara Keisling said in a statement. "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."

It's been an incredible few years for the trans rights movement. Caitlyn Jenner publicly came out as trans in an ABC News special and on the cover of Vanity Fair, putting a mainstream focus on trans issues for the first time. In popular media, shows like I Am Cait, Transparent, and Orange Is the New Black exposed Americans to a group of people they simply weren't familiar with before. And President Barack Obama became the first president to say the word "transgender" during a State of the Union address.

A lot of this is similar to the trajectory that the gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights movement followed in its early days. Many Americans' first exposure to these issues was with shows like Will and Grace, Queer as Folk, and Six Feet Under, which demonstrated to large mainstream audiences that gay people are, in many ways, just like anyone else. And that's a message that advocacy groups like Freedom to Marry grasped to the finish line in the battle for marriage equality in the US: Through media and by encouraging same-sex couples to come out to friends and family, the group helped demonstrate that gay relationships are broadly the same as heterosexual relationships.

The US is beginning to see that with trans issues, as well. As trans advocates fight for equal access to health care and nondiscrimination protections in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations, the White House's appointment and prominent appearances in media are signs that the movement is slowly but surely beginning to move into the mainstream.

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