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Obama Appoints First Transgender Jewish Woman to Holocaust Memorial Council

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan previously served as the White House’s LGBT liason, its first transgender staffer in history

Miranda Cooper
January 20, 2017

Today in news of executive branch hires that won’t make you shake your fist in rage: Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who in August 2015 became the first openly transgender White House staffer in history, has been appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. Prior to this appointment, she was the LGBT liaison for the White House.

Freedman-Gurspan joins nine other new appointees to the Council, an institution which came about as a result of Jimmy Carter’s President’s Commission on the Holocaust in 1978. The Memorial Council, which Congress established in 1980 on the recommendation of the President’s Commission, serves as the United States Holocaust Museum’s Board of Trustees. At the times of their founding, the Commission and then the Council were chaired by Elie Wiesel. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, the Council’s purpose is

to lead the nation in commemorating the Holocaust and to raise private funds for and build the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Once the Museum opened in 1993, the Council became the governing board of trustees of the Museum, an independent establishment of the United States government operating as a public-private partnership that receives some federal funding to support operations of the Museum building.

The Council, which meets twice a year, consists of 55 members appointed by the President, as well as five members each from the Senate and House of Representatives and three ex-officio members from the Departments of Education, Interior, and State. Presidential appointments serve for a five-year term; 11 members’ terms expire each year.

The Council’s current Senate membership includes Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.

For her part, Freedman-Gurspan has spoken publicly about the important influence of her Jewish upbringing on her political and social values:

My Jewish identity and family played an enormous role in shaping the individual I am today. Torah, tzedakah, and tikkun olam are essentially the Jewish education I received at Temple Israel in Boston and at home. The importance of social action and taking responsibility of the welfare of those less fortunate in our midst was drilled into me by parents and Jewish educators from an early age.

Embracing diversity and understanding different perspectives was also a value Ilearned through Judaism. My family has also been at the forefront of many important movements in our nation’s history. My great-grandmother was a suffragette who fought for women’s right to vote; my grandparents advocated for unions, fair wages, and worker protections; and my parents, as social workers, have consistently supported social justice causes including voting and civil rights for people of color, destigmatization of mental illness, and women’s and LGBTQ rights. I believe this progressive Jewish upbringing, both at synagogue and at home, deeply impacted the path I took to work on public policy matters that affect the neediest in our society.

Miranda Cooper is an editorial intern at Tablet. Follow her on Twitter here.

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