The White House made history today by appointing Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a transgender woman, as its primary LGBT liaison, BuzzFeed News reported on Monday. Prior to working for the Obama Administration, Freedman-Gurspan, was a policy adviser for the National Center for Transgender Equality’s racial and economic justice initiative in Washington, D.C. Last year, she became the first openly transgender person to be hired as a White House staffer; as LGBT liaison, Freedman-Gurspan will serve in a role created under the Clinton Administration in 1995, but discontinued during George W. Bush presidency.
Reported the Advocate:
For 21 years, the White House’s LGBT liaison has been been either a straight woman—the first was a Bill Clinton-appointee named Marsha Scott—or a cisgender (nontrans) gay or lesbian official. But Raffi Freedman-Gurspan just changed all that.
Freedman-Gurspan grew up in Massachusetts, where she worked for the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, the City of Somerville, and the office of State Representative Carl M. Sciortino, according to her LinkedIn profile. (Now, her official title as “LGBT liaison” is outreach and recruitment director for presidential personnel and associate director for public engagement.)
In an interview with MyJewishLearning.com, Freedman-Gurspan speaks about the impact her Jewish upbringing has had on her life.
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 I learned 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.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.