St. Olaf alum becomes Obama’s go-to person for LGBTQ community

Source: White House
Source: White House

President Obama appointed Raffi Freedman-Gurspan to be his LGBTQ liaison, Buzzfeed reports.

Freedman-Gurspan, a 2009 graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, previously served in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel which earned her the distinction of being the first transgender woman in history to be hired by the White House. Her new role will be outreach and recruitment director for presidential personnel and associate director for public engagement.

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan was previously a Policy Advisor for the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative at the National Center for Transgender Equality, was the LGBT Liaison for the City of Somerville, Massachusetts, and worked for the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, among several other positions.

Freedman-Gurspan studied political science and Norwegian at St. Olaf. She spoke about her story in a 2009 presentation at St. Olaf, including her birth in Honduras, her Lenca parents, her adoption by a Jewish family in Boston, and her journey to Minnesota to study Norwegian. The presentation is available at the St. Olaf website and begins at the 6-minute mark.

In an interview with Keshet, a Jewish LGBTQ organization Freedman-Gurspan is Jewish), Freedman-Gurspan recounted her entry into LGBTQ activism:

I transitioned while I was a student at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, one of the few states at the time that had protections for transgender people. When I moved back to Boston after graduation, I quickly realized that Massachusetts had no state civil rights protections for people like me. I got connected with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), led by Gunner Scott, which was advocating for legislation that would add gender identity to the list of protected categories in the state’s non-discrimination laws. Working with MTPC, and of course meeting Carl Sciortino, deeply impacted my passion for public policy. I am grateful to Gunner, Carl and the coalition that advocated for the 2011 Transgender Equal Rights Act – the experience truly taught me how to approach public policy and advocacy – and I will never forget the signing of the bill by Governor Deval Patrick. I still get emotional thinking about it.

“Raffi is a great choice,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Buzzfeed. “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.”

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