The Biden-Harris transition team has already named several LGBTQ people to key White House posts, and advocates hope it’s just the beginning.

By Dan Avery

President-elect Joe Biden has repeatedly vowed to make LGBTQ rights a priority in his administration. But he won’t be working alone: The former vice president has already tapped LGBTQ appointees for several key roles and gay rights advocates are hopeful that more will be named, including the first out Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate. There’s also a push, should an opening become available, for him to nominate the first openly LGBTQ justice to the Supreme Court.

The Biden-Harris transition team has promoted the president-elect’s “commitment to building an administration that looks like America.”

On Sunday, Karine Jean-Pierre, an out lesbian and chief of staff for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, was announced as deputy press secretary, and Pili Tobar, an immigration rights advocate and former aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was named deputy White House communications director. Tobar, a lesbian, also worked as a communications director for the Biden campaign.

In November, Carlos Elizondo, who is gay and was Biden’s social secretary when Biden was vice president, was named White House social secretary.‘Smart choices’ and ‘intersectionality’

Ruben Gonzalez, vice president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which trains and advocates for queer candidates at all levels of government, noted that the LGBTQ people named to the incoming administration so far are all people of color.

“I think it speaks to the president-elect’s understanding of intersectionality,” he said.

Image: Karine Jean-Pierre
Karine Jean-Pierre.Gary Gershoff / Getty Images

Gonzales said it’s important to have LGBTQ people in the administration because “we know our lives better — we know what protections mean in health care, in housing, in the workplace.”

“Look at how Trump changed guidance about bathrooms, for example,” he added. “A trans person understands what that means in really stark terms.”

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan became the first openly transgender person to work in the White House when President Barack Obama appointed her to the Presidential Personnel Office in 2015.

She praised the Biden team’s “smart choices,” saying it selected talented candidates with impressive resumes.

“Just because they’re coming in doesn’t mean they’ll be working on LGBTQ issues,” she told NBC News. “When I was in the White House, the vast majority of us weren’t. We were working for the EPA, the Small Business Administration, on security issues. Having LGBTQ people at every table, at every level, is still crucial, though, because we are everywhere and are impacted by everything. You don’t want an initiative to land flat or miss an important segment of the population.”

Beyond an out Cabinet member, Freedman-Gurspan predicts a nonbinary person will be appointed at some level. “I know there are some interviewing,” she said.

Biden has also named LGBTQ personnel to his transition team, including the agency review teams, responsible for scrutinizing federal agencies before he takes office. According to a release from the Biden-Harris team, roughly 40 percent of agency review members members represent “communities historically underrepresented in the federal government, including people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities.”

Chai Feldblum, a former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission member who was instrumental in drafting the Americans With Disabilities Act, and Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General Pamela Karlan, co-counsel in United States v. Windsor, which struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, are reviewing the Department of Justice and related agencies for the Biden transition team, the Advocate reported, including the Federal Election Commission and the Commission on Civil Rights.

Dave Noble, former deputy director of the Presidential Personnel Office for Obama, is part of the teams advising NASA and the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the transition. Shawn Skelly, a transgender Navy veteran and executive secretary for the Department of Transportation under Obama, has been named to the Department of Defense review board.

«Allies are invaluable, but the impact of policies on LGBTQ lives is not always fully understood by someone outside our community.»


Throughout the campaign, Biden promised to move swiftly to repeal President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender service members.

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