Editors' Note: Guest blogger Mara Keisling is the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. Mara was recently invited to the White House to witness the signing of a presidential executive order.
This picture represents something you have probably never seen before. There are lots of pictures of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial (in the distance), quite a few shot across the South Lawn of the White House and even some shot from inside the White House. But this one comes from a distinct view point. It was shot Wednesday afternoon from within the East Wing of the White House by a transgender person. I took that picture while waiting with a handful of cabinet secretaries, a score or so of Congressmembers, at least two Olympic gold medalists, and a Who's Who of feminist, women's rights and civil rights leaders - including one of my heroes, Dr. Dorothy Haight.
I suppose pretty much everyone thinks it's cool to be invited to the White House--especially now that so many of us have such hope for what the White House can mean for Americans again. And, of course, I know that there are invites, and then there are invites. Maybe mine on Wednesday, to attend the signing of an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, wasn't an invite to meet personally with the President one on one to help him figure out global warming or to discuss the urgent needs of transgender people, but that a transwoman had been invited to such a significant moment for American women is still a very hopeful sign. I am proud to have attended and more proud to have been invited.
In his comments at the signing, the President talked about FDR's Labor Secretary Frances Perkins--the first-ever woman cabinet member. By way of showing how far women in America had come, he noted that she had said about her pioneering appointment, "I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the rights of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats." From twenty or so feet away from the President of the United States as his guest, I almost felt like he was reminding me of the steps transpeople are taking.
At NCTE, we do not pretend that our having been invited to send me to a mostly ceremonial, albeit significant, moment is akin to Perkins being the first woman in the cabinet. I was not, to say the least, in the high seats. But, imagine, this week a transperson was invited as a transperson to the White House. And bigger, more significant firsts have already happened this year. A transgender man, Diego Sanchez, was the first openly out transperson to become a staffer on Capitol Hill, standing on the shoulders of at least one other transperson who worked for a Senator in a district office. And this year a transgender person, Shannon Minter, argued for the second time before the California Supreme Court and was named Lawyer of the Year by California Lawyer magazine, standing on the shoulders of numerous trans lawyers who had mentored him. And this year, other firsts have happened and will continue to happen, and in years hence, these firsts will stand as foundations on which new, taller firsts will stand.
In the mean time, of course, trans people around the country and the world continue to face horrible disrespect, discrimination and violence, and I know my invitation to the White House this week is only one tiny step toward lessening those years from now.
I know more of us will be invited again soon, and next time hopefully to witness the signing of a Hate Crimes law or ENDA or maybe the much needed Executive Order protecting transgender federal employees.
I took that picture from the White House on Wednesday knowing that soon lots of trans people will take lots of pictures from the White House. And soon after that, or eventually, trans people will be in the White House often enough that pictures will seem unnecessary: we'll be sitting in the high seats.