Guest Blogger

A Picture from a New Perspective - Inside the White House

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 14, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Barack Obama, inside the White House, Mara Keisling, National Center for Transgender Equality, NCTE, transfolk, transmen, transwomen

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.

White_House_Window.jpgThis 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.

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Gerri Ladene | March 14, 2009 5:38 PM

"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." You are so deserving to have had this opportunity Mara! Wow, this is just too cool....

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | March 15, 2009 7:11 AM

Gerri, you bet every fish you ever caught at the NIPSCO plant in MC! This will happen more and more.

Gerri Ladene | March 15, 2009 11:01 AM

Robert, there is no better feeling than getting your feet wet in the warm water discharge of the NIPSCO and catching your limit,or more, during the winter run. I miss watching that 50 pound test tighten up and having my pole bend into a U! Not unlike this whole community steadily catching opportunities to go forward. Mara's steadfast activism makes the trans segment feel like our stringer is at least showing some of the catch. Yes, it will be wonderful to see that catch increase, so it will take allot more involvement by all of us! This is not a "catch and release" it's for the keeper! I'm almost feeling that Skamania fever coming on, could just be a hot flash (grin).

Mara, I am proud and very happy that you were invited and able to attend. That sends such a strong, positive signal. Not to mention is must have been such a thrill to be there in such company. Good on you! Clearly you belonged there.

Having watched the video of the President's speech before he signed the order, I got choked up again when I read that quote from Frances Perkins, and remember how the President spoke about her. I hope the Council can do great work.

It's amazing to me how far we've come in so relatively short a time. This is a milestone, even if it is a small one.

Hopefully, Congress will follow Obama's inclusive example this spring.

I am also proud of you. There have been some firsts, and I'm seeing them, too. You made me proud that day, and it will continue. Thank you.

Thanks for sharing this, Mara.

I long remember what a big deal it was when the very first meeting took place with gay people in the White House. It wasn't even with the president. But the meeting with Midge Costanza, then a closeted lesbian on Jimmy Carter's staff, is continued to be cited as a milestone in the history of the gay rights movement.

So a transwoman being invited to meet the president, has to be at least as significant, and (in my book) more.

Congratulations on the "one small step... ".

Not a small, but a huge step, Mara. Congrats on that!

A transwoman invited to the White House is recognition of your cause, a recognition of self.

Everyday Transperson | March 15, 2009 1:25 PM

Ms. Keisling, a large and notable step indeed, but I am curious as to your statement:

"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."

Who exactly is the "US" in which you refer here ?? Are you referring solely to those who are members of the transgender "leadership" circle or will those invitees include those trans folks who actually are living every day the results of the disrespect, discrimination and violence in which you address ??

Please remember Mr. Obamas vision of getting more in touch with Main St. ideology and less with Wall Street elitism. Having a more diverse group of transgender Americans represent our community at such events would be a prime example of this new vision rather than the "business as usual" system of continuing to invite ONLY those "luminaries" in the trans leadership circle............

Yes, you're right. Us elite transgender leaders are getting all the rights for ever trans person . . . except you. Forward us your name, address and phone number so we can make sure that when the legislation is written, it will leave you out. Will that make you satisfied?

Everyday Transperson | March 15, 2009 8:50 PM

Satisfied ??? Hmmm, well satisfaction isn't quite the best term to use in this case is it ?? nor is adopting the "Us and Them" ,or in this case, the "US and YOU", approach........ What happened to the "inclusion" that you continue to preach in the media, not so in this case is it ?? More like "selective" inclusion............

I continue to be amazed by this ideology:

"Equal rights and opportunity for all trans folks..........but only if you agree with "OUR" views as we trans "leaders" set forth. Anyone who disagrees with "OUR" view, who bruised our political egos, or whom we deem that we don't like personally is excluded from those rights and inclusions..............."

That's really practicing what you preach, way to go !!! Perhaps that's one of the reasons why you "leaders" failed miserably concerning the ENDA thing a few years ago........

"When legislation is written.........." Don't you mean IF legislation is written ?? I don't have too much faith that the current trans leadership will ever get anything passed with the current elitist ideology present..........

Well, WHEN we get protections, I will be absolutely sure of one thing. You didn't do one damn thing to help us get their. I guess we can consider you the AIG equivalent of the trans community. You'll get to suck up benefits on the backs of other people. Enjoy.

Angela Brightfeather | March 15, 2009 11:31 PM

Well Mara, we knew it had to happen sooner or later and I am glad that it happened to you, for many reasons.

I hate to sound like and "olf fart" here, but just to get a bit sentimental about it I have to wonder if there wasn't a few others there with you as well.

I hope that before you entered the room in the White House where the signing was, that you called on a few others to accompany you there, like Cristine Jorgenson and some of the others in our community who helped to found it and have passed on, to say nothing of all the names on the TDOR. It is the belief of the first Americans that when you call on the spirits of your ancestors to join you to celebrate, they will come. I hope they were there.

Lastly, not to steal any thunder from this very auspicious moment for you and for all of us, I want to remind everyone that the first open and out Trans person to meet with any president was actually around 1875, when WeWah of the Zuni nation, was invited to the White House to meet with the President and his wife and invited gto live on tghe white House lawn for a few months.

You stand a bit on her shoulders and I know that she and all the others would be proud of what happened and the reason why it happened.

Next time, get me a tee shirt if you get the chance and we all want to see more pictures.



as i'm sure you know, you are an inspiration to many, as your steps support us in taking our steps, as our visions enhance your visions, as we all grow in awareness of our power as individuals and as a community.

congratulations on your achievements, and thank you for your work.


This is great, Mara. Congrats!