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Without fanfare, Obama Administration advances transgender rights

Saturday, June 21, 2014
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Ttransgender activist and prominent AIDS leader Diego Sanchez, who worked as a legislative assistant to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., was the first transgender person named to the Democratic Party’s national platform committee.J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Transgender activist and prominent AIDS leader Diego Sanchez, who worked as a legislative assistant to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., was the first transgender person named to the Democratic Party’s national platform committee.

The Traditional Values Coalition has lobbied against a bill that would provide federal workplace protections for gay and transgender people by warning that it would require schools to permit teachers to remain on the job amid gender transitions. Group President Andrea Lafferty said no one should mistake the absence of vocal opposition for acquiescence.

“There are other people who are concerned about these things, definitely. I think America is just overwhelmed right now,” she said. “Everybody is going to have to take a step back, and that step back is going to be this November.”

The stage was set for Obama to become a champion of transgender rights when the LGBT community split over an earlier version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that Lafferty’s group is fighting.

In fall 2007, openly gay Rep. Barney Frank pursued, with the blessing of the nation’s largest gay rights group, legislation prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians, but not transgender people. As Frank put it plainly, there were not enough Democratic votes to get a “trans-inclusive” law through the House.

Transgender advocates who had lobbied for legal recognition of same-sex relationships were livid and persuaded more than 100 civil rights groups to oppose a bill that left transgender rights for another day.

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“The community was forced to decide: Where are you going to stand?” recalled Diego Sanchez, who was the first openly transgender person appointed to the DNC’s platform committee and later became the first transgender staff member on Capitol Hill as Frank’s top senior policy adviser.

At the 2008 Democratic convention where Obama was nominated, 28 years after the party pledged to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation, language was added to accomplish the same for gender identity.

As president, Obama has embraced the task of putting that pledge into practice, said Sanchez, now national policy director at Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

“It’s easier for voices to be heard once you are already in the room,” he said. “What has changed is who is listening.”

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