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A great leap forward – congratulations Amanda Simpson

January 6, 2010


Simpson being transgendered should not be the issue, her qualifications are what got her the job, but we as a society still have a long way to go in acceptance, so Simpson's appointment is a cause for celebration

The Obama administration has taken a lot of flak over the past year for it’s mixed messages towards the Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered (LGTG) community. Despite assertions to do so, Obama has yet to take any decisive action on the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy towards gay staff in the military, and despite a good track record during his Senate years towards gay rights, where he sponsored legislation in Illinois that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Obama’s stance on gay marriage is in conflict, as he agrees with a civil union but feels that gay marriage is not in step with his beliefs as a Christian.

However Obama has as President done much to protect LGTG’s by strengthening federal hate crimes legislation, expanding hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorating enforcement at the Department of Justice’s Criminal Section. (Information from White House website) He also supports the Employment non-discrimination Act.

Now, he has taken a step further by appointing transgendered Amanda Simpson to Senior Technical Adviser to the Commerce Department. Simpson is (Huffington Post):

a former test pilot and 2004 YWCA “Woman On The Move” — has been active in the aerospace and defense industry for the past 30 years. She most recently served as Deputy Director in Advanced Technology Development for Raytheon.

Simpson is the first transgendered appointment to the White House and a first as a high profile role in any administration. In a statement posted on the National Center for Transgendered Equality, Simpson said:

“I’m truly honored to have received this appointment and am eager and excited about this opportunity that is before me. And at the same time, as one of the first transgender presidential appointees to the federal government, I hope that I will soon be one of hundreds, and that this appointment opens future opportunities for many others.”

Amanda Simpson paves the way, one would hope, for much more positive awareness of transgendered individuals, but what makes this appointment slightly sad is that, being first does, using Simpson’s words “suck”. As she told ABC news:

“I’d rather not be the first but someone has to be first, or among the first. I think I’m experienced and very well qualified to deal with anything that might show up because I’ve broken barriers at lots of other places and I always win people over with who I am and what I can do.”

Her fears about being seen as a “token” appointment, one wishes were not the case, but within hours of her appointment, the Religious Right were already admonishing her appointment. Peter LaBarbera for the anti gay group Americans For Truth, said: “Is there going to be a transgender quota now in the Obama administration?” He goes on to say “How far does this politics of gay and transgender activism go? Clearly this is an administration that is pandering to the gay lobby.” (See Huffington Post)

And there is lies the rub. One would hope that given the fact we are now well into the 21st century and given the leaps and bounds that society has made in civil rights for all manner of groups, Simpson’s appointment shows that still, bubbling beneath the surface is ignorance. The fact that Amanda Simpson is a transgendered woman should not be an issue, but it is. People are still judging transgendered individuals as freaks dabbling in self-mutilation. I read one comment on a forum that suggested Simpson’s gender reassignment surgery was similar to “emo’s cutting themselves” – a “juvenille cry for help” in this person’s view. Other commentary has suggested that transgendered individuals are mentally ill, so why is the White House actively appointing people who are not mentally efficient.

Amanda Simpson is more courageous than most. She has served her time professionally and given a hell of a lot back to her country. And to take that step to become the gender she was meant to be born into, is not a whim, or a “juvenille cry for help”. It is a long process where one has to be deemed mentally well enough to be able to deal with the transition, to take the first steps out into society, often spending a couple of years having to live in the gender you are to become to prove to doctors that this is not just a fad.

The ignorant view of the Religious Right to suggest that this is some kind of appeasement to a so called gay agenda (which shows that the Right now nothing about transgenderism being about gender not sexualtiy) is farcical if it didn’t show how far many still have to go to accept.

Matt Barber, associate dean at Jerry Fallwell’s Liberty University said “This isn’t like appointing an African-American in order to try to provide diversity and right some kind of discriminatory wrong,” he said. “This is about political correctness.”

But how is this simply PC? Simpson is more than qualified for the role, a point on fact that seems to be missing from the right’s frothing at the mouth. The right can predict a backlash against the Obama White House for this appointment but this shows more for their bigotry than that they are somehow better.

One blogger put it most eloquently when they wrote an open letter to Matt Barber:

I wonder what ‘political correctness’ means to you. Does it mean being compassionate towards others?

Or are you using ‘political correctness’ in the false understanding it bore in the 1990’s to discredit justice work along racial, gender/sex identities, and other social constructs?

It seems from your statements, you are belittling the success of this woman, and not giving her the same integrity and respect you would to any other woman. (

As Mara Keisling, of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the New York Post:

“The story is . . . not that [Obama] appointed one of us but that finally we have an administration for which that’s not a deal breaker.”

And Mara is right and at the same time shows just how far society has to go before it can finally get past the fact that people come in all shapes, sizes etc. Sometimes it takes them longer to be the person they are, but just because they may be perceived by some as “different” to themselves, does not mean they are “freaks” or should be ignored or undermined.

I look forward to the day when a headline will not read “Transgender woman appointed to Commerce Department” but will simply say “[insert name here] appointed to [insert role here]”. But I do think this is a great day for transgendered people everywhere. I hope, echoing Simpson’s own words “this appointment opens future opportunities for many others.”

As the blogger I mentioned earlier notes:

“I leave you with this question: What would happen if the love of Christ was so real that it could celebrate all peoples’ successes and applaud the labor of each person?
Would that be a scary thing?”

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2010 8:18 pm

  2. January 8, 2010 10:44 am

    Just found a brilliant piece by another blogger which shows how MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow yet again excellently tells it like it is.

    The transcript of Maddow’s show has been transcribed at the Questioning Transphobia blog – a brilliant site I might add which anyone who wants to learn and open their eyes a little more would do well to visit.

    Here is the transcript from Maddows show:

    MADDOW: Still ahead, the census and the N-word, not that N-word, but still an eye-opener. That‘s coming up.

    But first, a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. A big controversy tonight over a nomination to the Commerce Department. That‘s right – something going on at the always exciting Commerce Department has at least one social conservative group in a real tizzy.

    President Obama nominated this woman, Amanda Simpson, to serve as senior technical adviser in the Commerce Department. She started that gig today. She got this job monitoring – which is monitoring the export of U.S. weapons technology because she‘s worked in that industry for three decades, most recently at Raytheon.

    She also has degrees in physics, engineering, and business. She was a Clinton delegate during the 2008 campaign. She once ran for Arizona‘s House of Representatives as a Democrat. She secured the party nomination, but lost in the general election.

    In other words, this woman has a resume designed for this job. Amanda Simpson is also transgendered. Cue the panicked press releases from the right in three, two – yes.

    A spokesperson for Focus on the Family said, quote, “This appointment of a male-to-female transgendered activist to a high-level Commerce Department position appears to be payback to President Obama‘s far-left base for their political support.”

    We contacted Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality today. And she told us that, actually, while President Obama is the first president to appoint transgender people to his administration, Amanda Simpson is not the first.

    A transgendered man is already working at the Labor Department. Everybody, panic! The only reason this second appointment got any attention at all from the national media and organizations like focus-on-your-own-darn-family is that the National Center for Transgender Equality put out a press release saying, “Hey, check it out. Our former board member is going to work in D.C. Isn‘t that neat?”

    So while Ms. Simpson is not the first openly trans appointee, she‘s also probably not the last. Best of luck to Amanda Simpson in overseeing the whole export of U.S. weapons technology thing. And good luck to the religious right in arguing that a person with three decades of vital, pertinent experience and degrees in physics, engineering, and business isn‘t qualified to do this job.

    And follow-up alert, good news for any other transgender people who are ostentatiously qualified for jobs with the federal government. The Obama administration has, quietly and without a ticker tape parade, changed language on the federal jobs Web site to reflect that employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity is not allowed.

    The new rule applies only to federal jobs, of course. But since the federal government is the country‘s largest employer, this move will have some real impact. Much to the chagrin of the Family Research Council, who put out a strong statement, condemning the rule change, endorsing discrimination, and saying that they think transgender people should just be changed through magical Family Research Council-approved therapy.

    Good luck with that Family Research Council, good luck. I don‘t mean that.

  3. Ryan McGivern permalink
    January 7, 2010 6:29 pm

    Well done, Emma!
    Brilliant thoughts and well said.
    I’m glad I found your blog–
    Ryan M.

    • January 8, 2010 10:42 am

      Thanks Ryan and very much the same to you too. I really enjoyed your piece which is why I had to include it here as part of my own “report”.

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