Raffi Freedman-Gurspan Visits GSFS
Greene Street Friends School welcomed Raffi Freedman-Gurspan during Middle School assembly on Monday April 10. Raffi was a Senior Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement where she served as the Obama Administration's primary liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in 2016. She was also an Outreach and Recruitment Director in the White House Presidential Personnel Office from 2015-2016. She was the first openly transgender appointee to serve in the White House.
Raffi spoke with GSFS students about how her various identities have impacted her life and work, including: Honduran roots, her adopted family’s Jewish heritage, gender, sexuality, and so many others. Raffi was raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts and attended St. Olaf College. After graduation, Raffi returned to Massachusetts and began working with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. Raffi later worked for Massachusetts State Representative Carl Sciortino and then moved to Washington, D.C. to work with the National Center for Transgender Equality. It was at this position where Raffi was recruited to work in the Obama White House. During her time with the Obama Administration, Raffi recruited diverse staffers with diverse backgrounds and supported President Obama as he advanced various legislation ensuring LGBTQ rights. Raffi has recently returned to the National Center for Transgender Equality as the Director of External Relations.
During her remarks, Raffi encouraged students to be themselves, help others along the way, learn about tissues, participate in community, find a passion, and have fun. After speaking about her experiences, students and staff asked Raffi questions about how to get involved and support their LGBTQ friends. Other students asked what it was like to meet President Obama (she was very nervous, but President Obama was warm and kind) and if she had ever returned to Honduras (she has). Raffi noted the continued hostile climate of Honduras toward LGBTQ individuals and said that she had gone back, as recently as 2009, but it remains dangerous for members of the community.
Students were reminded to be open minded, respect everyone, and make space in terms of language and not making assumptions about anyone they meet. A student asked Raffi what issue she would instantly change for LGBTQ populations if given the chance. Raffi highlighted that unemployment and labor laws continue to be struggles for LGBTQ individuals. Unemployment underscores many of the other issues facing LGBTQ populations- including poverty and homelessness. Raffi also mentioned health care as an ongoing struggle for the community.
Raffi ended her time with students by encouraging them all to be true to themselves and learn as much as they can about the issues. Head of Lower and Middle School Ryan Kimmet reflects, “Raffi's story, both personally and professionally, is so important for our students to hear. Each one of us has a complicated bundle of identities, and everyone deserves to be affirmed and valued for who they are. By sharing her journey as a transgender person and as a member of the Obama administration, Raffi inspired all of us to be proud of who we are and to work hard for true equality and inclusion.”