First Transgender Presidential Appointee Fears Being Labeled 'Token'

Some see political rationale for appointment of Amanda Simpson to Commerce Dept.

January 4, 2010, 7:01 PM

Jan. 5, 2010— -- For Amanda Simpson, believed to be America's first openly transgender presidential appointee, the job she starts Tuesday in the U.S. Commerce Department is an honor and the culmination of a career dedicated to understanding military technology.

But what gnaws at her, she says, is the fear of being labeled a token who was hired because of her sexual identity rather than on her merits.

"Being the first sucks," she told ABC "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."

Simpson has been named senior technical adviser in the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security, a job in which she will monitor the exports of U.S. weapons technology.

She has 30 years in the industry but can't escape the feeling that some will see her appointment as a political maneuver.

"[There will be] questions like: Is this a token? Are you here to do a job or just to fill a quota or appease other people? In that regard it makes it a bit more difficult," she said. "I'm sure I will have to do and intend to do a far superior job than any other person. But I'm sure I will always be second guessed."

President Obama has walked a fine line when dealing with members of the gay and transgender community. He was widely supported by gay voters in 2008, but has since come under criticism from many of those same proponents for not acting fast or hard enough to expand their rights, in their view. Obama opposes gay marriage and has made only vague commitments to ending the military's ban on openly gay service members, aka "don't ask, don't tell."

"The Human Rights Campaign believes this appointment represents meaningful progress for the LGBT community, in particular, transgender Americans who have faced significant and well documented discrimination in the workplace. As the first transgender person appointed by the president, Amanda is not only eminently qualified for her new position in the Department of Commerce, but she is also a trailblazer for equality," spokesman Trevor Thompson said in a statement.

Obama's appointment of Simpson is being hailed by groups such as the Human Rights Campaign -- which endorsed Obama but condemned his support of the Defense of Marriage Act while other gay rights groups are taking a more measured approach.

Though careful to say Simpson's appointment was not merely a bone thrown to the gay and transgender community, Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the administration needed to do more to protect the rights of transgender people.

"There is certainly not enough being done by either the administration or Congress," said Keisling. "It is frustrating as hell things work as they work, and more needs to get done.

"This was not an appointment because they have to fill a transgender spot. This is a real serious technical policy position and the job matches her resume. Her being transgender had nothing to do with getting that job," said Keisling.

Simpson sat on the NCTE board of directors for three years.

Though transgender advocates believe Simpson's gender identity had no role in her hiring, conservative groups claim it was a political move.

"Simpson's nomination was forwarded through to President Obama by a gay activist group, making it appear that this appointment of a male-to-female 'transgender' activist to a high level Commerce Department position to be payback to his far-left base for their political support," Monica Schleicher, spokeswoman for Christian group Focus on the Family, said in statement.

"Efforts to promote 'transgenderism' in public policy deconstruct one of the most fundamental concepts known to mankind. It renders gender, the most basic organization of social systems, completely meaningless. In doing so, activists like Simpson are asking the rest of society to radically reorder the ways in which the culture makes reasonable and rational accommodation for the two genders," she said.

Simpson, divorced with a 15-year-old son, began her transition from male to female in 2000.

A former test pilot, Simpson worked in the aerospace and defense industries for 30 years, mostly at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Ariz. She holds degrees in physics, engineering, and business.

Simpson told that much of her work will involve "licensing and enforcement for exports" of military technology.

In 2004, she was named by the YWCA as one of their "Women on the Move," and in the same year, she won the Democratic nomination to the Arizona state House of Representatives. She lost in the general election.

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