About a week ago I picked up a voicemail from my mom: “Sweetheart, I was wondering if you’ve heard about Amanda Simpson, the transgender woman who was appointed by President Obama this week?” I had indeed heard about Simpson whose appointment as Senior Technical Adviser for the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security rightly has been hailed as a milestone in the push toward full equality for trans people.Transgender 'thing' and transgender 'quota'? Look you peters - we're all brothers and sisters, equal in God's eyes - get over your prejudices.
Then on Tuesday, January 5th, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration had “inserted language into the federal jobs Web site explicitly banning employment discrimination based on gender identity.” This move was hailed by the ACLU as “frankly a bigger deal” than the expected insertion of trans inclusive language into the federal handbook for supervisors and managers.
As we move into the season of Epiphany, my question is: what do these developments and the debates swirling around them, reveal about the place and progress of trans folks “among us”? Because if Epiphany – from the Greek epiphaneia, meaning manifestation or revelation – is a celebration of the light of Emmanuel, God-among-us, then part of this celebration requires our search for how God is revealing Godself among us and prodding us to move forward.
Of her own appointment Simpson stated, "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."
Predictably, the religious right has received these developments as portents of doom. In response to the updated federal employment protections, Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council argued that trans people should be treated with reparative therapy. Simpson’s appointment prompted the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody to warn Obama not to alienate conservative Evangelicals with "the transgender thing”, while Peter Labarbera of Americans for Truth wondered, "Is there going to be a transgender quota now in the Obama administration?"
Arcing Toward Justice