The First Transgender President

When you make a list of all the ways President Obama has been helpful to transgender people, it begins to look kind of impressive:

President Barack Obama, who established his bona fides as a gay and lesbian rights champion when he endorsed same-sex marriage, has steadily extended his administration’s advocacy to the smallest and least accepted band of the LGBT rainbow: transgender Americans.

With little of the fanfare or criticism that marked his evolution into the leader Newsweek nicknamed “the first gay president,” Obama became the first chief executive to say “transgender” in a speech, to name transgender political appointees and to prohibit job bias against transgender government workers. Also in his first term, he signed hate crime legislation that became the first federal civil rights protections for transgender people in U.S. history.

Since then, the administration has quietly applied the power of the executive branch to make it easier for transgender people to update their passports, obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, get treatment at Veteran’s Administration facilities and seek access to public school restrooms and sports programs – just a few of the transgender-specific policy shifts of Obama’s presidency.

“He has been the best president for transgender rights, and nobody else is in second place,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said of Obama, who is the only president to invite transgender children to participate in the annual Easter egg roll at the White House.

If everyone is no more than a few steps away from knowing someone who is gay or lesbian, the same is not even close to being true for transgender people. They are the least understood and probably least sympathetic minority group in the country, and there isn’t much political upside to sticking your neck out for them. But it’s the right thing to do, and the president deserves a lot of credit for doing so much.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com