Democratic National Committee appoints first transgender member

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Tuesday September 15, 2009

The Democratic National Committee voted unanimously on Friday to appoint a long-time New Jersey activist as its first transgender member.

Barbra Casbar-Siperstein is among the six LGBT nominees the DNC approved at a meeting in Austin, Texas. Others include Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, Victory Fund co-founder Terry Bean and Dallas County [Tex.] sheriff Lupe Valdez. Siperstein, who was also elected vice chair of the DNC's Eastern Regional Caucus, reflected upon her appointment during an interview with EDGE last week.

"I would hope to inspire others to follow-to step-up," she said.

In addition to her positions as political director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey and a member of the New Jersey Civil Unions Review Commission, Siperstein's activism spans other political and progressive causes. She is the president of the New Jersey Stonewall Democrats and deputy vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. Siperstein was a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. And she was an at-large delegate to the Democrat's 2004 convention in Boston.

Siperstein said she feels she brings a unique perspective to both the DNC and her activism.

"I'm [not only] bringing a slightly different point of view as a trans person, but as a member of the LGBT caucus and also as a senior, as a woman," she said. "There's certain values-certain real values-I think Democrats in general share."

"I would hope to inspire others to follow-to step-up."

She further concluded she feels President Barack Obama is "light years" ahead of its predecessor with regards to the advancement of LGBT-specific causes. Siperstein acknowledged the administration had to grapple with a deepening economic recession and other issues once it took office, but she conceded she feels the White House can do more to address LGBT issues.

"I'm not making any excuses, but he's inherited the two wars and the worst economic recession since the Great Depression-he [Obama] certainly has his hands full," Siperstein said. "Would I be happier if he did more, of course."

She added she feels she and other Democrats must continue to work with both the White House and their own party to ensure LGBT issues remain at the forefront. Siperstein was among those invited to the White House's commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. And she also attended the DNC fundraiser at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C., in June a number of LGBT activists boycotted.

Siperstein noted the DNC added gender identity and expression to both its bylaws and charter before it appointed her to the committee. She added she remains optimistic the party and the White House will continue to work towards the advancement of LGBT rights. And those with whom she has worked were quick to applaud her appointment and her long-standing advocacy.

"Babs is terrific, and this is a wonderful step forward," DNC treasurer Andy Tobias told EDGE in an e-mail.

Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, agreed.

"She's an incredible trailblazer who is unsurpassed in her tenacity and commitment to achieving justice for all," he said. "She's had a significant impact on all of us who have been blessed to work by her side. I'm so proud of her. I'm bursting, just totally, totally thrilled."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.