OUT100: Our Champions in The White House

our champions  in the white house

Photography by Gavin Bond. Photographed at the White House, Washington, D.C., on September 13, 2016. From top left: Aditi Hardikar, Jeff Tiller, Katie Hill, Brian Bond, Ellie Schafer, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Gautam Raghavan, Douglas Brooks, and Michael Bosworth. 

“We are so lucky that in America we are judged by who we are, not by who we love,” says Michael Bosworth, who has served since 2014 as both deputy assistant and deputy counsel to the president. It’s a warm September day, and the first dogs, Bo and Sunny, are frolicking on the South Lawn of the White House as LGBT members of the Administration gather for their portraits. It’s a bittersweet moment. Having been at the forefront of many of the equality initiatives of the past eight years, they feel a sense of impending departure — theirs, and the Obamas. But there’s also a distinct note of pride in their accomplishments. 

“Every day I have the privilege of helping tell the story of the tremendous progress America made over the last eight years,” says Jeff Tiller, strategic communications advisor in the White House and spokesperson for LGBT issues. It was Tiller who had the brainstorm of lighting the White House in the colors of the rainbow to mark the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality in 2015. Like many of his colleagues, he was particularly moved by another ceremony, this past June, designating the Stonewall National Monument in New York. The symbolism of that gesture, following on the heels of the Pulse nightclub attack, was not lost on Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the first openly transgender White House appointee and the senior associate director in the Office of Public Engagement, where she is the primary LGBT liaison. “Our history and our stories count in the broader American story — that was the message of that day,” she says. 

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These men and women are well aware that they’re affecting the lives of all Americans, LGBT or otherwise, but they also know that we all have a role in effecting change. “I was terrified of coming out,” says Brian Bond, LGBT liaison during Obama’s first term and more recently the deputy CEO for public engagement at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. “I was in my early 20s before I knew someone gay who I could confide in. The power we have as individuals to change hearts and minds in our own circles is amazing.” For Douglas Brooks, former director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy and current Senior Director for Community Engagement at Gilead Sciences, the work isn’t over until every young LGBT person can feel affirmed “as a beautiful being made exactly as she/he was supposed to be made and, in fact, a very special gift from, and to, the universe.” 

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As assistant White House press secretary, focusing on a range of domestic policies, Katie Hill was inspired by new provisions in the Affordable Care Act that bar discrimination on the grounds of sex or gender identity. “We took this landmark step — decades in the making — to advance protections for the underserved, underinsured, and often-excluded Americans.” Next on her wish list? Gun control. “My hope is that 2017 brings a renewed sense of urgency nationwide to take a hard look at the tragedy of gun violence.” In a year that has seen an acrimonious election contest, the sense of steady purpose emanating from the White House has felt more vital than ever. “President Obama’s record on LGBT equality is unparalleled, and it will be difficult for a future president to do more or better,” says Gautam Raghavan, who served as the president’s liaison to the LGBT community, among other roles, from 2011 to 2014 and is now vice president of policy for the Gill Foundation. Aditi Hardikar, coalitions finance director for the Hillary for America campaign and former associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, is working to safeguard that record. “I wear my identity proudly as I support Hillary Clinton and work to protect President Obama’s legacy.” But for Ellie Schafer, special assistant to the president and director of the White House Visitors Office, endings can also have silver linings. “I would like to actually go on my honeymoon, which has been postponed for about a year and a half,” she says. Her wife should be happy.

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