I spent about an hour on the telephone this past Sunday with Babs Casbar Siperstein.

Babs Casbar SipersteinFor those who don’t know who Ms. Siperstein is, she’s a long time activist in the Garden State Equality, Stonewall Democrats (currently she’s the New Jersey Chapter’s President), and the New Jersey Democratic Party {as a Vice-Chair, she’s currently the only Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Caucus member on The New Jersey Democratic State Committee), and has held leadership positions in all of these organizations. She was an at large delegate for the 2004 Democratic Party Convention, and an elected delegate at the 2008 Democratic Party Convention.

Recently, she was nominated by Democratic Party Chair Tim Kaine to be one of the 75 at large members of the 447 member Democratic National Committee (DNC). Ms. Siperstein’s confirmation to the DNC is pretty much a formality at this point, so she will officially become a member of the DNC this Friday, September 11, 2009.

It’s no surprise to most of you that Ms. Siperstein identifies as a woman, and as a senior citizen, and by my highlighting her you probably can guess she’s a part of the LGBT community.

Well, that’s part of it. Babs Casbar Siperstein also identifies as a transsexual, and a part of the transgender subcommunity of the broader LGBT community. Ms. Siperstein’s appointment to the DNC by Gov. Kaine is a first for a trans-identified person — she is going to be the first openly trans DNC member.

This isn’t tokenism. My friend Babs has been working very hard towards this for years. When in 2004 the DNC failed to embrace a plank regarding civil rights based on gender identity or expression, she saw that trans people needed to be better represented on the national scene. So, she began working towards getting that better representation of gender identity or expression civil rights issues within the DNC, and working towards this appointment to the DNC.

With the 2008 Democratic Party Platform, a plank regarding civil rights based on gender identity was added.

The question I had, of course, had to do with how she’d arrived at the place that lead to this appointment — what she did to work towards this first-of-a-kind-for-trans-people appointment. Well, besides fundraising for/donating to Democratic candidates for public office (which we would all likely expect would be important for a political appointee to the DNC), she built alliances with LGBT people and potential “straight” allies; she built alliances with people in the Democratic Party based on looking for commonalities.

I think the broader LGBT community forgets about looking for commonalities sometimes. Think for a moment about immigration reform; there is a whole community of immigration advocates that the LGBT community could work with to help to make same-sex/same gender partner sponsorship possible. If members in the LGBT community care about the progressive immigration reform issues, and work with the organizations that promote immigration reform, we could use our commonalities to build a stronger, more powerful coalition. The LGBT community’s partner sponsor issue could become part of a broader immigration reform bill; and in the process of LGBT people working for immigration reform, our broader LGBT community issues could become immigration advocates’ issues.

This is the kind of way that Babs Casbar Siperstein works on Democratic Party issues — she looks for commonalities. She works on others’ issues that are not what I’d call her primary issues, and others she works in turn end up working on lesbian, gay, bisexual, — and especially transgender — community issues. Babs Siperstein isn’t the only reason New Jersey has civil rights laws that cover trans people, but she had a great deal to do with it.

A current example from Babs’ issues would be women’s senior citizen issues in New Jersey. As a senior and a woman, she works with others on senior issues those senior issues that may not her primary issues but these are issues she cares about. In turn she has turned hearts and minds about trans women in these women’s issues circle — some of whom now see gender identity or expression civil rights issues as their Democratic Party issues.

Visibility matters. Effort matters. Finding commonalities matter. Just ask Babs Casbar Siperstein — the first openly trans committee member of the DNC.

Congratulations Babs!

~~~~~

Further reading:

* Washington Blade: Activists hail ‘historic’ platform

* Traditional Values Coalition: 2008 Democrat Platform – The Most Pro-Homosexual/Transgender Ever And Incredibly Deceptive

~~~~~

Related:

* Democratic National Convention Transgender Representation

* The proposed 2008 Dem platform updates and convention news