The Hill takes note of transgender activist Diego Sanchez
March 11, 2009
Diego Sanchez, a former member of HRC's Business Council and a tireless advocate for HIV/AIDS patients and transgender equality, is featured in a must-read article in today's The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper. Sanchez became the first openly transgender Capitol Hill staffer when he accepted his position as legislative aide to Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) in December. Diego, who cut his professional teeth in various public affairs and HIV/AIDS advocacy positions, may be new to the Hill but is a veteran in fighting to improve people's daily lives:
DNC Chairman Howard Dean appointed Sanchez to be the first transgender person on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) Platform Committee. It was a proud moment. Sanchez was able to get a national AIDS strategy adopted by the party, gain family recognition for same-sex couples and win party platform changes to protect gender identity as well as sexual orientation from employment discrimination. ...Joe Racalto, Sanchez’s predecessor, who is now chief of staff to Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), said Frank’s list of possible replacements contained only one name because nobody else can do what Diego Sanchez does. Frank said of Sanchez: “He has virtually no learning curve — he’s very smart. He knows the music. He’s got to learn the words, but he’s very much in tune. “One of the things that drives me crazy is when people say to me, ‘Oh, you’re pragmatic, but I’m idealistic.’ And my answer is, the more you care about your ideals, the more you’re obligated to be concerned about implementing them, and that’s what I found in Diego from the beginning: a passion for the policy and, precisely because of that, a commitment to getting it done in the best way possible.” Sanchez said Frank is showing what non-discrimination in hiring looks like. “It’s about Congressman Frank’s leadership and courage to step up and bring in someone qualified for the assigned portfolio who also is a transgender man,” Sanchez said. “He’s raised the bar. I’m first, which means we hope there will be more. He is demonstrating what employment non-discrimination can and should look like — inclusion.” Both Frank and Sanchez are optimistic that an all-inclusive employee non-discrimination (ENDA) bill will pass this year, thanks to the legwork the transgender community did on Capitol Hill.
Although Diego's accomplishments and new position in Congressman Frank's office allows him to work on several important issues for one of the most powerful legislators in Congress, Diego makes sure that he stays grounded and connected to the people he's working to help:
But the ENDA measure is only a fraction of what Sanchez has been tasked with in Frank’s office. As Frank’s legislative assistant, Sanchez is also tackling healthcare reform, equality-of-rights issues pertaining to race, sexual and gender orientation, people with disabilities and veterans’ rights. “It’s what I wake up thinking about in the morning, I really do,” Sanchez said. “And it’s what I do a mental check on when I leave, to make sure I’ve touched something that affects our constituents in each of these areas every day.” Sanchez is slowly becoming a member of the Capitol Hill community, though Frank said he has seen less of a reaction to the aide’s arrival than he expected. But not for lack of effort on Sanchez’s part. Instead of the main office phone number typically printed on staffer business cards, Sanchez’s has his direct line. Sanchez doesn’t want isolation and, according to Frank, is “very good with people face to face.” Sanchez carries two cell phones, a BlackBerry and a personal phone that has had the same number since the advent of cell phones. The aide says the cell number will remain the same because people in the LGBT community give it out to those in trouble — whether they’re homeless because they’ve just disclosed themselves to their families or whether they’ve just lost their job because of disclosing themselves. Sanchez never plans to stop taking the calls. “Every day when I come through the metal detectors and put the cell phones in the bin I thank God because I know so many people like me who do not get to go to work every day,” Sanchez said. “It’s not something that I make up. I know people who have lost their jobs the minute they disclosed they were either transitioning or were transgender.”
Read the full article here.
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