Delivering LGBTQ+ Equity: An Unexpected Journey
At USDS I’ve had the opportunity and the privilege of supporting many federal agencies in their work to better serve LGBTQ+ people.
By Amy Paris, product team at U.S. Digital Service
When I first joined the U.S. Digital Service in May of 2020, I was thrilled that I’d finally be a civil servant — a long-time dream. In my previous six years as a federal contractor, I was proud to have contributed to projects like encouraging open source software adoption and improving energy efficiency in government data centers. I thought my time at USDS would focus on those kinds of important improvements: making technology work better for the people we serve.
Instead, just over two years into my tour of duty, I’ve taken a much different path: one focused on equitable service delivery and making government work better for the underserved, including LGBTQ+ people. That path has led me to support The Department of Homeland Security and Department of State in their actions and commitments leading up to the 2022 Transgender Day of Visibility, including implementing gender-neutral screening at TSA checkpoints and accepting X gender markers on U.S. passports.
It was a long, winding road that brought me here.
For most of my life, I knew I was different. I knew that as the grandchild of Jews who fled the Nazis, and of another grandmother who survived under the Nazi occupation of Greece. I come from a family of teachers, who explained to me why this country was so great: it brought together a diverse mix of people from all over the world and gave them the opportunity to think, love, and worship freely — the opportunity to exist in peace.
A few years ago, I was finally able to come to terms with the fact that I am a transgender woman. I was incredibly lucky to be supported by both friends and family when I came out. Today I’m a Digital Service Expert, serving my country, working alongside some of the brightest minds in government. I never would have gotten here if I hadn’t figured out who I was, and it turns out that being different is wonderful.
Realizing my own identity allowed me to discover different perspectives.
As a transgender woman, I began to see the world through different eyes. I understood the fear that came with being seen as “other,” and the challenges faced by those who aren’t recognized by their government. I had to fill out mountains of paperwork and obtain doctors’ notes to change my name and gender marker on every document that recorded such information, including my driver’s license, birth certificate, and passport. It was overwhelming.
Once at USDS, I wondered: what about all the people who didn’t have the privilege of my education and supportive family? What about the non-binary people for whom there wasn’t already a gender marker? What about the people who, like me years ago, didn’t know anything about transgender people because there was scant data available?
As a civil servant once told me: “If you don’t collect data on somebody, they become invisible. Nobody should be invisible.”
At USDS I’ve had the opportunity and the privilege of supporting many federal agencies in their work to better serve LGBTQ+ people. I’ve told my story and have empowered the people we serve to tell their own stories by facilitating the first-ever federal research into the definition of the X gender marker.
I’ve also supported progress towards increased collection of sexual orientation and gender identity data through the White House Equitable Data Working Group. And through the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey — which offers a snapshot of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic — we now know more than ever before about the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people in America.
This isn’t a path I ever would have expected, but this Pride Month and beyond I’m looking forward to continuing that work — making sure no one in this country feels invisible. We all deserve the right to be seen as ourselves.
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