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Two Lesbians of Color Named to White House Communications Staff

Karine Jean-Pierre and Pili Tobar

Two longtime political activists, both lesbians of color, have been named to White House communications positions by President-elect Joe Biden.

Karine Jean-Pierre, who is Black, will be principal deputy press secretary in the White House, while Pili Tobar, who is Latinx, will be deputy White House communications director, the Biden transition team announced Sunday.

They will be part of an all-woman senior communications team, The Washington Post reports, noting, “It is the first time all of the top aides tasked with speaking on behalf of an administration and shaping its message will be female.” Jean-Pierre congratulated her colleagues in a tweet.

During the presidential campaign, Jean-Pierre was a senior adviser and then chief of staff to Kamala Harris, making her the first Black person and first lesbian to hold that position for a vice-presidential nominee. She had previously been a staffer in President Barack Obama’s administration and in his reelection campaign, chief public affairs office for MoveOn.org, and a commentator for NBC and MSNBC. This year Out magazine, a sister publication to The Advocate, named her to the Out100, which honors LGBTQ+ people who have made major accomplishments during the year. She is an immigrant from Martinique who grew up in New York City.

Tobar, who is from Florida but lived in Guatemala in her youth, was communications director for coalitions in the Biden campaign. She has been deputy director for America's Voice, an advocacy organization for immigrants, as well as Hispanic media director for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, national director of Hispanic media and Western regional press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, communications director for U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallegos, and communications director for the Latino Victory Project, the Washington Blade reports.

The all-women team they join includes Kate Bedingfield, who will be White House communications director; Jennifer Psaki, named White House press secretary; Ashley Etienne, communications director for Vice President Harris; Symone Sanders, senior adviser and chief spokesperson for the vice president; and Elizabeth E. Alexander, communications director for First Lady Jill Biden.

“President-elect Biden has a history of advocating on behalf of women in the U.S. and around the world, and today’s announcement is a continuation of that work,” said Ron Klain, who will be Biden’s chief of staff, the Post notes. “They embody Joe Biden’s commitment to a diverse administration where the voices of all Americans are represented.”

Several women are expected to play key roles on Biden’s economic team as well. He has already chosen economist Janet Yellen for Treasury secretary, and sources told the Post he is likely to name Neera Tanden director of the Office of Management and Budget and Cecilia Rouse as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Tanden, currently chief executive of the Center for American Progress, is the daughter of immigrants from India, and Rouse, a labor economist at Princeton University, is African-American. They would be the first women of color in their respective positions, according to the Post.

“Taken together, the plans demonstrate the president-elect’s determination to bring in a more diverse leadership team than what Washington has seen in the past,” the Post reports. “The decisions also reflect the reality that women powered Biden’s victory via, among other contributions, record activism and political donations.”

Other out LGBTQ+ people who have served on the White House communications staff include two gay men: Judd Deere, deputy press secretary in Donald Trump's administration, and Eric Schulz, who held that position when Obama was president. Schulz “was the first openly gay person to conduct an on-camera news conference from the White House briefing room,” according to the Blade.

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