TUCSON — Amanda Simpson wishes being transgender didn't matter when discussing her new job with the Obama administration.
But as one of the first transgender appointees to the federal government, Simpson, 48, said the fact she was "Mitch" before becoming Amanda is relevant if only to illustrate the need for greater equality.
"I think to some extent it shouldn't mean much at all, but on the other hand it does," Simpson said during a telephone interview Monday from Washington, D.C. Simpson moved recently after living in Tucson for 15 years.
"So many employers and people in this country are not willing to look past that, and that's why this is important."
Simpson begins her new position this week as a senior technical adviser with the Department of Commerce.
She has worked in the aerospace and defense industry for 30 years, most recently in advanced technology development at Tucson's Raytheon Missile Systems.
Simpson has been open about being transgender and, in past Arizona Daily Star stories, shared some of her story.
Originally from Chicago, she was the oldest of four boys in a Jewish family. As a boy, and then a man, who yearned to be a female, Mitch frequently donned dresses and wigs, and endured cruelty.
Simpson has spent thousands on surgeries to help her body look more female. She's had her Adam's apple removed, breasts added, forehead ground down and genital surgery.
Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said Simpson served on the center's board for three years before retiring last week.
At least one other transgender person has been appointed by the Obama administration, Keisling said, adding that Obama is the first president to appoint openly transgender people.
"It shows that this president is serious about hiring an administration that looks like this country," Keisling said. "The significant thing from my point of view is that her being transgender didn't get in the way of the job."
While living in Tucson, Simpson served on the board of Wingspan, the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance and the Arizona Human Rights Fund, now called Equality Arizona.
In 2004, the YWCA recognized her as one of its "Women on the Move," and in the same year she won a Democratic nomination for a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Simpson was recognized by the YWCA not only for her professional accomplishments but also "because she had to overcome a number of obstacles to achieve outstanding work," said Janet Marcotte, executive director for YWCA Tucson.
The mission of the YWCA is to empower women and eliminate racism, Marcotte said, explaining that Simpson exemplifies these ideals.
"We're doing our part so that individuals have all the opportunities possible to reach their full potential, and I think she's a great example of someone who has done that," Marcotte said.
"We're really proud that she's joining the Obama administration."
Simpson said moving to Washington to work for the federal government wasn't something she planned on doing.
"It was an opportunity that was presented to me a few months ago, and it seem like a good opportunity for me to pursue at this point in my life," she said.
Simpson's success as an openly transgender woman will undoubtedly benefit the transgender community, said Courtney Jones, the director of programs for Wingspan, Tucson's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community center.
"It's fantastic that Amanda's dedication and work experience have led to this opportunity and that the Obama administration values highly qualified and diverse individuals, including members of the transgender community," Jones said.
Simpson said that while advancements have been made toward equality, she hopes to see more people hired and promoted strictly based on their ability to do the job.
"So many people get caught up in the noise of, 'Gee, you don't look like me and you don't have the same background or experience as me,' " she said. "They don't realize that's what makes this country great."