Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I Know She Can Get the Job, but Can She Do the Job?

I feel a little for Amanda Simpson because she’s right.

For Amanda Simpson, believed to be America’s first openly transgender presidential appointee, the job she starts Tuesday in the U.S. Commerce Department is an honor and the culmination of a career dedicated to understanding military technology.

But what gnaws at her, she says, is the fear of being labeled a token who was hired because of her sexual identity rather than on her merits.

When the focus of a person’s career trajectory is on their status as a member of a protected class, then the automatic question becomes one of competence. Did she get the job because she’s a sop to the gay and lesbian community or did she get the job because she’s actually competent to do the job? I rather hope it’s the latter and I’ll happily give her the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t help much that this is an appointment (senior technical adviser in the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security) that would normally draw very little attention; the attention has come because of the novelty of the moment.

I’ll be happier when we can move beyond focusing on the novelty and appreciating the professional qualities that drive a person--regardless of skin color, religion, or current disposition of dangly bits--to succeed in some very tough jobs. Give me the best person for the job, not the best demographic mix for the moment.

Good luck to her, though, in her new position; now don’t let us down.

And if you have no idea where that title came from, you’re poorer for the lack. Here’s a clip from the wonderful Joe vs. the Volcano, one of my favorite movies of the 90’s.

And for those of you who do remember the movie, here’s a moment for you: after seeing the movie with my friend, Jerry, some time after my divorce, he looked at me and said, “I have some baggage, but, damn, you have Joe vs. the Volcano baggage.”

Which, yeah.


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