WONDER – Rachel and Sarah: a change that makes history

Paolo Beretta

Joe Biden’s swearing in as the 46th President of the United States is a historic moment that also represents a momentous step forward in the field of inclusion. Certainly because of the poetry recited by Amanda Gorman and that choral inspiration “to compose a country committed to all cultures, colours, characters, and conditions of man”. Thanks also to the performances by Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga, which were evocative and iconic thanks to the stories and cultures they represent in terms of diversity. But it is above all the names and stories of Sarah McBride and Rachel Levine that send strong signals of change. They represent a real watershed compared to recent years, which have seen a freeze, if not a cultural retreat, in particular towards migrants and towards inclusion of the LGBT+ world. But now, within days, Sarah McBride, 30, became the first transgender person to be elected to the U.S. Senate, while Rachel Levine was appointed as the new Assistant Secretary for Health, as well as the first transgender person to hold a federal role of this prestige and responsibility.

Joe Biden then lifted the ban that his predecessor had placed on the inclusion of transgender people in the army. A sign of complete discontinuity within another of the symbolic institutions of the United States. Clear signs that contribute to the spread in the global community as well of a shared feeling that is more favourable to the creation of conditions in which all individuals can live in a state of equity and equal opportunities, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, disabilities, or religious and political beliefs. For this reason, Sarah McBride and Rachel Levine have also become symbols of workplace inclusion for people who until now risked suffering or still suffer because of stigma and prejudice. These are the real obstacles that stand in the way of valuing each individual and their skills. Those skills that have allowed Rachel Levine to be called to preside over healthcare in a historical phase during which it is essential to face the huge challenge that COVID-19 has posed to the United States and the world. We must also start over and change pace when it comes to those skills.

I wanted to ask Professor Paolo Valerio about what positive influences can be felt in Italy, too, thanks to this. Professor Valerio is a real authority when it comes to gender identity and inclusion. He is President of the National Observatory on Gender Identity, as well as Honorary President of the Centro di Ateneo SInAPSi of the Federico II University, an institution dedicated to every student who feels discriminated against or excluded from university life due to disabilities, Specific Learning Disorders or temporary difficulties of various kinds. For him, the promotion of Rachel and Sarah to these roles is a turning point that confronts us with the challenge of breaking down structural stigma: a lack of formalised rules that protect against hidden discrimination and a lack of protection. An opportunity to put an end to all attempts to pathologise disadvantages, which in most cases are attributable to stigma and prejudice. A phenomenon that notoriously affects and afflicts the LGBT+ world. While we have witnessed the depathologisation of homosexuality and the recognition of the status of being transgender, there is still a long way to go in our country to favour the effective social and workplace integration of those placed at a disadvantage by stigma and prejudice: from people with disabilities to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The privileged perspective offered by the Inclusion Job Day shows us an ever-increasing number of companies that have understood what and how much value lies in people who have so far struggled to be recognised and appreciated. Will we be able to have our own Rachel and Sarah in Italy soon, and benefit from their skills?