Originally published March 15 in PQ Monthly.
Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
Sasha Buchert is one lucky lady. Not only does she get paid to do work she is passionate about, she recently broke ground as the first openly transgender person appointed to a state advisory board.
She had initially applied for an appointment on the newly created Oregon Health Authority Task Force. Buchert, 45, didn’t make the cut, but her resume stayed on file. When a vacancy opened up on the Oregon State Hospital Advisory Board, she was recommended for the position, and ultimately appointed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.
“It was definitely a little bit of a surprise,” she says. “I feel honored, and it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
Buchert, who works as the communications manager for Basic Rights Oregon, says she was unaware of her apparent trailblazing status until a member of the media brought it up. And even then, she found it hard to believe she was the first.
“It came to my attention because somebody from Willamette Week contacted me. He asked me if I was the first transgender person [to be appointed]. I told him I didn’t think so. I figured Laura Calvo or somebody would have served on a board at some point,” Buchert says. But a check with the Governor’s office confirmed it. “It’s an honor for sure if that’s true. But it’s kind of sad that in 2012 I’m the first.”
The work of the committee — reviewing the laws and regulations that impact safety, patient care, and security at the psychiatric hospital and making recommendations for improvements — sits at the intersection of Buchert’s experiences, making it a clear fit.
“It dovetails nicely with the advocacy experience I have working at the hospital. I care deeply about mental health and having access to appropriate healthcare,” Buchert says. “It also dovetails pretty nicely with the advocacy work I’ve been doing with Basic Rights Oregon’s trans justice working group, working to remove healthcare exclusions for trans Oregonians.”
Buchert graduated from Willamette University’s law school in 2005 and spent a year working as an advocate for OSH patients through the Oregon Advocacy Center. Though not currently practicing law, she sits on BRO’s legal advisory group and has given presentations on the organization’s Know Your Rights Guide.
“I think that [law] is something that’s a lifetime career for me. Eventually I’d like to branch off a little bit more and I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I am really enjoying the work I’m doing right now with BRO,” Buchert says, adding that she would love to integrate her communications and legal skills into a profession.
She clearly has an iron in both those fires.
In addition to her work with BRO and the advisory board, Buchert volunteers with Q Center as a liaison between Q Center and Gender Queery, a monthly support group open to anyone interested in talking about gender-related issues, and is a member of Q Patrol.
She also maintains Resources PDX on the center’s website, which provides health and other resources for transgender and gender non-conforming folk sand hosts KBOO’s queer radio show “OUTLOUD.”
Through all of these community engagements, she has chosen to be out. But she realizes not everyone can be.
“It’s two-pronged issue right? I do feel like there’s a responsibility to be out. I’m proud and I think being transgender is beautiful,” Buchert says. “[But] even in the People’s Republic of Portland, it can be a very hostile situation, especially for children and students. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for not coming out.”
Still, she believes the community needs more leaders like Janet Mock (the People.com editor who recently publicly came out as transgender). Or, one could easily argue, like Buchert. Out LGBTQ people play an important role in changing hearts and minds, she says, by letting people know “we are your family, your neighbors, [and] your friends.”
“Doing this work has been extremely empowering for me and it has enabled me to transition a lot faster than I would haven been able to without doing this work,” Buchert says. “The more of this work I do, the more confident and comfortable I have felt about who I am, and proud of who I am. [Seeing] my struggle as part of a larger struggle — it’s a human rights struggle. It helps forge understandings of other struggles.”