February 12, 2010 at 5:23 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Three gay nominees among the 27 confirmed by U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed three openly LGBT individuals to high-ranking roles in the Obama administration — including a gay man to a top position in the Defense Department — as part of 27 nominees that moved forward by unanimous consent.

Senators confirmed Douglas Wilson, who’s gay, to the position of assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. During the Clinton administration, he had served as the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for public affairs.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prevents openly gay people from serving the U.S. military, doesn’t apply to Wilson because he was appointed to a civilian position in the Defense Department.

The Senate also confirmed Cynthia Atwood, a lesbian, to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The body is an independent federal agency that rules over contests of citations or penalties of OSHA inspections in the American workplace.

For the last three years, Atwood has been an administrative appeals judge for the Labor Department’s administrative review board, and for eight years was an attorney adviser for that board.

Additionally, senators confirmed David Mills, who’s gay, as assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement. Mills had served as chief of licensing at the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and in the Office of Chief Counsel for Export Administration. Most recently, he was an attorney for the D.C. office of the law firm DLA Piper.

The three gay officials were nominated to their positions after being recommended by the Presidential Appointments Project, a Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund-led initiative that helps openly LGBT individuals get appointments in the Obama administration.

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, praised the Senate for confirming Wilson, Atwood and Mills.

“We’re glad the Senate finally confirmed these three outstanding individuals,” he said. “They are proof that the president is focused on finding the best people to work in his administration, and we’re proud they’ve stepped up to serve their country.”

The Senate confirmed the officials after President Obama threatened to use his power to make recess appointments for his nominees. Holds by Republican senators had prevented the confirmation of more than 63 nominees.

In a statement, President Obama commended the Senate for allowing 27 nominations to move forward, but said he still may make recess appointments if the Senate doesn’t act on more nominees when it comes back from break.

“While this is a good first step, there are still dozens of nominees on hold who deserve a similar vote, and I will be looking for action from the Senate when it returns from recess,” Obama said. “If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future.”

According to the Victory Fund, the three confirmations bring the total number of openly LGBT appointees in the Obama adminstration to just over 100, including 22 Senate-confirmed officials. Clinton had about 140 openly LGBT appointees over the course of eight years in his administration.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • As gay as ya wanna be – as long as you’re not holding our pistols!! ;) Wilson, you go girl *snap*

  • I’m glad to hear these low level appointees finally got their votes in the Senate, but I really want to see Obama appoint an openly gay person as a cabinet secretary or some appointments to the Federal Judiciary. An LGBT member of the cabinet or Federal Judiciary tends to catch people’s attention; whereas a few appointments to minor positions within the administration doesn’t get a great deal of attention and accomplishes very little for the LGBT Community. I am still waiting for Congress to pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; both of which would bring significant benefits to the LGBT Community.

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