Melody Barnes, President Obama’s top domestic policy adviser, said the president and his senior advisers decided early on to arrange for “many” high-level White House officials to address LGBT issues rather than appoint a single LGBT liaison to handle those issues.
In what may have been the first briefing for the LGBT press by a White House domestic policy chief, Barnes called the divvying up of LGBT-related issues to the senior staff a “maturation” of both the LGBT civil rights movement and the U.S. presidency.
“I can tell you that it was Rahm Emanuel who urged the president to take action on hospital visitation” for LGBT partners, said Barnes, referring to the White House chief of staff.
She said Emanuel pushed for the president’s decision last month to take executive action to require hospitals that receive federal funds to allow same-sex partner visitation and decision-making rights similar to that of married spouses.
President Bill Clinton became the first U.S. president to designate a White House staff member to serve as the administration’s official liaison to the LGBT community, although the staff person had other, non-LGBT related duties. President George W.Bush, who succeeded Clinton, did not designate a White House LGBT liaison.
Barnes fielded questions from reporters and editors from eight LGBT media outlets at a briefing held in a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.
In most instances, she reiterated positions expressed in the past by the president or his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, on issues ranging from efforts to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the Defense of Marriage Act to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes bill passed by Congress.
“[W]ithin the last week or so you and many people have had the opportunity to hear the president talk about the issues that he believes are critical, specifically with regard to the LGBT community,” she said. “And we believe that we have, in the last 18 months, the year and a half that we’ve been in the administration, taken more steps and made more progress with regard to the LGBT community than past administrations have.”
Asked by Pam Spaulding, editor of Pam’s House Blend blog, why the president has yet to grant an interview with one or more LGBT news outlets while giving interviews to media outlets for other constituency groups, Barnes said she didn’t know the answer but would make inquires to find out.
Other LGBT media outlets participating in the briefing included the Advocate, Philadelphia Gay News, Gay City News [of New York], the Washington Blade, the Bilerico Project, and Lisa Keen of Keen News Service.