July 13, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Bond’s departure triggers debate over White House role

Brian Bond (photo courtesy of Bond)

The announced departure last week of the White House gay liaison is being met with praise from some who worked with him on LGBT issues and calls from others who say they want more from his successor.

Brian Bond, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, is set to leave his position mid-August to become the Democratic National Committee’s director of constituency outreach. Bond, who’s gay, handled LGBT outreach for the office.

A number of LGBT advocates who worked with Bond during his tenure at the White House say Bond was exemplary in his role of serving the LGBT community and meeting its needs.

Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, said he was “incredibly effective” in advancing the cause for the LGBT community and coordinating with administration leadership, federal agencies and advocacy groups.

“I think the combination of those relationships — with senior folks in the White House and in the administration and in the community — helped him deliver results that speak for themselves on behalf of the community, if you look at the accomplishments of the administration,” Stachelberg said.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications at the Human Rights Campaign, said Bond is a “key force for positive change” that has included hospital visitation rights and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I know first-hand that Brian has the trust and confidence of the president and his closest advisers,” Sainz said. “Brian would be the first to say that more needs to be done, but we are proud of what has been accomplished to date and are grateful to him for his service.”

Prior to becoming a White House official, Bond served as executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund from 1997 to 2003. He was national constituency director for President Obama’s 2008 campaign and was executive director of the DNC’s LGBT leadership council. Bond returns to the DNC as President Obama ramps up his re-election campaign for 2012.

The choice to succeed Bond remains unknown. Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the White House has yet to determine a successor, but is seeking to have one in place by the time Bond leaves for his new position.

“The White House deeply appreciates Brian Bond for his years of service,” Inouye said. “While we do not have any specific staffing updates at this time, we are working to ensure that the LGBT community has a liaison within the Office of Public Engagement in place by the time he departs in mid-August.”

Although applauded for his work in some circles, the announcement of Bond’s departure has inspired debate about the extent to which he was involved in higher levels of policy making at the White House on LGBT issues.

Kerry Eleveld, senior fellow with Media Matters, wrote last week that Bond wasn’t primarily involved in advising President Obama and that John Berry, who’s gay and director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, primarily served as head of LGBT issues in the administration.

“Truth be told, Bond was not a chief political advisor to the president on LGBT issues and he didn’t carry the title of ‘special assistant’ (or higher) to the president — a rank that affords people clout and ensures them a certain amount of access to the Oval Office,” Eleveld wrote. “Bond was more likely to be relaying and implementing what had been decided by others.”

One LGBT advocate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said Bond “wasn’t a decision-maker” on LGBT policy at the White House and was mostly involved in scheduling between LGBT groups and higher-ranking Obama administration officials.

“I would be shocked if the White House or anybody tried to argue that’s his role because it clearly wasn’t,” the LGBT advocate said. “Some of the suggestions that he had this amazingly influential role behind the scenes are complete hogwash. He was a mid-level staffer, and mid-level staffers do not make major policy or strategic decisions.”

But Stachelberg said Bond took the initiative on many administrative actions that came from the White House to benefit the LGBT community.

“There are other examples of other administrative actions that have been done, and in the works, where … he helped identify a policy issue that needed work and worked with constituencies and communities at getting it done,” Stachelberg said.

Among the policy changes that Bond helped spearhead were the proposed non-discrimination rule at the Department of Housing & Urban Development, changes at the U.S. Census to publish data on same-sex couples and the recently announced change at the Department of Health & Human Services to start data collection on the LGBT population in federal health surveys.

Stachelberg said Bond’s quiet style of operating and lack of media engagement may have angered some in the LGBT community, but she added that he accomplished much through this mode of operation and said it may be appropriate for his successor.

“Some people — that’s not what they want to see,” Stachelberg said. “They want to see an up-front cheerleader. They want to see someone who’s constantly quoted, who’s constantly making noise. That’s not Brian’s style, and I think his style has been incredibly effective. I’m not sure you want someone as his successor to be particularly different in that regard.”

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

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