March 12, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Does Obama’s Cabinet lack diversity?
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says Obama values LGBT status as a element of diversity (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says Obama values LGBT status as a element of diversity (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to comment Tuesday on media reports indicating President Obama won’t appoint an openly LGBT person as part of his second-term Cabinet, but maintained sexual orientation and gender identity are “absolutely” elements of diversity the president values at the highest levels of the administration.

“I certainly am not confirming any speculation in the press about possible announcements the president might make,” Carney said under questioning from the Washington Blade. “I would refer you, again, to what I said and what the president has said about the value he places on diversity, and encourage you to assess the diversity of his appointments once they’ve all been made.”

According to media reports, Obama is close to making nominations for two vacancies in his Cabinet. His reported choice for labor secretary is Thomas Perez, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The president is also reportedly poised to nominate as commerce secretary Penny Pritzker, a Chicago hotel mogul and finance chair for his presidential campaign.

LGBT advocates had asked Obama to make the first-ever openly LGBT Cabinet appointment in history. If Obama makes his nominations in accordance with those reports, LGBT advocates will have to wait for another vacancy for that to happen.

Gay California Assembly Speaker John Perez was reportedly on the short list for labor secretary. In December, an administration official told the Blade that Fred Hochberg, who’s gay and chair of the Export-Import Bank, was being looked at for the role of commerce secretary.

The questioning from the Blade came after inquiries from American Urban Radio’s April Ryan about a letter from Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marsha Fudge (D-Ohio) saying Obama has an insufficient number of black appointees in his Cabinet. In response to that question, Carney said Obama is “deeply committed to diversity in his Cabinet.”

“He believes that having a diverse Cabinet and a diverse set of advisers enhances the decision-making and deliberation process for him and for any president,” Carney said. “And so he values it greatly and that’s why he has pursued it both in his first term and continues to pursue it in his second term.”

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, affirmed that Obama should consider sexual orientation and gender identity when making decisions about diversity in his administration and reiterated the call to appoint an openly LGBT Cabinet official.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity should absolutely be considered when the goal is diversity,” Dison said. “President Obama has appointed more openly LGBT Americans to his administration than all previous presidents combined, but nobody from the LGBT community has ever served in the Cabinet. We hope this president takes the historic opportunity to destroy that glass ceiling once and for all.”

It should be noted that Thomas Perez has a strong record on LGBT issues at the Justice Department. In 2009, Perez testified before the Senate on behalf of the administration in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He’s also overseen the implementation and execution of the hate crimes protections law signed by Obama in 2009.

Additionally, Perez has spoken out against anti-gay bullying and had a role in the settlement that the Obama administration reached with Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota over anti-gay school bullying.

A partial transcript of the exchange between Carney and the Blade follows:

Washington Blade: I just want to follow up on April’s questioning there.  There are new reports that the President is close to making his nominees for the labor and commerce secretary.  There was a lot of hope within the LGBT community that the President would take the opportunity with those vacancies to appoint the first-ever LGBT Cabinet member. But it looks like it’s not going to happen now. And you just mentioned how the President values diversity, and I’m just wondering if that excludes LGBT people. Does the President not believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are elements of diversity that you want to see at the highest levels of the administration?

Jay Carney: Again, Chris, I have no personnel announcements to make. I certainly am not confirming any speculation in the press about possible announcements the President might make. I would refer you, again, to what I said and what the President has said about the value he places on diversity, and encourage you to assess the diversity of his appointments once they’ve all been made.

Blade: But is sexual orientation –

Carney: Again, I think — I don’t have any — you’re asking me to make a statement about appointments that haven’t been made and I’m not going to do that.  I’m not going to get ahead of the president.

Blade: But I’m asking you to make a statement on value.

Carney:  The President values diversity.

Blade: And is sexual orientation and gender identity part of that diversity? 

Carney: Absolutely. And the president values diversity.

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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