January 20, 2010 at 5:32 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Secret project seeks to advance pro-LGBT policy changes

Efforts are underway to start a new advocacy project that will work behind the scenes to facilitate pro-LGBT policy changes at the federal level and get LGBT people hired to key positions in the Obama administration.

According to an undated proposal obtained by DC Agenda, the group plans to aid the New Beginnings Initiative — a project led by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — and seeks to accelerate policy change within the administration this year while the Democrats control Congress.

The project has three main objectives: providing technical assistance for pro-LGBT policy changes in the Obama administration, ensuring LGBT people are represented in the federal government and advocating for an LGBT voice in the broader administration agenda.

A document outlining the project’s goals says the initiative “seeks no attribution for its role” and will work to provide the New Beginnings Initiative with “needed technical and strategic assistance as it works on many fronts, with many people, in a relatively short timeframe.”

The proposal emphasizes that change must come quickly while Democrats control Congress so hostile lawmakers don’t obstruct pro-LGBT changes by convening public hearings on the issues or otherwise being obstructionist.

“After November 2010 … these majorities are not guaranteed and the policy environment could become much more challenging,” says the document. “Therefore, it is essential that as much change as possible be achieved in the next 12 months.”

Organizers emphasize that “moving quickly is essential to the success of the project” for this year. Afterward, the initiative could be folded into other existing LGBT organizations, the document says.

“This project is designed to be a resource that can take on some of the functions and activities that are needed in the short-term to accomplish as much as possible in what could be a limited window of opportunity,” says the document. “In the long run, these functions, skills and experience should become part of existing LGBT organizations.”

A source familiar with the project, who spoke to DC Agenda on condition of anonymity, said the Gill Foundation and the Arcus Foundation are among donors to the new initiative.

Matt Foreman, a former head of the Task Force, is project director for the new organization, the source said. Foreman currently works as a program director for the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. He didn’t immediately respond to DC Agenda’s request for comment on the new project.

The project’s budget is about $1.2 million for 2010, according to the documents obtained by DC Agenda. A considerable portion of the budget — about $650,000 — will be allotted for salaries for the staff, which will consist of the project director and three other staffers. Another $400,000 will be used to fund short-term consultants.

The source familiar with the new initiative called it “a done deal” and said it’s expected to launch officially around Feb. 1. Much of the initiative’s funding has already been allocated, the source said.

But the source questioned why this new initiative was necessary when other groups such as the Task Force, Human Rights Campaign and Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund already play similar roles.

“The folks at HRC — if you look at the federal advocacy piece of this — isn’t that just competition for them?” the source said. “Or if you look at the Victory Fund and them putting in [around 100 openly LGBT] people into positions in the Obama administration, and this plan has this whole thing about an appointments process — doesn’t that already exist somewhere in the community?”

The source called the new initiative “just an awful lot of duplication” and said “it seems strange” that donors would also fund this new initiative when other groups are doing similar work.

“The same foundations that fund all those really great organizations, and say really nice things about them, are now going to fund yet another organization that almost seems to compete with the organizations that currently exist,” said the source.

A Victory Fund spokesperson declined to comment on the new group. HRC and the Task Force didn’t respond to DC Agenda’s requests for comment.

The source also questioned why Foreman would be selected to lead a new initiative that is supposed to work behind the scenes. Foreman was an outspoken LGBT rights advocate while at the Task Force, particularly during the controversy over the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2007. During that debate, he insisted on including gender identity language in the legislation.

“If they’re a behind-the-scenes, below-the-radar kind of project, you would think the person they would choose to run it would be kind of a quiet behind-the-scenes, low-key person — and that’s probably not Matt Foreman,” said the source.

The document outlining the new initiative details what needs to be accomplished for each of its three objectives. It says LGBT representation within federal committees, advisory councils and task forces is key to carrying out regulatory changes that would benefit LGBT people.

“Identifying and actively promoting LGBT and strong allied individuals to serve on these bodies will be a priority of this project, and our strategy will be a multi-tiered approach designed to change the culture at all levels of the federal government,” says the document.

The proposal gives particular attention to new bodies that would be created by pending health care reform legislation. Organizers note that the House bill would create a committee that would recommend health insurance minimums and enhanced benefits standards, and say the committee should “consider the concerns and health needs of the LGBT community and have LGBT representation on it.”

“The LGBT community should be ready with the names of primary care doctors (and others) who can be nominated to serve on this committee, as well as ready with a strategy for getting these individuals appointed,” says the document. “We are currently gathering names of potential LGBT committee members so that when health care reform passes, we can move quickly.”

A number of committees within the Department of Health & Human Services are cited as bodies for which organizers of the project are particularly seeking LGBT representation. The committees include the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education & Practice, the Advisory Committee on Research on Women’s Health and the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health & Society.

The proposal says LGBT representation in HHS is particularly important because, among other reasons, it would help ensure that sexual health programs include LGBT issues, allocate resources for LGBT-specific prevention health needs and make sure LGBT seniors are supported in aging programs. Organizers are putting together a database of LGBT people who can serve on these committees and advisory groups, according to the document.

Another important objective for the new initiative is ensuring that LGBT voices are heard within the federal government as the Obama administration pursues its broader agenda.

“As the administration develops proposals to address other pressing domestic issues dealing with the economy, education, unemployment, etc., the LGBT community should be looking for opportunities to ensure that LGBT concerns in these areas are addressed and that LGBT individuals are looked to as a resource,” says the proposal.

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

  • So what. There’s nothing here except more duplication of efforts.

    There’s no STRATEGY or PLAN to actually WIN full equality. With all of our efforts dedicated to the numerous well-funded LGBT advocacy groups not a single one of them can say HOW and WHEN we will achieve our full equality.

    Sadly, it’s been that way for decades. WHEN will we learn?

  • @AndrewW: I have been saying this for decades: SUE for your rights. The majority opinion of Americans is to keep us closeted with no rights. It is not the majority opinion that I care about but the law. Our Constitution guarantees equal protection of the law, and we need to sue for that right every time we are denied that equal protection.

  • Compete with the HRC? Why would the Task Force ever consider doing THAT? Haha, isn’t that what they’ve always done??

    Of course, the DC Agenda, like every other journalism outlet these days, will never report what Matt Foreman said – because HE DIDNT RESPOND IMMEDIATELY. I hate this aspect of “communications” these days… it’s in practically every news article out there. Allow the concerned parties of any situation or issue (Mr. Foreman) to stay in the shadows because they “didn’t respond IMMEDIATELY”. Well, isn’t that what this entire article is about?!?!?! not having transparency? So you couldn’t wait a day for a response? really? I guess it didnt really matter, huh… although it does help guarantee future articles but… it doesnt help the people you claim to want to help. talk about slowing down the process towards equality………

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