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Obama overlooks gay nominees in pick for commerce secretary

POTUS passes over Hochberg, Kolbe for position



President Obama overlooked gay potential nominees in his choice for commerce secretary (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama’s recent announcement of his pick for the next commerce secretary is inspiring feelings ranging from disappointment to excitement among advocates who were seeking an openly LGBT person to take the position.

On Tuesday, Obama declared his intent to nominate as his next commerce secretary John Bryson — a businessman with decades of experience who was most recently CEO of Edison International. Upon Senate confirmation, Bryson will replace Gary Locke, who’s leaving the role of commerce secretary to become U.S. ambassador to China.

“I am pleased to nominate John Bryson to be our nation’s secretary of commerce, as he understands what it takes for America to succeed in a 21st century global economy,” Obama said in a statement. “John will be an important part of my economic team, working with the business community, fostering growth and helping open up new markets abroad to promote jobs and opportunities here at home.”

But advocates were hoping Obama would take the opportunity of having an opening in his Cabinet to nominate an openly LGBT person as commerce secretary. Such an appointment would have been a milestone because no openly LGBT person has ever been nominated to a Cabinet position.

Fred Hochberg, the gay president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, was seen as a potential contender for the nomination. Former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, now an expert on trade issues at the German Marshall Fund, was also been named as a potential nominee.

Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, is among those expressing discontent with the decision and said an openly gay Cabinet member would have lent critical perspective to the Obama administration.

Socarides said the choice of Bryson for commerce secretary may be an excellent one, but he’s “disappointed overall” with the lack of openly LGBT advisers in the Cabinet or the White House senior staff.

“I think it’s essential that this president, or any president, have someone very senior on his team who can give him direct and uncensored advice on the most important civil rights issues of our time,” Socarides said. “Right now he does not have that, and I think it’s a problem.”

Notable openly gay appointees working in the Obama administration are John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and Brian Bond, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. But Socarides, a former adviser of LGBT issues to President Clinton, said neither of these appointees fit the bill because they don’t serve in Cabinet or in the senior White House staff.

“We’ve seen a lot of progress in these last two years, so I don’t mean this in a overly critical way, but I think it continues to be extremely important, as I said, that he have someone in the Cabinet or on the senior White House staff who’s openly gay, who’s responsible for LGBT rights issues,” Socarides said. “It’s not the case, nor has it been the case since [Obama] has been president, and I think it continues to be a serious weakness.”

A White House spokesperson declined to comment on whether Obama missed an opportunity by not nominating an openly LGBT person to the position of commerce secretary.

Other LGBT organizations praised Obama for the nomination of Bryson and said opportunities remain for the president to appoint an openly LGBT person to his Cabinet.

Justin Nelson, co-founder and president of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said the Senate should work to confirm Bryson as soon as possible.

“The NGLCC will continue working closely with the department and the new secretary to ensure the voices of an estimated 1.4 million LGBT business owners are heard,” Nelson said.

Asked whether Obama missed an opportunity by not selecting an openly LGBT person for the position, Nelson replied, “I believe there will be amble opportunity for President Obama to nominate an openly LGBT person to a Cabinet-level position by the end of his second term.”

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, predicted that Obama will nominate an openly LGBT person to a Cabinet-level in the future as he noted the president has appointed a record of LGBT people to his administration.

“The unprecedented number of LGBT Americans appointed by President Obama to work in his administration are giving voice to our community throughout the federal government,” Dison said. “When this president appoints an out cabinet secretary it will shatter another glass ceiling for LGBT people.”

According to the Associated Press, by the end of last year President Obama had appointed more than 150 openly LGBT people to his administration.



Va. Senate committee kills six anti-transgender bills

Democrats control chamber by 22-18 margin



(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia Senate Education Committee on Thursday killed six anti-transgender bills.

The committee rejected state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. All three measures would have banned transition-related health care for minors in Virginia.

The committee also killed state Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake)’s Senate Bill 911, Reeves’ Senate Bill 1186 and Peake’s Senate Bill 962. The measures would have banned transgender athletes from school teams corresponding with their gender identity.

Equality Virginia in a tweet said committee members received more than 3,000 emails “in opposition” to the bills. The statewide advocacy group further noted 10 out of 12 anti-trans bills introduced during this year’s legislative session have been defeated.

“Thank you to everyone who has spoken up against these bills,” said Equality Virginia. “Virginia is remaining a better, more inclusive state because of your efforts.”

“The fight isn’t over,” added the advocacy group. “But we know Virginians will show up for trans youth, day after day.”

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Va. Senate subcommittee essentially kills three anti-transgender bills

Measures would ban transition-related health care for minors



(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Tuesday essentially killed three bills that would have banned transition-related health care for minors in the state.

Equality Virginia in a tweet noted the Senate Health Subcommittee “recommended killing” state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. 

“We expect these bills to be officially dead after the full committee meets on Thursday,” said Equality Virginia.

Democrats have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, and they have said they will block any anti-LGBTQ bill that reaches their chamber. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly transgender woman seated in a state legislature in the U.S., on Tuesday reiterated this point.

“With the defeat of these bills in the Senate, our (Virginia Senate Democrats) made it clear that *any* bills in the House targeting trans kids during the final week before crossover will not become law if they make it to the Senate,” she tweeted. “Let’s focus on feeding kids, not singling them out.”

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The White House

Doug Emhoff visits monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin

Second gentleman marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz



The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23, 2022. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff visited the memorial on Jan. 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff on Tuesday visited a monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin.

A readout from Emhoff’s office notes he visited the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism with Philipp Braun of the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, a German LGBTQ and intersex rights group. Christopher Schreiber and Alexander Scheld of the Berlin-Brandenburg Lesbian and Gay Federation were also with Emhoff.

“The Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under Nazi Socialism is intended to honor the homosexual victims of National Socialism and at the same time ‘set a constant sign against intolerance, hostility and exclusion towards gays and lesbians,'” notes the readout.

Emhoff on Tuesday visited other memorials that honor the Sinti and Roma and people with disabilities who the Nazis killed. The second gentleman also visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial before he met with five people who survived it.

The second gentleman earlier in the day participated in a roundtable with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders and met with Ukrainian refugees at Berlin’s New Synagogue. Emhoff on Monday participated in a meeting at the city’s Topography of Terror Museum that focused on antisemitism.

International Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in 1945, took place on Jan. 27. 

Emhoff, who is Jewish, traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum and participated in ceremonies that commemorated the camp’s liberation. He later attended a Shabbat dinner with members of the Jewish community in Krakow, visited Oscar Schindler’s factory and met with Ukrainian refugees at a U.N. Refugee Agency community center before he traveled to Germany.

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