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Will Obama name LGBT appointees in Cabinet shakeup?

Berry, Hochberg discussed as potential nominees

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Fred Hochberg, Export-Import Bank, Human Rights Campaign, Washington Blade, gay news
Fred Hochberg, Export-Import Bank, Human Rights Campaign, Washington Blade, gay news

Chair of the Export-Import Bank of the United States Fred Hochberg is among the names discussed for a Cabinet-level position. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As President Obama makes his transition to a second term in office, talk has already begun about building on the excitement from Election Day successes for the LGBT community with additional milestones: the first-ever appointments of an openly LGBT Cabinet member and G-20 ambassador.

LGBT advocates see the planned exodus of many high-ranking officials from the Obama administration at the start of the second term as an opportunity for Obama to replace officials with high-profile LGBT appointments.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said Obama has an opportunity “to represent the diversity of our great country” by appointing qualified LGBT people to high public office.

“Our community is rightly interested in the Cabinet and a G-20 ambassadorship,” Sainz said. “This president has been committed to ensuring that his administration is inclusive of all Americans and a second term gives him an opportunity to continue this progress.”

No president has ever appointed an LGBT person to the Cabinet before. Two individuals who already have high-ranking positions in the Obama administration have emerged as potential openly LGBT Cabinet members: John Berry as secretary of the interior and Fred Hochberg as commerce secretary. Berry currently serves as director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and Hochberg is chair of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Berry has experience that would be relevant to heading a department charged with managing federal parks and natural resources. Most notably, he was head of the National Zoo in D.C. prior to his appointment as OPM director. Under the Clinton administration, Berry was assistant secretary of the interior for policy, management and budget and at the start of the Bush administration was director of the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

In addition to being head of the export credit agency for the United States, Hochberg also has a background that would make him a possible candidate for commerce secretary. Under the Clinton administration, Hochberg was deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration and later became the organization’s acting administrator.

An appointment of an openly LGBT person as U.S. ambassador to one of the countries in the G-2o, or countries with the 20 largest economies, would also be historic because no such nomination has happened before. However, three openly gay people have served as U.S. ambassadors. Former President Clinton made the first such appointment in 1997 when he named James Hormel as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Former President George W. Bush named Michael Guest as U.S. ambassador to Romania and President Obama named David Huebner as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand.

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said his organization continues to push for LGBT appointments at all levels of the administration as it has done since 2008 through the Presidential Appointments Project, a joint project led by the Victory Fund that serves as a talent bank for LGBT people seeking appointments in the administration.

“That obviously has been a great success,” Dison said. “The Obama administration has more out LGBT people than any other president — in fact, all presidents combined before him. So, we’re certainly going to continue with the project and making sure people understand that the project exists … and working with the White House Office of Presidential Personnel to make sure that they have the resources that we’re building here to provide those resumes.”

Dison said the Victory Fund has no specific goal for the appointment of an LGBT person to a specific office such as a Cabinet-level position or an ambassadorship, although he acknowledged such an appointment would be “absolutely” historic.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in response to a Washington Blade inquiry, “I have no personnel announcements to make.”

In addition to the appointment of LGBT people to the Obama administration, advocates are also mindful about the impact of Cabinet-level departures on LGBT issues. One such departure is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who’s expected to step down.

That position is important to the LGBT community because the defense secretary can implement openly transgender service and administrative changes to provide gay service members spousal benefits afforded to straight troops — which include joint duty assignments, issuance of IDs, use of the commissary and family housing. Health and pension partner benefits can’t be afforded to gay service members because of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Zeke Stokes, spokesperson for the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, said his organization wants Obama to nominate a defense secretary who has “an unequivocal commitment to fairness and equality.”

“Should it not happen before he or she takes the helm of the Defense Department, the new Secretary should immediately use his or her authority to the extent possible under existing law to provide support and recognition to gay and lesbian military families, who today are being treated as second-class citizens by our military,” Stokes said.

According to a report from the Washington Post published on Monday, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, is being considered for the role of defense secretary. The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee voted against DOMA in 1996 and in recent years has been an LGBT advocate and has come out for marriage equality. Another name that has been floated is former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican.

Another departure that will be noted by the LGBT community is that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her most high-profile pro-LGBT act was speaking to the United Nations in Geneva last year against LGBT human rights abuses, telling LGBT people across the globe who feel isolated in their countries, “You have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.”

Other accomplishments include providing global benefits to LGBT employees and diplomats representing the country overseas and leading a department that has spoken against LGBT human rights abuses overseas, such as the proposed anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda. But she’s among a few high-profile Democrats who hasn’t publicly endorsed marriage equality.

The Washington Post report from Monday said Obama is considering naming Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as Clinton’s replacement. Kerry is another name that has been floated for the position.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Charger Stone

    November 15, 2012 at 10:18 am

    I don’t care if they themselves are LGBT or not, just as long as they are qualified for the job and treat our LGBT community with respect and as equals.

  2. Alexander

    December 4, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Rumor has it that Tim Gill, long-time, respected political activist is seeking a G-8 ambassadorial post. He’s probably the movement’s second largest contributor to Democratic causes following Andy Tobias. I think the LGBT community needs to rally behind Tim and ensure he gets the post. He’s proven himself to be a extremely good businessman, an amazing philanthropist and political activist, there’s probably no one better qualified.

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National

Louisiana lawmakers fail to overturn Edwards veto of Trans sports bill

Edwards further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.”

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Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards (Photo Credit: Official state portrait)

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana lawmakers failed to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) veto last month of a bill that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.

The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue. 

The Republican majority state House chamber failed to override the Governor’s veto after voting 68-30 to override it, according to the state legislature’s website.

The vote narrowly missed the 70-vote threshold needed in the lower chamber to override the veto.

Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must vote to override a governor’s veto, according to the local Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.

The Governor reacted to the news that his veto withstood Republican efforts to overturn it in a press conference Wednesday.

Edwards noted that in his view he had “rejected a play” that had no place in Louisiana. 

“I would rather the headlines going out from today be that Louisiana did what was right and best. We rejected a play out of a national playbook that just had no place in Louisiana. That bill wasn’t crafted for our state, I mean go read it and look at the arguments that were made. None of that applies here,” Edwards said.

He further said that the bill was “mean” because it targets “the most emotionally fragile children in the state of Louisiana.” 

“We have to be better than that,” Edwards said. “We have to be better than that.” 

 

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Federal court blocks West Virginia Law banning Trans youth sports

“It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

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Becky Pepper-Jackson (Photo credit: ACLU/Raymond Thompson)


CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A judge of the United States District Court, Southern District of West Virginia ruled Wednesday that 11-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson must be allowed to try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams at her school, blocking West Virginia from enforcing a law that bans transgender girls and women from participating in school sports. 

The ruling came in the lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of West Virginia, and Cooley LLP.

“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” said Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed H.B. 3293 into law at the end of April. It was one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2021. During legislative debate, it was not endorsed by any mainstream sporting or health organizations. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a federal court in 2020, and a federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a challenge to policies that allow all girls, including girls who are transgender, to participate on girls’ sports teams. Legal challenges are underway against similar laws passed in other states.

The Supreme Court recently refused to disturb Gavin Grimm’s victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where he prevailed in challenging his school’s anti-transgender discrimination against him. This decision — which is binding precedent in West Virginia federal court — said that federal law protects transgender students from discrimination in schools.

“This is great news for Becky, and while our work is not done yet, today’s ruling jibes with similar rulings in other courts across the country,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow, Lambda Legal. “It is our hope that courts recognize and address discrimination when they see it, and nowhere is it more visible than in these stark attacks against trans youth.”

“Becky — like all students — should have the opportunity to try out for a sports team and play with her peers,” said Josh Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We hope this also sends a message to other states to stop demonizing trans kids to score political points and to let these kids live their lives in peace.” 

“We’ve said all along this cruel legislation would not survive a legal challenge, and we’re encouraged by the court’s decision today,” said ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark. “We hope trans kids throughout West Virginia who felt attacked and wronged by the passage of this legislation are feeling empowered by today’s news.”

“We are extremely gratified — for Becky, and for all trans youth — at the court’s recognition that the law and the facts clearly support treating people who are transgender fairly and equally. Discrimination has no place in schools or anywhere else,” said Kathleen Hartnett of Cooley LLP.

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Conservative groups attack proposed Alabama capital city’s LGBTQ law

Allege law requires Christians to violate their religious beliefs

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Alabama State Capitol, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade
Alabama State Capitol (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama capital’s City Council is being urged to reject a proposed ordinance that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes under the law.  Matthew Clark, the Executive Director of the conservative Alabama Center for Law and Liberty sent a letter on behalf of his group and six allied organizations asking the Council to abandon a vote implementing the ordnance.

According to the letter, the groups allege that the law would require Christians to violate their religious beliefs or face fines under certain circumstances. Prominent among the other signatures is Mathew D. Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group.

The SPLC, which has its headquarters in Montgomery, writes; “The Liberty Counsel has also been active in the battle against same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation, which it claimed in a 2007 news release to be “’thought crimes’ laws that violate the right to freedom of speech and of conscience” and will “have a chilling effect on people who have moral or religious objections to homosexual behavior.” In that same release, the Liberty Counsel falsely claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., had nothing to do with homosexuality, but instead was “a bungled robbery.”

In the letter Clark noted; ““As we read the ordinance, churches could be fined if they refuse to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, and they might be fined if they refused to let same-sex couples use their facilities for weddings,” Clark said. “They could also be fined if they declined to hire non-ministerial personnel, such as facility managers or secretaries, whose sexual orientation or gender identity contradicts the tenants of the church’s faith.”

“Christian schools, small business owners, and homeowners are also in the crosshairs. Schools could face liability if they decline to let transgender students use the locker rooms of their choice,” Clark said. “Small business owners like Jack Phillips [referring to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission] could face liability. And homeowners who list their homes on Airbnb could be fined if they declined to let a same-sex couple engage in sexual activities in their home that violate the tenants of their faith.”

Clark then warned the City Council that if it passes the ordinance, litigation could result and the City would likely lose.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported last month that City Mayor Steven Reed said a council vote in favor of the LGTBQ nondiscrimination ordinance that’s now being drafted in Montgomery would send a message. 

“There are signals that communities can send, and this is an important signal not only to those residents that live here right now but people all over the country that have maybe one idea of Alabama and Montgomery, and we want to show them that there’s a different reality here,” he said. 

Reed and his team have been working with the Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups to draft an ordinance that would expand protections for LGBTQ residents in the state’s capital city. The proposed measure, which would specifically target discrimination in government, employment and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity the Advertiser reported.

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