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Berry to exit this week as OPM director

Move comes after four years as highest-ranking out gay official in the administration

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John Berry, Office of Personnel Management, gay news, Washington Blade
John Berry, gay news, Washington Blade

John Berry is departing as OPM director at the end of this week. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The official who’s considered the highest-ranking openly gay member of the Obama administration is set to leave his post as director of the Office of Personnel Management at the end of this week.

In an email to workers within the agency, Berry talks of his plans to leave his position at the end of his term after four years of service. The email was first reported by Federal News Radio.

“From my first day on the job through to today, I’ve known that I could count on this team to accomplish great things,” Berry wrote. “Together we undertook big challenges. We aimed to simplify and speed hiring, to boost hiring among Veterans and Americans with disabilities, to catch up and keep up with both retirement and background investigations, and to expand access to health insurance. We’ve done all that and more — much more.”

In the message, Berry says OPM General Counsel Elaine Kaplan, who’s also gay, will take over as acting director. Last month, President Obama nominated her for a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Berry took on the job on April 13, 2009, so his departure will be nearly four years to the day that he started the role. According to Federal News Radio, Berry informed the Chief Human Capital Officers Council earlier this month of his intention to leave. The news outlet also states the position of OPM director is limited to a four-year term, and although Obama can extend the term through re-nomination, there is no indication he will do so.

In a statement on Friday, President Obama praised Berry for his work at OPM, saying he’s “served the American people well” as head of the agency.

“He’s streamlined the way federal employees are hired, modernized the workplace, made the federal workforce more diverse, and increased the number of returning servicemembers hired by the government,” Obama said. “John has been a champion for federal workers – men and women who devote their lives to vital tasks like securing our borders, curing disease, and keeping the American people safe.  This country is better off because of John’s talent and dedication, and I’m grateful to him for his service.”

Under Berry’s tenure at OPM, Obama issued a memorandum extending limited benefits to federal workers with same-sex partners. Additionally, OPM proposed a rule that would enable gay federal workers to cover the children of their same-sex partners under federal health insurance.

Berry has been active as an adviser on LGBT issues for the administration. The OPM director was present at the meeting in which White House officials informed LGBT advocates it won’t issue at this time an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, and Berry also took part in a White House meeting with transgender advocates on the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The Washington Post reported last month that Berry is in the running for the nomination as U.S. ambassador to Australia. His name has often been floated for other positions within the administration — such as secretary of the interior, which ultimately went to Washington State-based businessperson Sally Jewell. Had Berry been chosen, he would have been the first openly gay Cabinet member in the nation’s history.

It’s unclear who’ll be the highest-ranking openly LGBT person within the Obama administration upon Berry’s departure. That distinction may go to Fred Hochberg, who serves as head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Berry’s complete farewell email to employees follows:

As many of you know, my term as Director of OPM will shortly come to a close.  Starting April 15th, Elaine Kaplan will serve as Acting Director – and I know that each of you will be just as helpful to her as you’ve been for me.

From my first day on the job through to today, I’ve known that I could count on this team to accomplish great things.

Together we undertook big challenges.  We aimed to simplify and speed hiring, to boost hiring among Veterans and Americans with disabilities, to catch up and keep up with both retirement and background investigations, and to expand access to health insurance

We’ve done all that and more – much more.

Today we handle over 2 million background investigations a year so smoothly that we’ve taken the issue off the GAO list.

We’ve eliminated KSA’s and moved to the world of the resume. We’ve given our applicants the respect of timely responses and concise job announcements.  More than three-quarters of our job announcements were longer than 5 pages in 2009 –now 69% are shorter than 5 pages.  We relaunched –and repaired – USAJOBS, and have now processed over 29 million applications since the update, with feedback that’s better than ever.

We’ve raised the bar in big ways on hiring Veterans – from 24% of new hires in 2009 to 28.3% in 2011, and even higher preliminary numbers in 2012, reaching all-time highs.  Likewise, we’ve lifted hiring of Americans with disabilities to all-time highs, at 7.96% of all new hires.  Including Veterans who are 30% or more disabled, people with disabilities now represent 14.7% of all new hires – also an all-time high.

We’ve revitalized our appeal for students and recent graduates, with three clear and streamlined pathways that will keep the best talent coming into public service.  We’ve taken the lead in boosting diversity and inclusion, with comprehensive plans from every agency, and partnerships both in and out of government.  We’ve expanded benefits for same-sex partners of Federal employees to the full extent allowed by law.

We’ve set the Senior Executive Service on a new path to fulfill old principles, with a strengthened merit system, new and better training programs, and an increasingly inclusive culture across agencies – bringing more women and minorities into the SES than ever in its history.

We’ve made Federal health insurance possible for firefighters and emergency response workers, and for over 10,000 tribal employees.  On an overhead of less than 0.1% of premiums, we’ve kept premium increases for our 8 million FEHBP members well below the industry average – just 3.4% in each of the past two years.  We stood up the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Program, and we’re on our way to certifying quality health insurance plans for the multi-state programs that open this fall.

We’ve systematically worked our way through the backlog in retirement applications, with partners and process changes that met even the challenge of extra retirements from Postal Service buyouts.  We gained a new phased retirement authority that’s sure to help smooth transitions and transfer institutional memory through part-time work for aging employees and mentorships for those who take over the reins.

We launched the Feds Feeds Families drive, gathering almost 16 million pounds of food and non-perishables for needy families across the nation.

We brought labor and management together to agree on the GEAR framework for performance management.

We undertook the largest-ever employee viewpoint survey – and at the same time saw our agency climb up the standings to become one of the Federal Government’s best places to work.  We’ve used employee wellness programs to quit smoking and lose weight.

We’ve brought our agency website forward at least a decade in both appearance and utility, and we’ve learned the ways of social media to help spread our messages far and wide.  Through the CHCO Council and HRU, we’ve saved over $55 million on training, and we’ve proved to agencies that we’re here to help.

We’ve started the ball rolling on changes that will help the Combined Federal Campaign continue its success as the world’s biggest workplace charity drive by making sure that every last dime of employees’ donations go into the charities they’ve chosen.

We’ve weathered a storm or two – even an earthquake – and we’ve expanded telework to keep agencies achieving their missions, no matter what the weather.

We’ve brought great ideas in from the private sector in the form of our Innovation Lab, a place and an approach that is already generating new approaches and new savings.

Through it all, it’s been a tremendous honor to serve as your leader.

Your achievements are many and magnificent – and I deeply appreciate the work you’ve done to make it all possible.

Your grateful Director,

John Berry

 

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include a statement from President Obama.

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Politics

Out for America; nearly 1,000 elected LGBTQ+ officials but more needed

Lack of representation has consequences, as LGBTQ elected officials are best positioned to defend against anti-LGBTQ legislative attacks

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Victory Institute Out for America report cover Image of Delaware State Senator Sarah McBride (D First District) being sworn in to office

WASHINGTON – In its annual report the Washington D.C. based LGBTQ Victory Institute noted that there had been an increase of 17 percent in the past year of LGBTQ Americans serving as elected officials. According to the data in the Out for America 2021 report released this past week, there are 986 known out LGBTQ elected officials in the United States.

The Victory Institute reported that total included two U.S. senators, nine U.S. representatives, two governors, 189 state legislators, 56 mayors and six statewide executives. While this is considered a large increase, LGBTQ people hold just 0.19 percent of elected positions in the United States, despite making up at least 5.6 percent of the U.S. adult population.

Americans must elect 28,116 more LGBTQ people to public office for LGBTQ people to achieve equitable representation (serving in 5.6 percent of elected positions) the report went on to note.

KEY FINDINGS:

The report found that in the past year (between June 2020 and June 2021):

  • LGBTQ elected officials of color increased by 51 percent, with Black LGBTQ elected officials growing at the fastest pace (a 75 percent increase);
  • Trans women elected officials increased by 71 percent (from 21 to 36), yet trans men saw no increase (with just five serving nationwide);
  • Queer-identified elected officials increased by 83 percent, faster than all other sexual orientations; and
  • LGBQ cisgender women state legislators surpassed the number of GBQ cisgender men state legislators for the first time.

The report also found that:

  • LGBTQ elected officials are significantly more racially and ethnically diverse than the overall elected official population, but are less diverse than the U.S. population;
  • Mississippi is the only state in the nation with zero known out LGBTQ elected officials serving;
  • 23 states have transgender elected officials serving and 29 states have non-cisgender elected officials;
  • LGBTQ people are equitably represented among mayors of top 100 cities for the first time (with six), but are underrepresented among mayors overall and in all other public positions; and that
  • 84 percent of LGBTQ elected officials are Democrats and just three percent are Republicans.

In an emailed statement, former Houston, Texas Mayor Annise Parker, who currently serves as the President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute reflected, “While LGBTQ elected officials are growing steadily in number, at this pace it will still take decades to come anywhere close to achieving equitable representation in government.” 

Parker went on to note, “This lack of representation has enormous consequences, because LGBTQ elected officials are best positioned to defend against anti-LGBTQ legislative attacks and to change the hearts and minds of colleagues in supporting inclusive policies. A moonshot effort to increase our numbers is essential to advancing equality at every level of government – and a large part of that is showing LGBTQ people that running for office is our best bet to achieve lasting social change.”

In addition to changes in representation over the last year, the report also looks at trends since the first Out for America report was released in November 2017. In that time, LGBTQ elected officials increased by 121 percent (from 448 to 986) overall, and LGBTQ elected officials of color increased by 201 percent (from 92 to 277). 

Since November 2017, there is a 296 percent increase in Black LGBTQ elected officials (from 23 to 91), 135 percent increase in Latinx LGBTQ elected officials (from 51 to 120) and a 117 percent increase in Asian American and Pacific Islander elected officials (from 12 to 26). Trans women increased by 800 percent (from four to 36) and bisexual elected officials by 787 percent (from eight to 71).

“LGBTQ elected officials are significantly more diverse than the overall elected official population – so their impact extends beyond LGBTQ equality alone,” said Ruben Gonzales, Executive Director of LGBTQ Victory Institute. “LGBTQ elected officials are on the frontlines in legislative efforts to end police brutality, defend voting rights and secure inclusive healthcare reform. LGBTQ people are represented in every community in America and that diversity allows for more thoughtful policy changes when we are in office.”

The Out for America report is an annual analysis of LGBTQ elected representation in government based on Victory Institute’s LGBTQ elected officials database – the largest and most comprehensive listing available. The interactive Out for America map, updated daily, displays all known LGBTQ elected officials and is available at outforamerica.org.

Read the full Out for America 2021 report at victoryinstitute.org/out-for-america-2021.

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Politics

Biden to nominate LGBTQ synagogue rabbi to religious freedom commission

Sharon Kleinbaum joined NYC’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in 1992

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Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

President Biden on Friday announced he plans to nominate the chief rabbi of an LGBTQ synagogue in New York City to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum joined Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in 1992.

“She was installed as CBST’s first rabbi in 1992, arriving at the height of the AIDS crisis when the synagogue was in desperate need of pastoral care and spiritual leadership,” reads a bio that announced Biden’s intention to nominate Kleinbaum to the commission. “She guided the congregation through a period of loss and change, while addressing social issues and building a strong and deeply spiritual community. Under her leadership as senior rabbi, CBST has become a powerful voice in the movement for equality and justice for people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions.”

Kleinbaum is married to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

The commission seeks to defend religious freedom in the U.S. and around the world. The president and Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress nominate members.

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Politics

Bill would require universities to apply for Title IX religious exemption waiver

Measure seeks to highlight anti-LGBTQ higher education institutions

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Four members of Congress on Thursday introduced a bill that would require federally-funded universities to apply for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education before they can receive a religious exemption from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

A press release that U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) issued notes the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act would also require “the Department of Education and the exempted higher education institutions to prominently display the waiver on their websites in order to inform students of their beliefs before arriving on campus.”

The members of Congress note “several higher education institutions across the U.S.” beginning in 2013 “applied for religious exemptions with the Department of Education that would allow them to discriminate against LGBTQ students on campus.” The Department of Education during the previous White House sought to revoke the waiver application requirement.

“These exemptions allow students to be removed from extracurricular organizations, leadership posts, sports teams, and even be expelled simply for being members of the LGBTQ community,” reads the press release.

The previous White House rescinded guidance to public schools that said Title IX requires them to allow transgender students to use restrooms based on their gender identity. The Biden administration last month said Title IX bans discrimination against LGBTQ students.

“Every student deserves to attend a college where their entire identity is accepted and celebrated,” said Clark. “Without transparency about a school’s beliefs, students may arrive on campus only to learn that their school has policies in place that infringe on their civil rights. I’m proud to introduce the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act to ensure that students can apply to college with all the information necessary to set them up for success.”

Davids added “every student deserves an educational experience free from discrimination and harassment.”

“At the moment, we are letting down our LGBTQ+ community on college campuses, as more taxpayer-funded universities quietly skirt around civil rights law,” said the Kansas Democrat. “By reinstating the waiver requirement for universities who seek exemption from anti-discrimination protections, we are not only protecting LGBTQ+ students from unfair treatment, but we are reminding them that their experience is visible and valuable.”

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