Connect with us

Politics

Obama criticized for lack of LGBT Cabinet appointments

HRC says president ‘has fallen far short’

Published

on

Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade
Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

HRC is criticizing President Obama for not naming an openly LGBT person to his Cabinet. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT rights group, criticized President Obama Friday for failing to nominate an openly LGBT person as part of his Cabinet.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for HRC, said, “it is quite disappointing” that no openly LGBT Americans are among Obama’s nominees in the wake of him finalizing his Cabinet.

“While the Cabinet is full of staunch allies, there is no reason why qualified LGBT Americans willing to serve their country should be overlooked, especially in a day and age when LGBT people are an integral part of the fabric of our nation as everyone from doctors to teachers to professional basketball stars,” Cole-Schwartz said. “The president has said it’s our job to remind him when he’s fallen short and while there’s much for which to applaud him, on this issue this president has fallen far short.”

President Obama rounded out his selections for the 15 posts in his second-term Cabinet without naming an openly LGBT person. Before leaving for Mexico and Costa Rica for discussions with leaders in those countries, Obama on Thursday nominated Chicago businessperson Penny Pritzker as commerce secretary as well as White House economic adviser Michael Froman as U.S. trade representative.

Earlier in the week, Obama named Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as his pick for transportation secretary. The president nominated Foxx, who’s black, for the position in the wake of criticism that his Cabinet lacked diversity and a stern letter from Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marsha Fudge (D-Ohio) who criticized Obama for not having more black people in his Cabinet.

Meanwhile, LGBT groups have been calling for the nomination of an LGBT person as part of Obama’s Cabinet and for an openly LGBT nominee as a G-20 ambassador.

Such a nomination would be historic because no openly LGBT person has ever before been named or served as a Cabinet member.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, responded to the criticism about the lack of LGBT nominees in the Cabinet by pointing to Obama’s record on LGBT issues.

“The president is deeply committed to diversity in his administration, and he’s proud of the of LGBT appointments he’s made throughout all levels of his administration,” Inouye said. “Moreover, he has a strong record of accomplishment on issues of concern to the LGBT community and will continue to make progress in that area.”

Another group that has called for the appointment of an openly LGBT Cabinet member is the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Chuck Wolfe, the Victory Fund’s CEO, told an audience at the Equality Forum in Philadelphia on Friday that Obama’s failure to make such a pick was “disappointing.” But Wolfe noted that there remains time for an openly LGBT Cabinet pick before the end of Obama’s second term.

Obama has had opportunities to name an openly gay person as part of his Cabinet since the start of his second term, but none were taken. For example, many hoped that John Berry, the former head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, would be named as interior secretary because of his background heading the National Zoo and a junior position he held within the department during the Clinton administration.

But that Cabinet role ultimately went to Seattle-based businessperson Sally Jewell, who helped with the effort to legalize marriage equality in Washington State. Still, the Washington Post has reported that Berry is on Obama’s short list for a nomination as U.S. ambassador to Australia.

Another name drawing speculation was Fred Hochberg — who’s gay and headed the U.S. Export-Import Bank during Obama’s first term — for a nomination as commerce secretary. An administration official told the Blade in December that Obama was closely looking at Hochberg for the role, but the president made another choice for that Cabinet post this week.

Yet another opportunity for an openly gay Cabinet nominee was California Assembly Speaker John Perez, who reportedly was on Obama’s short list for the role of labor secretary. That position instead went to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez. Although he’s straight, he has one of the strongest records on LGBT rights in the Obama administration because he testified before the Senate in 2009 in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and helped implement the hate crimes protection law.

Despite the lack of an openly LGBT Cabinet member, Obama is known for making more openly LGBT appointees than any president before and named more than 260 openly LGBT appointees within his administration. Just last month, the Senate confirmed Eric Fanning for the role of Air Force under secretary — the second-highest civilian position for that service. And Obama has nominated 10 openly gay people to serve as federal judges — including Pamela Ki Mai Chen, the first confirmed openly gay Asian-American nominee — when only one openly gay person had previously served on the bench.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Politics

Smithsonian staff concerned about future of LGBTQ programming amid GOP scrutiny

Secretary Lonnie Bunch says ‘LGBTQ+ content is welcome’

Published

on

Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, appears before a Dec. 2023 hearing of the U.S. Committee on House Administration (Screen capture: Forbes/YouTube)

Staff at the Smithsonian Institution are concerned about the future of LGBTQ programming as several events featuring a drag performer were cancelled or postponed following scrutiny by House Republicans, according to emails reviewed by the Washington Post.

In December, Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III appeared before a hearing led by GOP members of the Committee on House Administration, who flagged concerns about the Smithsonian’s involvement in “the Left’s indoctrination of our children.”

Under questioning from U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.), Bunch said he was “surprised” to learn the Smithsonian had hosted six drag events over the past three years, telling the lawmakers “It’s not appropriate to expose children” to these performances.

Collaborations with drag artist Pattie Gonia in December, January, and March were subsequently postponed or cancelled, the Post reported on Saturday, adding that a Smithsonian spokesperson blamed “budgetary constraints and other resource issues” and the museums are still developing programming for Pride month in June.

“I, along with all senior leaders, take seriously the concerns expressed by staff and will continue to do so,” Bunch said in a statement to the paper. “As we have reiterated, LGBTQ+ content is welcome at the Smithsonian.”

The secretary sent an email on Friday expressing plans to meet with leaders of the Smithsonian Pride Alliance, one of the two groups that detailed their concerns to him following December’s hearing.

Bunch told the Pride Alliance in January that with his response to Bice’s question, his intention was to “immediately stress that the Smithsonian does not expose children to inappropriate content.”

“A hearing setting does not give you ample time to expand,” he said, adding that with more time he would have spoken “more broadly about the merits and goals of our programming and content development and how we equip parents to make choices about what content their children experience.”

Continue Reading

Politics

Survey finds support for Biden among LGBTQ adults persists despite misgivings

Data for Progress previewed the results exclusively with the Blade

Published

on

Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A new survey by Data for Progress found LGBTQ adults overwhelmingly favor President Joe Biden and Democrats over his 2024 rival former President Donald Trump and Republicans, but responses to other questions may signal potential headwinds for Biden’s reelection campaign.

The organization shared the findings of its poll, which included 873 respondents from across the country including an oversample of transgender adults, exclusively with the Washington Blade on Thursday.

Despite the clear margin of support for the president, with only 22 percent of respondents reporting that they have a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of Trump, answers were more mixed when it came to assessments of Biden’s performance over the past four years and his party’s record of protecting queer and trans Americans.

Forty-five percent of respondents said the Biden-Harris administration has performed better than they expected, while 47 percent said the administration’s record has been worse than they anticipated. A greater margin of trans adults in the survey — 52 vs. 37 percent — said their expectations were not met.

Seventy precent of all LGBTQ respondents and 81 percent of those who identify as trans said the Democratic Party should be doing more for queer and trans folks, while just 24 percent of all survey participants and 17 percent of trans participants agreed the party is already doing enough.

With respect to the issues respondents care about the most when deciding between the candidates on their ballots, LGBTQ issues were second only to the economy, eclipsing other considerations like abortion and threats to democracy.

These answers may reflect heightened fear and anxiety among LGBTQ adults as a consequence of the dramatic uptick over the past few years in rhetorical, legislative, and violent bias-motivated attacks against the community, especially targeting queer and trans folks.

The survey found that while LGBTQ adults are highly motivated to vote in November, there are signs of ennui. For example, enthusiasm was substantially lower among those aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 39 compared with adults 40 and older. And a plurality of younger LGBTQ respondents said they believe that neither of the country’s two major political parties care about them.

Continue Reading

Politics

Court records raise concerns about right-wing TikTok investor’s influence

Jeff Yass is a Pa. billionaire who has funded anti-LGBTQ causes

Published

on

Jeff Yass (Screen capture: Susquehanna International Group/YouTube)

The role played by Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass in the creation of TikTok might be far greater than was previously understood, according to new reporting that raises questions about the extent of the right-wing megadonor’s influence over matters at the intersection of social media, federal regulations, and electoral politics.

In 2012, Yass’s firm, Susquehanna International Group, spent $5 million for 15 percent of the short-form video hosting platform’s Chinese-owned parent, ByteDance. In the years since, as TikTok grew from a nascent startup to a tech giant with 1.5 billion active monthly users and an estimated $225 billion valuation, Yass and his firm pocketed tens of billions of dollars.

Beyond the size of Susquehanna’s ownership stake, little was known about its relationship with ByteDance until documents from a lawsuit filed against the firm by its former contractors were accidentally unsealed last month, leading to new reporting by the New York Times on Thursday that shows Susquehanna was hardly a passive investor.

In 2009 the firm used a proprietary, sophisticated search algorithm to build a home-buying site called 99Fang, tapping software engineer and entrepreneur Zhang Yiming to serve as its CEO. The company folded. And then, per the Times’s review of the court records, in 2012 Susquehanna picked Yiming to be the founder of its new startup ByteDance and repurposed the technology from 99Fang for use in the new venture.

Importantly, the documents do not provide insight into Yass’s personal involvement in the formation of ByteDance. And Susquehanna denies that the company’s search algorithm technologies were carried over from the real estate venture — which, if true, would presumably undermine the basis for the lawsuit brought by the firm’s former contractors who are seeking compensation for the tech used by ByteDance.

Questions about Yass’s influence come at a pivotal political moment

In recent weeks, federal lawmakers have moved forward with a proposal that would force ByteDance to divest TikTok or ban the platform’s use in the U.S. altogether, citing the potential threats to U.S. national security interests stemming from the company’s Chinese ownership.

The bill was passed on March 13 with wide bipartisan margins in the House but faced an uncertain future in the Senate. However, on Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced plans to fold the proposal into a measure that includes foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, likely bolstering its chances of passage by both chambers.

Last month, shortly after meeting with Yass at his home in Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump changed his longtime stance and came out against Congress’s effort to break up or ban TikTok. The timing led to speculation about whether the billionaire businessman was behind Trump’s change of heart, perhaps by contributing to the cash-strapped Republican presidential nominee’s electoral campaign or through other means.

Meanwhile, Yass has emerged as the largest donor of the 2024 election cycle. A coalition of public interest and government watchdog groups have called attention to the vast network of right-wing political causes and candidates supported by the billionaire, often via contributions funneled through dark money PACs that are designed to conceal or obscure the identities of their donors.

The Action Center on Race and the Economy, Make the Road, POWER Metro: Faith in Action, Free the Ballot, and Little Sis launched a website called All Eyes on Yass that features research into the various causes he supports, along with insight into the networks connecting the entities funded by his contributions.

Broadly, in Pennsylvania they fall into five categories: Advocacy against reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights via the Pennsylvania Family Institute, lobbying on behalf of oil and gas industry interests by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, anti-union groups supported by Commonwealth Partners, a privately owned registered investment advisory firm/independent broker-dealer, the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, which seeks to privatize public schools and defeat proposed increases to the minimum wage, and the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, which advocates for lowering taxes on corporations and the rich.

Additionally, All Eyes on Yass reports that the billionaire has given massive contributions to Club for Growth and direct spending to support the electoral campaigns of right-wing Republicans including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Josh Hawley (MO); U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and former U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.).

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular