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Berry tapped as U.S. ambassador to Australia

In first, Obama names openly gay person as ambassador to a G-20 nation

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John Berry, Office of Management and Budget, Obama Administration, Australia, gay news, Washington Blade
John Berry, gay news, Washington Blade

John Berry, who’s gay, was named U.S. ambassador to Australia. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama nominated on Friday for the first time ever an openly gay person to serve as ambassador to a G-20 country.

John Berry, who formerly served as director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management until his departure in April, was nominated as U.S. ambassador to Australia. Before his departure from OPM, Berry was considered the highest-ranking openly gay person within the Obama administration. His nomination as ambassador is subject to Senate confirmation.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement praised the nomination of Berry, whose nomination fulfills the request from HRC for the nomination of an openly LGBT person as an ambassador to a G-20 country.

“John Berry has been a devoted public servant for 30 years, and will bring tremendous experience to our embassy in Canberra,” Griffin said. “His lifetime of professional experiences make him an outstanding choice to be the nation’s next ambassador to Australia. I urge the Senate to confirm his nomination.”

At the start of Obama’s second term, Berry was discussed as a potential nominee as secretary of interior, which would have made him the first openly gay Cabinet member. During the Clinton administration, Berry served in a senior position within the Department of the Interior and later was director of both the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and the National Zoo. However, the role of secretary of the interior ultimately went to Sally Jewell.

In the course of his time at OPM, Berry in addition to his regular duties acted as adviser on LGBT issues within the administration. The OPM director was present at the meeting in which White House officials informed LGBT advocates it wouldn’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.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Berry donated $5,000 to Obama’s presidential re-election campaign.

Berry wasn’t the only out nominee that Obama named on Friday. The president also named James “Wally” Brewster Jr., who’s senior managing partner for the Chicago-based consumer dynamics strategy consulting firm SB&K Global, as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Griffin praised Brewster, who’s a national LGBT co-chair for the Democratic National Committee and serves on HRC’s board.

“Wally Brewster is an excellent choice to be our nation’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic,” Griffin said. “His global business and management expertise is matched by his enthusiasm and commitment to human rights and democracy around the world. Wally’s political intelligence and work in public affairs and communications would make him a valuable contribution to our nation’s diplomatic efforts.”

According to OpenSecrets.org, Brewster has made significant donations to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. In the last election cycle, Brewster donated $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee, $5,000 to Obama’s re-election, and made numerous donations to state Democratic parties and campaigns for Democrats, including lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Obama made the two openly gay nominations as part of a group of 15 nominations on the same day. In a statement, Obama emphasized their capabilities as U.S. ambassadors.

“These men and women have demonstrated knowledge and dedication throughout their careers,” Obama said. “I am grateful they have chosen to take on these important roles, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

The two nominations of Friday come on the heels of several other nominations of gay men to ambassadorial posts. Last week, Obama named Rufus Gifford, the finance director for his 2012 presidential campaign, as ambassador to Denmark, and James Costos, who’s HBO’s vice president of global licensing and retail, was named U.S. ambassador to Spain. In the previous week, Obama named Daniel Baer, who previously served as a senior State Department official as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.

Three other openly gay men have previously served as U.S. ambassadors. David Huebner has been U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa since 2009. Michael Guest was U.S. ambassador to Romania during the Bush administration and James Hormel was U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg during the latter part of the Clinton administration.

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New York Gender Recognition Act passes heads to Governor Cuomo

“We are protected by a constitution. Nowhere does it say that these rights don’t apply to one group of people.”

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New York Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell marching in the 2019 NYC Pride (Photo courtesy of Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell)

ALBANY, NY. – With a final push shepherded by openly gay New York State Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, (D), the New York State Assembly passed New York Senate Bill S4402 and its Assembly companion bill A5465, the Gender Recognition Act. The legislation now heads to New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo who is expected to sign the measure.

The legislation allows for an “x” designation on the state’s driver’s licenses. The measure would also help waive an outdated rule requiring people to publish a notification in a newspaper when they change their name in the state. 

“Today is a proud day for New York State, as we secure our standing as a leader in LGBTQ rights and ensure that transgender, non-binary, and intersex New Yorkers have the equality and dignity they deserve,” O’Donnell said. “No one should face overwhelming financial, medical, and bureaucratic barriers simply to have their existence officially recognized. These obstacles only serve to make people’s lives harder and more dangerous, particularly for trans New Yorkers of color who too often have limited resources, face disproportionate rates of violence, and are already marginalized by our legal system. I am deeply honored to carry this important bill and thank all of the trans, non-binary, and intersex advocates who have worked tirelessly to shape and support it.”

On Tuesday, June 8, the State Senate passed S4402, which was co-sponsored by openly gay State Senator Brad Hoylman. In an interview published the same day by The Hill, when asked about the GRA, O’Donnell noted that transgender rights is one of his life pursuits, and that there is still much work to be done. 

“When marriage equality was passed, I knew there would be a backlash. I didn’t know the backlash would be directed at trans people, or involve bathrooms. So, there’s work to be done. Last year, we passed a bill that said if a bathroom only has one toilet, anyone is allowed to use it, to prevent people from being threatened or beaten up for using the wrong bathroom,” he said. “We are supposed to be free, and we’re all living in America where we are protected by a constitution. Nowhere does it say that these rights don’t apply to one group of people,” he added.

Gay City News reported that the legislation drew praise from LGBTQ legal advocates who have long fought for reform. Andy Marra, who is the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), said TLDEF worked to secure key elements of the bill, including waiving the requirement for medical documentation as well as the removal of the publication requirement in newspapers.

“Along with our colleagues at the Empire Justice Center and the Gender Recognition Act Coalition, TLDEF worked closely with state lawmakers to craft some of the most inclusive legislation to date,” Marra said in an email to GCN. “This bill can now serve as a model for other states across the country.”

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Gallup Poll shows 70% approval for same-sex marriage

The issue has been less prominent in U.S. politics, and public support for same-sex marriage has continued to increase

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“I Do.” A mass wedding was held in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 21, 2013. Participants were bussed in from states that banned same-sex marriage to legally wed in D.C., a jurisdiction that enacted marriage equality years before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – New polling released by Gallup Tuesday showed that 70% of those Americans surveyed approved of same-sex marriage, a new milestone in the trend of approval since 1996 when Gallup first polled Americans on recognition of same-sex marriages, which then only registered a 27% approval.

According to the data kept by the firm, the upward trend steadily increased with a majority approval in 2011, followed by a 60% rating at the time of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015.

Gallup noted; “Since then, the issue has been less prominent in U.S. politics, and public support for same-sex marriage has continued to increase. Gallup has recorded other shifts in Americans’ ideas on marriage over time, historically, including expanded support for interracial marriage, which had 87% approval as of Gallup’s 2013 update.”

Republicans, who have consistently been the party group least in favor of same-sex marriage, show majority support in 2021 for the first time (55%). The latest increase in support among all Americans is driven largely by changes in Republicans’ views, Gallup reported.

Democrats have consistently been among the biggest supporters of legal same-sex marriage. The current 83% among Democrats is on par with the level of support Gallup has recorded over the past few years.

This could suggest that support for gay marriage has reached a ceiling for this group, at least for now. Meanwhile, support among political independents, now at 73%, is slightly higher than the 68% to 71% range recorded from 2017 to 2020.

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First gay Black man elected in Texas; Beats anti-LGBTQ incumbent

“Jalen shattered a lavender ceiling in Texas, and it came as right-wing state legislators target LGBTQ people.”

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Jalen McKee-Rodriguez campaign poster

SAN ANTONIO, TX. – Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, a high school math teacher and graduate student who has lived in San Antonio since 2013, beat his former boss and incumbent in the runoff race for the San Antonio City Council. With his victory, McKee-Rodriguez became the first out gay Black man ever elected in the state of Texas.

McKee-Rodriguez once worked for his opponent, incumbent City Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan, but left her office in 2019 after facing retaliation for reporting anti-gay discrimination and harassment. Just last week, poll watchers heard two pastors who endorsed Andrews-Sullivan tell congregants voting for McKee-Rodriguez would be a “sin.”

“Jalen shattered a lavender ceiling in Texas, and it came as right-wing state legislators target LGBTQ people and people of color with bigoted policies aimed at rallying their extremist political base,” said former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “We need more people of color, young people and LGBTQ people in state and local government who will ensure politicians look to improve the lives of Texans, not further marginalize them. Jalen’s victory is a rejection of the homophobic and racist politicking so fashionable in Austin and it will inspire more LGBTQ Black leaders to run and win.”

McKee-Rodriguez graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio, (UTSA) with a BA in Communication in 2017 and will graduate with a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies this year. McKee-Rodriguez married his husband Nathan, a pharmacy technician, in 2018, and the couple owns a home in the suburban San Antonio Northeast Crossing neighborhood.

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