If Hillary Clinton prevails on Election Day, some supporters are already speculating that her victory could lead to a new milestone for the LGBT community: The appointment of an openly LGBT Cabinet member.
Aisha Moodie-Mills, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, said the appointment of an openly LGBT person to Cabinet-level position would be huge “just for the simple fact that it would be the highest-ranking LGBT person ever appointed.”
“On a practical standpoint, though, it’s a really big deal for us to have representation, period, in our government,” Moodie-Mills added. “And we know that it matters because when you have people who are governing and who are driving policy and who are managing and serving in the administration through the lens of the real-lived experience of other Americans, then you have a government that is more reflective, responsive and also accountable to the people.”
The potential appointment, Moodie-Mills said, would build the record number of at least 300 LGBT appointments seen under President Obama and coordinated by the Victory Institute-led Presidential Appointments Initiative.
Among these appointments are Eric Fanning, the first openly gay Army secretary; Fred Hochberg, who’s gay and chair of the U.S. Export-Import Bank; and Amanda Simpson, the first-ever openly transgender woman appointed in any presidential administration and now deputy assistant secretary of defense for operational energy.
“So he set a high bar, but to your point, there is not currently a Cabinet-level position,” Moodie-Mills said. “And we are confident that we are going to continue to see, if it’s a friendly administration, more high-ranking LGBT people serving, and that’s what we’re working on for the next administration as well.”
Although the person tapped to fill a Cabinet-level position in the Clinton administration could be virtually any high-profile LGBT individual who has supported the Democratic Party, one name observers keep mentioning is former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who’s now co-chair of the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT advisory body.
Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Equality Forum, said Parker “certainly would be a contender” based on her record as mayor of the nation’s fourth largest city and her position within the DNC.
“Certainly one would not expect her to be the secretary of state or the secretary of treasury, but certainly there are a number of other positions that certainly she would be well qualified,” Lazin said. “Clearly, everything from health and human services, to HUD, Commerce. So there are a number of different agencies where she certainly has the type of background and political sophistication that would qualify her.”
Lazin said “nobody knows anything specific” about whether Parker or any other LGBT person has been suggested as a Cabinet-level position for Clinton, but LGBT advocates who spoke at the Equality Forum’s panels at the Democratic National Committee said the appointment would be “among the primary asks” of the next administration.
“Certainly people on those panels were people who were prominent within our movement, and certainly prominent within the Democratic Party, and people who have relationships with Secretary Clinton,” Lazin said. “I think across the board in terms of when that issue was discussed, I think there was a clear consensus that was one of the primary asks.”
Other names that emerged as potential Cabinet picks are Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Darren Walker, president of the New York-based Ford Foundation.
Another name that emerged is John Berry, who currently serves as U.S. ambassador to Australia and formerly was head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For a time, Berry was thought to have been a potential pick as head of the Department of the Interior before Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was chosen and he was appointed as a U.S. ambassador.
But what happens if Trump wins the election? Lazin said the question of whether Trump would appoint an LGBT Cabinet member is “interesting” because in a 2000 interview with The Advocate, the candidate said he’d support adding sexual-orientation protections to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Trump hasn’t said during this election cycle whether that remains his position.
In June, the Equality Forum sent via certified mail a letter to then-top officials with the Trump campaign asking whether Trump supports the Equality Act, which would add LGBT protections to the federal non-discrimination law, but Lazin said the organization received “no response.”
“Certainly one would hope that Mr. Trump would have an openly gay person in his Cabinet, but given his non-response to this question, I would say that would be unlikely rather than likely,” Lazin said.
Last week, the Huffington Post reported PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a Trump supporter who declared he was “proud to be gay” at the Republican National Convention, was promised an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Republican presidential nominee, citing sources close to Thiel. But the Trump campaign said there was “no truth” to that claim, as did a Thiel spokesperson.
Neither the Clinton nor the Trump campaigns responded to the Washington Blade’s request over the past two weeks to comment on whether the candidates would be open to appointing an openly LGBT Cabinet member in their administrations.
UPDATE: Annise Parker responded to speculation she could be the first openly LGBT Cabinet member in an email to Washington Blade after publication of this article:
“I’m flattered to be in the conversation,” Parker said. “I would offer my skills and experience in any way I could to help make a successful Clinton administration. At the moment I’m focused on the campaign.”