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Anticipation builds amid delay: Will Biden name LGBTQ ambassadors?

United States has never had lesbian woman, trans person as envoy

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Biden administration, gay news, Washington Blade

More than 100 days into his presidency, President Biden has yet to name picks for a multitude of ambassadorial positions in a delay unusual for a presidency at this stage, raising questions about whether he’ll miss an opportunity to exhibit America’s LGBTQ community overseas through the appointment of the first-ever lesbian and transgender person as ambassadors.

Many of these ambassadorial vacancies, which complement the diplomatic corps of the U.S. government to serve as a representation of American diversity overseas, are in key positions. Nearly 90 ambassadorial positions, including sought-after posts in Israel, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Italy and China, remain vacant according to an April article in USA Today.

The delay in ambassadorial appointments appears to come from pressure on Biden to refrain from the traditional practice of naming donors who bundled for his presidential campaign to the prestigious posts as opposed to foreign policy experts. Biden declined during his campaign to commit to refusing to reward donors with ambassadorial appointments, but the issue has taken hold in progressive circles.

On the other hand, many donors and bundlers for Biden’s presidential campaign were LGBTQ people, who would reasonably expect an ambassadorial appointment as a reward for helping get Biden to the White House.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, under questioning from the Washington Blade on Tuesday on whether Biden is missing an opportunity to name lesbian and transgender ambassadors in historic firsts, urged patience.

“Given we haven’t named many ambassadors quite yet — and we hope to soon; stay tuned — certainly the president looks to ensuring that the people representing him, not just in the United States, but around the world, represent the diversity of the country, and that certainly includes people who are LGBTQ, members of the transgender community,” Psaki said.

Asked to clarify her definition of “soon” in this context — whether it means days, weeks, or months — Psaki declined to provide a more definite timeline.

“I think it depends on when the president makes some decisions,” Psaki said. “And he’ll continue to consider a range of options for a lot of the positions that are out there and still remain vacant.”

At the same time, Psaki made a point to commend the work of Foreign Service officers at the State Department with whom Biden has sought to restore trust after years of scorn from former President Trump.

“I will say, having served at the State Department for a couple of years, there are incredible career service employees who are serving in these embassies around the world who are representing the United States and our values.” Psaki said. “That continues to be the case, but, of course, we’re eager to have ambassadors in place and confirmed to represent the president and the vice president and the United States.”

The appointment of members of the LGBTQ community to ambassadorships has a significant place in the movement’s history. In 1998, Jim Hormel became the first openly gay person to serve as U.S. ambassador after being named U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. But the victory came after a struggle when anti-gay senators, including the late Jesse Helms, refused to confirm Hormel explicitly because he’s gay. President Clint0n ended up appointing Hormel as an ambassador through a recess appointment, which averted the need for Senate confirmation.

Presidents regardless of party have achieved historic firsts with the appointment of openly gay men as ambassadors. Michael Guest in the George W. Bush administration was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Romania, making him the first openly gay person to obtain Senate confirmation for an ambassadorship. Former President Obama over the course of two terms appointed a record seven openly gay men as ambassadors, including John Berry as U.S. ambassador to Australia and Daniel Baer as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.

Richard Grenell, named by President Trump as U.S. ambassador to Germany, currently has the distinction of being the openly gay person with the most prestigious ambassadorial appointment. Consistent with his reputation as a firebrand on social media, Grenell hit Germany hard as ambassador to compel the G-5 country to meet its military spending obligations as a NATO partner. Grenell has something to show for his efforts: The country began to spend closer to 2 percent of its GDP on defense.

And yet for all these appointments, no president has ever named an open lesbian or trans woman for a position as U.S. ambassador, an oversight that stands out after the rapid progress on LGBTQ rights in recent years. At a time when transgender rights are in focus amid anti-trans attacks in state legislatures, the appointment of an openly transgender ambassador would also send a signal of solidarity with the transgender community.

There’s no indication Biden won’t appoint an LGBTQ person for a position as U.S. ambassador, which could be an easy achievement from him with the LGBTQ community, but the delay raises questions on whether or not they will happen, in addition to keeping the diplomatic corps from being fully staffed and functional.

Moreover, the position of LGBTQ international liaison at the State Department, a position Biden campaigned on filling after Trump let the position remain vacant, remains unfilled. During the Obama years, Randy Berry served in that role and travelled internationally to work with LGBTQ groups overseas and demonstrate U.S. solidarity with them.

It’s unclear why the international LGBTQ liaison position continues to remain vacant within the Biden administration. A State Department spokesperson referred the Blade on Wednesday back to the White House on potential LGBTQ ambassadorial appointments or the international LGBTQ liaison role.

To be sure, Biden has made several key LGBTQ appointments in the limited time in his presidency. Among them are Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary, making him the first-ever openly gay person to win Senate confirmation for a Cabinet-level role, and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health, which made her the first openly transgender person to win Senate confirmation for any presidential appointment.

In the past few weeks alone, Biden has signaled he’d name openly lesbian and transgender people to high-ranking civilian positions at the Defense Department. Brenda Sue Fulton, a lesbian activist who fought to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the transgender military ban, got the nod as assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, while Shawn Skelly, a transgender national security expert who served in the Air Force for 20 years as a Naval Flight Officer, obtained the nod to become assistant secretary of defense for readiness. Meanwhile, Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian Iraq war veteran who twice ran to represent Texas’ 23rd congressional district, was nominated to become Air Force under secretary.

Even the State Department itself has a person from the LGBTQ community serving as its public face. Ned Price, who conducts daily briefings with the media as State Department spokesperson, is the first openly gay person to serve in that prominent position.

The LGBTQ Victory Institute, which at the start of the Biden administration had signaled the appointment of a lesbian, transgender person and LGBTQ person of color as U.S. ambassadors were among its goals, expressed confidence Biden would name these appointments in due time.

“President Biden will roll out his picks for ambassadorships over the next few months and it presents an incredible opportunity to choose diverse and groundbreaking LGBTQ nominees,” said Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute. “As President Biden has already made history with the number of LGBTQ women and transgender people he has nominated for Senate-confirmed positions, we predict this commitment to LGBTQ diversity will continue when ambassadors are nominated. The impact of our first LGBTQ women ambassadors, first LGBTQ ambassadors of color and first trans ambassadors would be enormous – an impact not lost on the Biden administration.”

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Sheila Alexander-Reid to step down as director of D.C. LGBTQ Affairs Office

Veteran community activist to take new job workplace bias consultant

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Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs, Sheila Alexander-Reid, gay news, Washington Blade

Longtime LGBTQ community advocate Sheila Alexander-Reid, who has served since 2015 as director of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs, is stepping down from her city job in mid-July.

Alexander-Reid told the Washington Blade she will take a few weeks of accumulated leave beginning June 15 to recuperate from follow-up knee surgery before officially leaving her current job to take on a new role as a private sector consultant in the area of workplace bias and diversity training.

She said will announce the name of the private sector company she will be joining as a senior vice president when she begins her new job in mid-July.

Among her duties at the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office has been to lead the office’s staff in providing LGBTQ related diversity or competency training for D.C. government employees at all city agencies.

According to the office’s website, other activities it carries out include connecting LGBTQ residents with city services they may need, advocating on behalf of programs and policies that benefit the lives of LGBTQ residents, providing grants to community-based organizations that serve the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ homeless youth; and host events that “enrich, promote, and bring together” the LGBTQ community in D.C.

“That work is always going to be part of who I am,” Alexander-Reid said. “But now I will be expanding on that work to look at racial equity and gender bias as well as LGBTQ bias,” she said. “I feel like I will be doing the same work but in a different format.”

Prior to starting her job at the mayor’s office, Alexander Reid served as Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the Washington Blade, Director of Strategic Engagement at the Washington City Paper, and Founder and Executive Director of the D.C. based Women in the Life Association. She has also served as host of Inside Out, a local FM LGBTQ radio show.

Alexander-Reid noted that when she began work at the LGBTQ Affairs Office in late January 2015, less than a month after Bowser took office as mayor, the office consisted of two full-time employees, including her, with a budget of $209,000. In the current fiscal year 2021, the office now has four full-time employees and two additional detailed employees, from the Department of Health and Department of Human Services. The mayor is proposing a budget of $561,000 for the office for fiscal year 2022.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say what a pleasure it has been to work for Mayor Bowser,” said Alexander-Reid. “I was excited to work for her and I don’t regret it for one second. “It’s been an amazing journey and I appreciate her having faith in me.”

She said she expects an interim director to be named to run the office in mid-July while a search is conducted for a permanent director.

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Attack on trans woman in D.C. laundromat captured in video

Police seek help from community in identifying suspects.

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(Screen capture via the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's YouTube channel)

D.C. police on Thursday night released a dramatic video taken from a surveillance camera showing two women and a man repeatedly punching and shoving a transgender woman at a laundromat on Benning Road in Northeast Washington in an incident in which the victim was stabbed in the head.

Police, who have listed the Sunday, June 6, incident as a suspected anti-LGBTQ hate crime, are appealing to the community for help in identifying the three suspects, who are shown in the video attacking the trans woman before escaping in a black SUV while carrying laundry bags.

Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Sixth District obtained the video from a surveillance camera at the Capital Laundry Mat at 1653 Benning Road, N.E., according to a police report and a police statement released Thursday night.

The video shows that the suspects were accompanied by two young children. It shows one of the adult female suspects appearing to be dancing by herself in front of a row of washing machines seconds before the three suspects lunged at the victim and began punching her.

“One of the suspects brandished a knife and stabbed the victim,” the police statement says. “The suspects fled the scene in a vehicle. The victim was transported to a local hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries,” the statement says.

“Anyone who can identify these individuals, or vehicle, or has knowledge of this incident should take no action but call police at 202-727-9099 or text your tip to the Department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411,” the statement adds. It says the department’s Crime Solvers program offers a reward of up to $1,000 to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and indictment of a person or persons responsible for a crime committed in D.C.

Police spokesperson Alaina Gertz told the Washington Blade that because the investigation is ongoing, police could not immediately disclose whether they know if the victim knew one or more of the attackers before the incident took place or what, if anything, prompted the suspects to attack the victim other than due to her status as a transgender person.

The video released by D.C. police can be accessed here:  https://youtu.be/7v8lthvUPcg

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North Dakota lawmakers okay regulation banning Conversion Therapy

This rule change will stop the vast majority of mental health providers in North Dakota from subjecting LGBTQ youth to conversion therapy

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Capitol Building of North Dakota in Bismarck (Photo Credit: State of North Dakota)

BISMARCK, ND. – The North Dakota House Administrative Rules Committee voted 8-7 on Tuesday, June 8, to authorize the rule proposed by the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners, implementing new regulations prohibiting licensed social workers from subjecting LGBTQ youth to the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy.

The North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners, which oversees licensing for social workers in the state, created the new rule which states that “it is an ethical violation for a social worker licensed by the board to engage in any practices or treatments that attempt to change or repair the sexual orientation or gender identity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals.”

The West Hollywood based Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people, had worked with Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Josh Boschee, the National Association of Social Workers ND Chapter, the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, and local advocates like Elizabeth Loos to advance these critical protections for LGBTQ youth.

 “This rule change will stop the vast majority of mental health providers in North Dakota from subjecting LGBTQ youth to the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. This practice is not therapy at all— it’s abusive and fraudulent,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Advocacy Campaign Manager for The Trevor Project. “There is still more work to be done in North Dakota, but this bold action will help save young lives. The Trevor Project is committed to an every state strategy to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy and North Dakota has proven that progress is possible anywhere.”

“Thank you to the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners for restricting licensed social workers in North Dakota from being able to practice conversion therapy! LGBT North Dakotans, especially youth, are safer now as you hold licensees responsible to the NASW Code of Ethics,” said Minority Leader Boschee. 

The proposed ban on therapist-administered conversion therapy in North Dakota was met with opposition by several of the committee’s most socially conservative members, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, told the paper that he worries the new prohibition is limiting because it would prevent people seeking “some kind of treatment” from getting help. Bell said the rule is written so clients who are LGBT or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity are not inhibited from seeking care.

Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, said he’s concerned the rule would interfere with religious counseling, adding “there are some cases where people want to change.”

“There are licensed counselors that are also Christians, and basically my concern in all of this is that we’re telling the Christian counselors ‘you can be a licensed counselor, but you can’t practice your Christianity,'” Satrom said.

Satrom and West Fargo Republican Rep. Kim Koppelman said approving the social workers’ ban on conversion therapy is outside of the committee’s scope and ought to be scrutinized by the full Legislature.

Boschee, the North Dakota Legislature’s only openly gay member, told the Grand Forks Herald that he was disappointed in some of his colleagues for standing behind the “harmful” practice of conversion therapy and trying to muddy the conversation over what is a simple self-imposed rule for social workers. The Fargo Democrat said he was ultimately pleased that seven lawmakers joined him in upholding the proposed ban.

Research: 

  • According to The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 13% of LGBTQ youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy, with 83% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18. LGBTQ youth who were subjected to conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not.
  • According to a peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project published in the American Journal of Public Health, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
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