Grading the Feds on LGBT Issues: Three Bs, Two Cs, and Three Ds

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Apanel of six LGBT activist leaders were asked in April to give a grade to the Obama administration thus far on LGBT issues. Three panelists gave the administration a “D,” two gave it a “B,” and one a “C.” Keen News Service decided to take a look at eight major federal departments and apply a similar grading system.

The result was strikingly similar to that which emerged from the April 22 LGBT Leadership Townhall panel, hosted by Sirius XM Radio’s Michelangelo Signorile Show. The panel’s average came to 1.8 on a scale that gives 1 point for a D and 4 for an A. Looking at the Obama administration’s major departments, the KNS analysis came up with a 2.0.

The Departments of State and Housing and Urban Development each earned a “B” from KNS, a grade given for taking significant steps toward equal rights for LGBT people, even if some inequities remain. Health and Human Services and the Office of Personnel Management each earned a “C,” given for taking some steps toward equal rights and making no efforts to obstruct equality, while many or major inequities remain within that department’s purview. And Defense, Justice, and Education each earned a “D,” for taking few steps toward improving equal rights and making some efforts to obstruct such rights.

None of the departments warranted an “A,” for taking significant and comprehensive steps toward improving equal rights for LGBT people—or an “F,” for doing nothing to improve equal rights for LGBT people and also taking steps to block such equality.

 

DEPARTMENT OF STATE (DOS) GRADE: B

The DOS said it would provide the same benefits to the same-sex partners of foreign service employees sent abroad as it does to opposite-sex spouses, including diplomatic passports, use of U.S. medical facilities, emergency evacuation, and training at the Foreign Service Institute.

Two major items are not covered, how- ever: health care and retirement benefits. President Obama, in a memo requesting partner benefits for federal employees, stated that federal law prevents his administration from extending those benefits.

DOS has additionally changed its policy so that a person in a legal same-sex marriage can apply for a new passport using his or her taken (married) surname.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly decried Uganda’s proposed harsh anti-gay bill and spoken directly with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni about it.

Karl Wycoff, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, testified at a January House hearing on the Ugandan bill and said the U.S. embassy in Uganda has been working with the Ugandan government and local gay and lesbian groups to stop the legislation. The DOS also issued a statement condemning the Malawi government’s sentencing of a couple—a gay man and a transgender woman—to 14 years of hard labor for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” and “gross indecency.”

The DOS worked with President Obama to appoint David Huebner as U.S.Ambassador to New Zealand in December 2009. Huebner is the first openly gay person to be appointed to an ambassadorship in the Obama administration, and the third in U.S. history.

HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT (HUD) GRADE: B

HUD has commissioned the first-ever national study of discrimination against LGBT people in the rental and sale of housing. Already, it has conducted town hall meetings in three cities to solicit input for shaping the study.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan has also proposed policy changes that would stop discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in HUD’s core housing programs, require those who participate in HUD programs to comply with local anti-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity, and end mortgage-loan discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.The policies are being drafted and will go through a period of public comment before being enacted.

HUD has two openly gay appointees who required Senate confirmation, Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, who will be overseeing the LGBT discrimination study, and Mercedes Marquez, Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development.

The DOC changed Census Bureau policies in order to retain data on same-sex couples reporting themselves as “married.” The Census Bureau also cooperated with Our Families Count, a coalition of LGBT organizations, on an education campaign to motivate LGBT Americans to take part in the 2010 Census.

The DOC has two openly gay appointees requiring Senate confirmation, Michael Camunez, Assistant Secretary for Market Access and Compliance, and David Mills, Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement.

The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s Queer the Census project, however, is still working to have questions about sexual orientation and gender identity included in future Census surveys.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (HHS) GRADE: C

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Kathy Greenlee, the openly lesbian Assistant Secretary of the Administration on Aging, announced plans to establish the first national resource center for LGBT seniors.To that end, they awarded a three-year, $900,000 grant to Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE).

In addition to Greenlee, HHS has one other LGBT appointee requiring Senate confirmation, Richard Sorian, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.

HHS in July 2009 ended its longstanding policy of banning people with HIV/AIDS from traveling to the U.S.The department also worked with President Obama and Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act, the largest federal program dedicated to HIV care and treatment.

HHS is now drafting rules to support the President’s memo ensuring hospital visitation and decision-making rights for patients’ designees, including same-sex partners.They will then make the proposed rules available for public comment before enacting them, a process expected to take several months.

And a draft of “Healthy People 2020,” a decennial document to set national goals for health and reduce health disparities, includes sexual orientation and gender as attributes that may cause disparities.

LGBT disparities were in fact noted in Healthy People 2010, the version published in November 2000 under President Clinton. For the 2020 version, a commentary submitted by the National Coalition for LGBT Health and many major LGBT organizations calls for more acknowledgement of gender identity and greater inclusion of LGBT demographics in all relevant federal health surveys.

HHS, however, through its U.S. Healthy Marriage Demonstration Fund, continues to provide over half a million dollars a year to the anti-LGBT Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC).The grants, begun under President George W. Bush, go from the IFPC to a third- party marriage-counseling program called Marriage Matters, reported the Iowa Independent.The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa told the Independent May 7 that it plans to investigate whether the grants violate the separation of church and state.

OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT (OPM) GRADE: C

Head of the depart- ment is John Berry, the highest-ranking openly gay official in any federal ad- ministration. Elaine Kaplan, his general counsel, and Vic Basile,
Senior Counselor to the Director, are also openly gay.

Under Berry, OPM added gender identity to sexual orientation in the Equal Employ- ment Opportunity statement for federal employment.

Last June, President Obama directed federal agencies to determine what benefits they could make available, under existing laws, to the same-sex partners of federal employees. He told OPM to prepare a report on these findings, along with recommendations “of any additional measures that can be taken.” A spokesman for OPM told Keen News Service those recommendations were submitted to the president but are not yet available to the public.

Berry ordered the health insurance company of a lesbian federal employee not to comply with a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals order to include her partner
on her insurance plan. Berry said, at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s 2009 Leadership Conference, that Kaplan and the DOJ both concluded that neither OPM nor the president have the authority to provide such benefits. He said that is one reason the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would institute these benefits, is so important.

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE (DOD) GRADE: D

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chair of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen have told Congress they would implement repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) if Congress approves it, and Mullen said he personally believes that’s the right thing to do. Gates, in March, amended existing regulations to make it more difficult for gay and lesbian servicemembers to be discharged under the policy.

On April 30, however, Gates said Congress should not vote on repeal of DADT before DOD completes its study on its impact and come up with an implementation plan. On May 25, he said he would accept a proposed congressional amendment that would repeal DADT but not go into effect until after the DOD study is complete—but he said he would still prefer that Congress wait until after the study before  passing legislation. The study is due December 1.

The DOD boasts one openly gay appointee who required Senate confirmation, Douglas Wilson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (DOJ) GRADE: D

The DOJ filed briefs in Smelt v. U.S. and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health and Hu- man Services et al. strongly defending the
Defense of Marriage Act, and in Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S., defending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Thomas E. Perez,Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, did, however, issue a strong statement in support of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said at the LGBT Leadership Townhall that DOJ has been doing “spectacular” community education around the Act.

She explained in an interview that NCTE has been working with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to help train the DOJ’s Community Relations Service (CRS) about LGBT-related hate crimes. Based on that experience, she said she believes CRS “wants to implement the law right,” according to the spirit as well as the letter of the law.The DOJ is also preparing to train local law enforcement about the Act this summer.

Earlier this year, the DOJ also filed a mo- tion to intervene in the case of a New York teen who was bullied and physically assaulted at his public school for being effeminate. DOJ lawyers backed arguments made by the New York ACLU, which said that Title IX of the federal Equal Opportunity in Education Act, which prohibits gender-based discrimination, also applies to discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression.

The DOJ motion was still pending when a settlement was reached between the school district and the student. In the settlement, the court noted the U.S.’s desire to intervene and its wish to resolve the student’s claim without further litigation.

Although National Public Radio reported the case as “a novel interpretation of the Title IX statute,” Title IX was in fact used in at least three federal cases under President Clinton and two under President George W. Bush to combat harassment based on sexual orientation or gender non-conformity.

There are three openly gay Obama appointees to the DOJ that required Senate approval: Jenny Durkan,U.S.Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Sharon Lubinski, U.S. Marshal, and Laura Duffy, U.S.Attorney for the Southern District of California (awaiting confirmation by the full Senate).

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION (DOE) GRADE: D

The LGBT community had high hopes for the DOE when President Obama appointed openly gay Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, as head of Office of Safe and Drug- Free Schools (OSDFS).

But, the OSDFS budget was slashed 40 percent even before Jennings took office. The remaining money will be used to fund a “Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students” pro- gram that will provide grants for schools to address a variety of problems.Anti-bullying programs that include LGBT-based bullying could be one possible component.

The DOE has done little else to address the high incidence of bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

No DOE officials testified in a July 2009 House committee hearing on “Strengthening School Safety through Prevention of Bullying.”

The DOE included no specific call for federal anti-bullying protections or programs in the Blueprint for Education that sets forth President Obama’s framework for a major reform of education policies, despite bills in Congress that would provide such protections.

The DOE has also issued no statements on the several bullying-related youth suicides—at least two of which were because of harassment based on perceived sexual orientation—that have occurred since President Obama took office.


Greg Kabel

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