Coming just days before the historic marriage equality arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court, Stuart Delery’s nomination March 21 to become Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice received little notice. But it was a significant nomination, especially for the LGBT community. If confirmed by the Senate, Delery will formally take over the DOJ’s Civil Division. It’s a high level appointment, one which attorney Tony West held when he argued against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a federal district court in 2011. And one from which Delery himself argued against DOMA as acting head of the division four months later.
It makes Delery the highest-ranking openly LGBT appointee at the DOJ and one of the highest ranking among the estimated 268 openly LGBT people whom President Obama has nominated or appointed since entering the White House in 2009.
President Obama appears on his way to doubling the number President Clinton appointed during his two terms. (Some estimates put it at about 140). President Obama was also the first president to appoint an openly transgender person to his administration. He's appointed three so far, the first being Dylan Orr, special assistant to the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Labor in the Office of Disability Employment Policy.
And both President Obama and President Clinton put openly LGBT people in prominent positions. For instance, Robert Raben served as Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs.
About 50 of the 268 Obama appointees serve in positions that are largely administrative. At least 30 are engaged in public affairs and media relations. Fourteen serve as legal counsel, including as legal counsel to the president. And, like in the administrations of Clinton and George W. Bush, one openly gay person is an ambassador. President Obama has also appointed openly LGBT people for the first time to such important entities as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission.
Most of Obama’s LGBT appointees serve in policy-oriented positions on a range of issues that are not specifically or even indirectly LGBT-related. They include advisory and policy positions on the environment, veterans’ affairs, helping communities affected by the auto industry downturn, drug control policy, and small business development.
Thirty-six have required Senate confirmation and, so far, only one has failed to achieve that –Edward DuMont, the first openly gay person nominated to serve on a federal appeals bench.
Some of the increased number under the Obama administration is no doubt due to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s creation, in 2008, of a “Presidential Appointments Project.” The project is aimed specifically at “increasing LGBT appointees” and provides an easy mechanism for interested candidates to funnel their resumes into the right hands. A former Victory Fund President, Brian Bond, was among the first of Obama’s openly LGBT appointments. Bond served in Obama’s first term as deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Most of Obama’s openly LGBT appointees (75) serve in the White House or on presidential boards or commissions. The rest are spread out over 15 departments, 12 agencies, and the federal judiciary. After the White House itself, the Department of Education has the largest number of openly LGBT appointees (24), followed by the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services (both with 16).
Grant Colfax is director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, charged with coordinating the federal response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. Nancy Sutley is chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and, as such, is the president’s principle advisor on environmental policy and initiatives. Michael Camuñez, Assistant Secretary of Commerce, and Fred Hochberg, chairman of the Export-Import Bank, promote American exports.
Richard Socarides, who was arguably in the best position to influence the president on LGBT issues during the Clinton White House, says "influence" in can be measured in a number of ways.
"Do they have an important policy job in their area," asks Socarides, " or are they influential in terms of setting broad government policy?" It also matters, he notes, whether one is looking at influence on LGBT policy or other important issues. And some people measure influence by how quickly, easily, and often the person can speak to the president himself.
Here’s a look at what are probably the top twelve most influential positions to which President Obama has nominated an openly LGBT person:
Lisa Keen, Keen News Service