Top Twelve Obama LGBT Appointments

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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:

  1. Director of the Office of Personnel Management. Some LGBT activists were hopeful that President Obama would make the first appointment of an openly gay person to a cabinet level position. So far, that hasn’t happened and his appointment of John Berry as OPM director probably comes closest. OPM has more than 5,000 employees and manages personnel issues for some 2.8 million for U.S. federal civil service employees around the world. One of its biggest missions lately has been issuing guidelines to other federal agencies on how to handle furloughs associated with the current sequestration budget cuts. Berry announced his resignation April 11, one day before his four-year term expired. Unconfirmed reports suggest he may be in line for an ambassadorship. Interim acting director of OPM will be OPM’s openly lesbian general counsel Elaine Kaplan.
  2. Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice. There are 12 assistant attorneys general at DOJ. Delery has been appointed to head the department’s Civil Division, which represents the U.S. government in litigation involving such critical matters as national security, presidential powers, immigration, energy, banking, and consumer protection. Recently, the Division has defended the Affordable Care Act and the administration’s protection of information concerning the CIA use of drones to eliminate suspected terrorists. The DOJ Civil Division has 1,400 employees. Delery took the helm as Acting Assistant Attorney General in February 2012, but his official nomination to the post is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  3. Chairman, Export-Import Bank of the United States. Fred Hochberg was appointed to the position in Obama’s first term, and in March, the president reappointed him for a second stint. The Export-Import Bank provides financial credit and support to promote the sale of American goods to other countries. In doing so, the aim is to support and promote jobs in the United States. Under Hochberg, the bank says it “supported more than 255,000 American jobs” in FY 2012 with almost $36 billions of financing.
  4. Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Any federal bench provides the appointee with a potential for a lifetime of influence. The 179 judges appointed to a federal appeals court have influence over –not just a district but -- several states. The 16 judges of the appeals court for the Federal Circuit have jurisdiction nationally on a limited variety of legal conflicts, including disputes over patents, trademarks, international trade agreements, government contracts, federal personnel, and veterans’ benefits. President Obama named a highly qualified openly gay man, Edward DuMont, to a Federal Circuit seat, but Republicans in the Senate, perhaps suspecting it would improve DuMont’s chances for eventual consideration as a Supreme Court candidate, refused to allow DuMont even a hearing. DuMont eventually withdrew his nomination.
  5. Director, White House Office of National AIDS Policy. This is the office charged with coordinating the federal response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. That includes implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy to reduce the incidence of HIV infection and make sure people with HIV receive proper medical care. In this position, Grant Colfax also serves as the president’s lead advisor on HIV-related domestic policy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men having sex with men account for 63 percent of new HIV infections, and the percentage is even higher (72 percent) for MSM 13 to 24 years old.
  6. Commissioner, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is the agency charged with enforcing federal laws against discrimination in the workplace. EEOC laws pertain to employers with more than 15 employees, including the federal government itself. While federal law does not proscribe sexual orientation-based discrimination in the workplace, an executive order signed by President Clinton prohibits such discrimination by the federal government. President Obama named Chai Feldblum as one of five commissioners who direct the EEOC’s work.
  7. Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The eight-member commission is charged with guiding the federal government’s national civil rights policy and the enforcement of its civil rights laws. Among other things, it does research and analysis into potential discrimination in voting rights, and holds public hearings and issues reports on civil rights matters. President Obama named Roberta Achtenberg, a prominent appointee during the Clinton administration, to one of the eight seats.
  8. Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Federal Claims. This is another court with national jurisdiction and specialized cases. Its 16 active judges deliberate over lawsuits brought by private citizens against the U.S. government. President Clinton appointed Emily Hewitt to the court in 1998, and President Obama designated her as Chief Judge in March 2009. Last month, President Obama also nominated Elaine Kaplan, who is currently general counsel to the OPM, to the Federal Claims bench. If confirmed by the Senate, she will joint the bench in deciding lawsuits against the U.S. relating to taxes, government contracts, natural resources, and foreign governments.
  9. Social secretary, The White House. It may not sound like a power position, but insiders say it is. The White House Social Secretary works for the First Lady to plan all White House events, from small coffee receptions to large state dinners. In the world of power politics, an invitation to a White House party carries real value. For many invitees, it signals recognition from Washington's most powerful entity that the guest has some political influence. And for those at the more select events, it's an opportunity to be seen as part of a powerful elite. The Social Secretary, says Socarides, "basically decides who gets invited. The current Social Secretary, Jeremy Bernard, is "the highest ranking gay person at the White House,” says Socarides. When appointed, in February 2011, Bernard became the first man –and the first openly gay person—to be appointed to the position.
  10. Judge, U.S. District Court. There are more than 600 federal district court judges, but each has a lifetime appointment and serves as the first line of judgment in legal conflicts big and small. President Obama has nominated seven openly LGBT people to federal district court positions in six different districts. Four have already been confirmed (Paul Oetken and Alison Nathan in Manhattan, Michael Fitzgerald in Los Angeles, and Pamela Chen in Brooklyn). Three others are still pending (Nitza Quiñones Alejandro in Philadelphia, Michael Shane in Oregon, and William Thomas in Miami).
  11. Associate counsel to the President. There are at least a dozen people identified as Associate Counsel to the President, and they fall below the Counselor, the Principal Deputy Counselor, and the Senior Counselor. They are not as high up as Karen Tramontano was when she served as Counselor to President Clinton's Chief of Staff. But they do have influence, says Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president of the Center for American Progress, a group that has had a great deal of interaction with President Obama's White House. The associate counsels have played key roles in a number of issues including the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and workplace discrimination, from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to drafting an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation. Two lesbians have held one of the positions thus far in the Obama White House: Allison Nathan, who is now a U.S. district court judge, and Kathleen Hartnett, who just left.
  12. Director, Region IX, Health and Human Services. HHS has ten regional offices that address intergovernmental and external affairs and the president appoints the director of each region. Based in San Francisco, Region 9 covers the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii, as well as several territories. Each region serves as the HHS Secretary's advisor and liaison to state and local governments and community organizations on matters of policy and programs. Herb Schultz, former senior advisor to then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is director of Region 9. The Center for American Progress' Stachelberg says the job covers such matters as implementation of the Affordable Care Act, AIDS service delivery, and programs aimed at lesbian health. "Running that region," she says, "is a huge responsibility."
  13.  Lisa Keen, Keen News Service


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