Part 2: Our Hall of Fame
BY Advocate.com Editors
March 19 2012 1:00 AM ET
For any liberal person following politics in the early 1990s, Republican U.S. senator Jesse Helms was center stage as the villain, fighting against many liberal causes including the National Endowment for the Arts. Despite the North Carolinian's looming presence, and over his protest, the U.S. Senate confirmed Roberta Achtenberg as the highest-ranking openly gay person to serve in any presidential administration up to that time.
President Bill Clinton nominated her in 1993 as the assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Helms launched an intense campaign against Helms, even calling her a "damn lesbian" who had a vendetta against the Boy Scouts, because she was part of a group that condemned the organization for not admitting gay and bisexual members. Prior to her confirmation, the Christian Action Network distributed videos to each senator, showing Achtenberg and her partner, Mary Morgan, embracing at a gay pride parade. Eventually, however, Achtenberg was approved with a 58-31 vote. She later moved up to senior adviseor to HUD secretary Henry Cisneros.
Achtenberg's roots are in California, where she now serves on the board of trustees of the California State University system and as a director of the Bank of San Francisco and the San Francisco-based software company Andrew J. Wong Inc. Previously, Achtenberg was a senior policy adviser for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the San Francisco Center for Economic Development, and was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She also practiced law with Equal Rights Advocates and was a founder of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. In 2011, Achtenberg was appointed by another president — Barack Obama — to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.