The Pinking of Capitol Hill

The formation of an LGBT affinity group at the SEC and an LGBT congressional caucus presage a warmer atmosphere for gays in Washington.

BY William Henderson

July 01 2008 11:00 PM ET

Barney Frank (1998 Getty x100) | Advocate.com

And as it grows
warmer for gay men and women on Capitol Hill, it’s
also getting easier to come out and ask for what we
want.

When Atty. Gen.
Michael Mukasey was appointed, Department of Justice
employees got permission to reconstitute their DOJ Pride
employee group, which had not been allowed to post
notices of meetings or events on department bulletin
boards under the reigns of former attorneys general
John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales. And Frank and fellow gay
U.S. representative Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin
Democrat, are cochairing the recently formed House
LGBT Equality Caucus, formed to take the lead on LGBT
issues before Congress. “Until the Democrats regained
the majority in 2006, such a caucus would have had
little or no impact,” Baldwin says.
“Being in the majority has meant being able to
advance legislation rather than just play
defense.”

Then comes the
potential Obama factor. “Having a president in the
White House who will not only sign the Matthew Shepard
Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act but who
will show leadership from the White House to make sure
the bills come through in the strongest form possible,
that’s going to make an enormous difference,”
Baldwin says. Working on ENDA and hate-crimes law this
year, she says, drove home the need for a more
centralized educational resource on LGBT issues on the Hill.

“A big sea
change of hope is washing over Washington,” says Bob
Witeck, CEO and cofounder of Witeck-Combs
Communications. The longtime D.C. insider predicts
several positive changes for gays in the next few years,
including the extension of domestic-partner benefits to
federal employees and the appointment of an openly gay
cabinet member.

“The
marriage battles will still be state by state. We
can’t change that,” Witeck says.
“But the federal government can begin to undo its own
inequities with its workforce and set an example.”

Tags: Politics

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