It’s often been said that people who’ve traditionally been excluded from power want a place at the table — and in President Joe Biden’s administration, LGBTQ+ Americans are finding those places in abundance.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are making good on their promise to have an inclusive administration, reflecting the diversity of the nation, LGBTQ+ activists say. So far there have been about 50 LGBTQ+ appointees to various federal government positions, and the Biden-Harris administration is likely to top the record of 330 set over the course of President Barack Obama’s tenure.
“We’ve been very impressed by the number as well as the quality of the appointees in the Biden-Harris administration,” says Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute. A sister organization to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Victory Institute provides training, support, and professional development programs for those aspiring to public office, whether elected or appointed, and its Presidential Appointments Initiative works to assure LGBTQ+ representation in those positions.
To date, the Biden-Harris administration includes the first out Senate-confirmed Cabinet secretary in Pete Buttigieg, the former presidential aspirant now heading the Department of Transportation. Dr. Rachel Levine (above), who at press time was awaiting confirmation as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, will be another first — the first openly transgender person in a Senate-confirmed post, after her tenure leading the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
But the list goes much farther and deeper. The appointees represent the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities; they are male, female, trans and nonbinary; and they are diverse in race and ethnicity. They also represent a variety of areas of expertise.
The White House senior communications team is all female and includes two lesbians of color: Karine Jean-Pierre (above), who is Black, is principal deputy press secretary, while Pili Tobar, who is Latinx, is deputy communications director. Both are longtime political activists who worked on the Biden-Harris campaign.
Gay men in high-profile positions, in addition to Buttigieg, include Arlando Teller, deputy assistant secretary for tribal affairs in the Department of Transportation; Ned Price, spokesman at the State Department; Gautam Raghavan, deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel; and Carlos Elizondo, White House social secretary. Rufus Gifford (above), former ambassador to Denmark, is expected to be named the State Department’s chief of protocol.
Meghan Maury, as policy director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, led the group’s Queer the Census campaign, encouraging LGBTQ+ Americans to be counted; now Maury, who is nonbinary, has been named a senior adviser to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s possibly the first presidential appointment of a nonbinary person , says Task Force Communications Director Cathy Renna, or at least the most prominent one. Renna hopes there will be “many firsts” in the new administration.
Gonzales ticks off several other names of out appointees: Emmy Ruiz, White House director of political strategy and outreach; Anthony Bernal, senior adviser to First Lady Jill Biden; Dr. Bechara Choucair, White House vaccinations coordinator; Jeff Marootian, special assistant to the president for climate and science agency personnel; Suzanne Goldberg, deputy assistant secretary for strategic operations and outreach at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights; and Beth George, principal deputy general counsel at the Department of Defense.
Out appointees will, in many cases, be involved in reversing the harmful policies of Donald Trump’s administration while seeking to fulfill Biden’s pledge to “build back better.” Trump promoted discrimination against trans people in the realm of health care, but now Levine, a trans woman, will have a key role in health policy. Trump’s administration resisted collecting demographic data on LGBTQ+ people in the Census, but Maury is in a position to advocate for that. They and others will also be working on major issues that aren’t specific to LGBTQ+ people, such as climate change and COVID-19 response, which Trump seriously mishandled.
“They’re so strongly qualified for their roles,” Gonzales says of the new administration’s LGBTQ+ appointees. “It shows the depth of the relationships in the Biden administration.”