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Seeking LGBTs to
Serve the Next Administration

Seeking LGBTs to
Serve the Next Administration

The Victory Fund begins vetting those interested in working for the next president with far more applicants than when the process first took place in the '90s.

When President Bill Clinton took his oath of office in January 1993 and again four years later, "there was a line around the block of openly LGBT citizens wanting to serve their government," recalls David Mixner, a veteran political strategist who was part of Clinton's first transition team. Now, after eight years of George W. Bush, activists are aflutter over the possibility of working for a new administration.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the nation's largest LGBT political action committee, was a catalyst in the Clinton era crusades for LGBT inclusion and is starting the recruitment process early this time. The group's Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute in March unveiled a nonpartisan project to attract LGBT individuals who want to work for the next president -- be it Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain.

Hundreds inquired about the initiative in its first few weeks and more than 100 applications already have been received. The goal, according to Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe, is to "put out and outstanding people up for consideration" and help those who are interested decide whether a prominent job in public service is right for them.

Presidential appointees are exposed to public and sometimes congressional scrutiny and "an important part of the project is helping people make the decision not to do it," Wolfe says. Still, the more LGBT staffers stock the executive branch, "the more we change the face and voice of American politics," he says.

During the first Clinton administration, the transition team was extra cautious because openly gay and lesbian appointees held so much promise for great societal advances with yet equally as much potential for setbacks if things went awry. Those first historical appointments "had to able to withstand tough vetting and even more tough confirmation fights," Mixner says. Their backgrounds were "checked from birth to death [and] several had to be told outright that they would never survive a Senate confirmation fight," he admits.

Two notable appointments were San Francisco politician Roberta Achtenberg and James Hormel, Mixner says. Achtenberg, who served under Clinton as assistant secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was the first openly gay person ever nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Hormel became ambassador to Luxembourg through a "recess appointment" when the Senate was not in session. The applicant pool in the early 1990s was considerably smaller than it is today and since that time openly LGBT individuals have become a visible and valuable part of the federal workforce, Wolfe says. "When you think about progress that's been made in the last 10 years, it's pretty significant," he says, noting that gays and lesbians "probably haven't been too driven to serve in the past eight years." Wolfe hopes that will change with the next administration.

The Victory Fund's vetting process sounds a lot like a political spin-off of "American Idol." Once the group receives what Wolfe believes could be thousands of applications, a team of volunteers from executive search firms and retired government workers will whittle down the wannabes. The remaining applicants will then participate in a forum with representatives of the new administration-elect's transition team sometime between the election and the presidential inauguration, he says.

So far, the organization has heard from potential ambassadors, assistant secretaries of agencies and a few individuals already in elected office who would consider becoming an agency head as a White House Cabinet member. A number of hopefuls hail from outside the Beltway and have either served in state or local government or are politically active in the LGBT, HIV/AIDS, health, environment or other communities.

"The bottom line for us is that we're excited about encouraging LGBT people to serve in government and if this means they think about serving as a presidential appointee, that's great," Wolfe says. "More gay and lesbian Americans need to be part of our representative Democracy. It really is how we end up changing this country."

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Andrew Noyes