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LGBT Leaders
Voice Concerns Over Lack of Openly Gay Appointees 

LGBT Leaders
Voice Concerns Over Lack of Openly Gay Appointees 

The LGBT community played a prominent role in helping elevate President-elect Obama to the highest office in the land and now some powerful activists are hoping to see more inclusion in senior-level administration positions. No openly gay people have gotten the nod to date.

Quiet concern among some LGBT activists has shifted to a low rumble over the fact that a majority of senior-level White House staffers and cabinet posts have been announced and not a single openly gay person is in the mix.

One gay Democrat noted that the first tier of senior assistants to the president had been chosen and 8 of 15 cabinet secretaries have been announced and yet the LGBT community still has no representation.

"Every morning in the White House at 7:30 a.m. the senior staff meets and I think it would be unfortunate if there weren't a gay person in the room," said the D.C. insider who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.

Two factors in particular make the absence even more glaring. First, most other interest groups including African Americans, Latinos, and women, already see themselves reflected in the President's inner circle.

"I assume they'll appoint a gay liaison, but I think it's really important that people be represented all throughout the government and not just as gay people," said the insider. "It's important because it looks like America."

The source said LGBT folks inside the Beltway already saw red flags when the transition co-chairs and advisory board members listed on the website failed to include any members of the gay community.

Another vexing reality is that by many accounts on the Hill, the LGBT community has one of the most well orchestrated processes for presenting qualified gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender candidates to the Presidential Personnel Project. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund along with the help of 10 other groups has already collected 1,400 resumes through their Presidential Appointments Project and delivered a binder full of qualified candidates to the transition team.

"Sources on the transition say that this project is one of the best organized efforts of any of the communities that have projects," said Eric Stern, a San Francisco-based attorney and political operative who originally served on John Edwards' LGBT steering committee and later helped bring the bulk of LGBT Edwards supporters into the Obama camp during the primary.

Victory Fund spokesperson Denis Dison said the project started collecting resumes in January of this year and the process continues. He noted that about 3,000 appointments would be made overall, the vast majority of which have yet to be made. But he shared the sense of urgency about senior level positions at a time when most Beltway types believe the cabinet will be settled within the next two weeks.

"I think there's a growing sense in this community that they expect to be part of this administration in a very substantial way," Dison said. "A lot of people really do expect that in the very near future we should have an openly LGBT cabinet secretary. But obviously, there are throughout the administration, opportunities for people to both serve and affect policy."

No openly gay, bisexual, or transgender person has ever served as a cabinet secretary. Members of the community who are widely considered to top the list for inclusion in the Obama administration are Mary Beth Maxwell, founding executive director of the advocacy organization American Rights at Work, for Secretary of Labor and John Berry, director of the Smithsonian National Zoo and former executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, for Secretary of the Interior. Other notables who may end up with senior administration positions include Fred Hochberg for the Small Business Administration and Tobias Wolff who is a serious candidate for the Justice Department but several sources say is also under consideration for deputy White House counsel.

Hochberg, who is on the Obama transition team and served in the Small Business Administration during the Clinton administration, declined to comment for this story, as did Tobias Wolff, a prominent constitutional law scholar who served as President-elect Obama's LGBT policy advisor during the election.

Longtime activist David Mixner speculated, "I really suspect that Fred has a reasonable shot at being the first openly gay head of an agency like the SBA. He not only did a great job when he was there as deputy, he's continued his work on micro-lending and all sorts of things."

The Obama press office declined to comment for this story but an aide to the transition noted, "We have several cabinet appointments and senior level positions in the administration that we still plan to announce." The aide added that President-elect Obama's "record in support of equal rights for the LGBT community will continue when he is in the White House."

To that point, the anonymous DC insider did express optimism about future appointments. "This is the kind of problem that's easily fixable," he said. "But they need to be called into account - the community needs to stand up and say, 'We're part of the team here, we helped you get elected and we need to be at the table.'"

On a positive note, Mixner observed that a number of the cabinet secretaries who have already been announced have very strong records in the LGBT community, including Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce. "These are the people who will make the appointments of a high-level in sub-cabinet positions, if we're going to get any high-level appointments," Mixner said.

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