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The Pinking of
Capitol Hill

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.

When a few employees approached the Equal Employment Opportunity Office at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 1998 and asked about creating an affinity group for gay and lesbian staffers, the answer was yes. But the effort stalled--becoming a member of the group would require people to come out, which no employee wanted to do.

So while closeted gay employees sat on the sidelines, groups for female, American Indian, Asian and Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and disabled workers were created at the SEC, and several of the companies over which it has governance were touting their LGBT employee groups: AT&T launched its group in 1987, Microsoft in 1993, Ford in 1994, and Raytheon in 2002.

It wasn't until this June that the SEC's LGBT affinity group held its first events in Washington, D.C. In advance of the group's inaugural meeting on June 10, gay Democratic congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts delivered a keynote address June 9 on the power of visibility. "By the process of coming out, we have helped America understand that they were not antigay," Frank said. "They just thought they were supposed to be."

This time around, about 30 SEC employees have signed on as members. "We've had to wait a while, but once we started pushing hard for it, the idea was received warmly," says SEC attorney Scott Pomfret, who is cochair of the employee group. "It's time for the people of the SEC to recognize the contributions that gay and lesbian employees make here on a day-to-day basis. And that way, prospective SEC employees will know that this is a place where they won't have to worry about being out."

So why the wait? Blame the frigid climate toward gays in D.C. under the Bush administration. "We've got people in the financial services industry or at the SEC who think, If people know I'm gay or lesbian, will that hurt my ability to keep my job?" Frank, who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, tells The Advocate. "Well, I have a major role in that industry right now. The people who run these entities have to be nice to me whether they like me or not. So it's hard to be nice to me and then be prejudiced against some lesbian."

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."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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