Scroll To Top

First Lady Attends
Berry Swearing In

First Lady Attends
Berry Swearing In


John Berry was officially sworn in Thursday as director of the Office of Personnel Management at an event attended by First Lady Michelle Obama and a who's who of Washington LGBTs.

John Berry was officially sworn in Thursday as director of the Office of Personnel Management, making him the highest ranking openly gay official within the Obama Administration. Berry now heads the agency that serves as the human resources department for the federal government's 1.9 million employees.

The First Lady attended Berry's ceremony along with a crowd of attendees that read like an LGBT who's who of Washington - including Joe Solmonese of HRC, Bob Witeck and Wes Combs of Witeck-Combs Communications, Winnie Stachelberg of the Center for American Progress, and a recent addition at OPM, longtime LGBT activist, Vic Basile.

During his remarks to a crowd of about 500, a glowing Berry made a special point of recognizing one guest, Dr. Frank Kameny -- the LGBT rights icon who had been fired from the federal government in 1957 for being gay.

"In no small part, Dr. Kameny's work, and other leaders like him, made it possible for me to stand here today," said Berry, who was accompanied at the event by his family and his partner Curtis Yee. "For that, Frank, I personally thank you for your leadership, passion and persistence."

Berry also alluded to having President Obama's support in applying fair treatment across the board for all federal employees.

"It is the president's and my opinion that employees should only be judged by their ability to do their job and their performance on the job and no other irrelevant factor," he said. Presently, federal LGBT employees cannot access the partner benefits afforded to heterosexual spouses - an inequity that has been highlighted by several legal battles winding their way through the court system.

The First Lady dedicated the bulk of her speech to acknowledging the tender balance between political appointees of sitting presidents and federal civil servants who often perform their duties under successive presidents with varying political persuasions.

"One of my favorite things as First Lady is traveling around doing these agency visits. This is my ninth agency visit," she said, "and with each one of them I am more and more impressed with the dedication of true public servants -- people who regardless of who's in the White House come to work every day aEUR| and do their jobs to the best of their abilities."

Some of them have held their jobs longer than she has been alive, Mrs. Obama said with a smile, acknowledging the OPM staffers seated behind her on stage - all of whom had served 40-plus years at the agency. The First Lady is 45 and, yes, one OPM worker, Lorraine Elyde, had served 47 years at the agency. (An aide noted that they make an effort to seat the longest serving staffers at each agency on stage with the First Lady whenever she makes a visit.)

"All of you here at OPM keep the government's most important resource -- and that is people -- you keep them working. You make it possible," she said. "We're going to need you. Barack Obama cannot make the changes that we hope without employees who are motivated and excited and enthusiastic."

Following the ceremony, the First Lady shook hands with folks in the crowd and greeted Dr. Frank Kameny.

"She had apparently been briefed," Kameny said. "She thanked me for my past contributions. I was very surprised, I didn't expect it," he said, adding that he's "a very great fan" of the First Lady.

Berry told reporters he was excited about getting to work because his senior staff at OPM was "top flight." He singled out gay Clinton vet Elaine Kaplan, "one of the brightest attorneys in town," and former HRC executive director Vic Basile, "he's going to be my utility infielder - my short stop, if you will."

"I hired my team, each one of them, because of their skills," he said, "and it just so happened they turned out to be a diverse group of people."

When asked what he might focus on initially for LGBT employees, Berry noted that there's currently no enforcement mechanism for President Clinton's executive order protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in the federal work force.

"So we're going to be looking at ways to make sure that, those rules, if they are violated, people have a process by which they can achieve justice," Berry said.

Transgender people are not covered by that executive order and Berry said he would "be discussing" that with the President and other relevant entities of the federal government.

"It is certainly my intention in everything that I will do," he said, "to provide that protection for people in our transgender communities."

On a broader scale, Berry is looking to employ veterans returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

"They're going to come back and they're not trained for jobs, they're not welcomed back to the work force," he said. "I want them to know that they're welcome here in the federal work force aEUR| If we can engineer and develop an effective training program, I think we can more effectively employ veterans who are coming back from service abroad."

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

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Kerry Eleveld