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Obama's First 100 Days Prove Inclusive

Obama's First 100 Days Prove Inclusive


Though the president's first 100 days did not include the signing of major LGBT legislation, advocates say the Administration has set the stage for a string of LGBT wins.

Wednesday marked President Barack Obama's first 100 days in office and, overall, LGBT leaders are giving him high marks for laying a foundation for achievement on a wide range of issues important to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

"The big-picture question is, if he promised change, has he delivered it? And I think the answer is, 'Yes,'" said Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund president Chuck Wolfe, articulating a sentiment shared by many, with only a few caveats.

While some of the big-ticket items like hate-crimes and employment nondiscrimination legislation are still in process, since taking office, President Obama's administration has joined the United Nations statement condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, appointed John Berry to the highest-ranking administration position ever held by an openly gay person, and, perhaps most important, markedly increased the community's access to the White House on any number of fronts.

"I've been doing Washington advocacy work since 1989, and this particular administration feels not only more inviting or receptive of the community but, quite frankly, more proactive," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

One of the things LGBT advocates stressed during the campaign, Carey noted, was that they wanted the next president to not only listen to the community but to also draw on its talents.

In that respect, President Obama has already appointed at least 37 openly LGBT people to Administration positions, setting him on course to "far surpass" any previous president, noted Wolfe. A document assembled by LGBT activists who served in the Clinton administration states that President Clinton "appointed more than 150 openly gay and lesbian appointees" during his two terms in office.

The White House has also included LGBT people in key policy-making discussions on a host of issues ranging from health care to the economy to tax reform.

"We really are part of a more broad-based conversation," said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese, noting that he had the chance to discuss the community's lack of access to Social Security survivor benefits at the White House Fiscal Responsibility Summit and LGBT barriers to health coverage at the White House Health Reform Summit.

"To be able to talk -- not just in the presence of the Administration, but of other health care advocates -- about the taxes we pay on domestic-partnership benefits, was incredibly important," Solmonese said, "because half the people in the room weren't necessarily aware of some of the things we were talking about."

The Administration also got points for symbolic gestures like extending an invitation to LGBT-led families at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

"That was important because it was about our families," said Alexander Robinson of the National Black Justice Coalition. "We are often not seen in the public eye as having families, so it was important that the White House got it."

One area of concern for some leaders included a mixed review of the Centers for Disease Control's rollout of their new AIDS action plan , "9 1/2 minutes," earlier this month.

Though many were happy to see an early emphasis on domestic HIV/AIDS policy, Robinson noted that none of the 14 partner organizations listed by the CDC to help address the disease in the African-American community were LGBT organizations.

"The African-American component included a number of African-American organizations, but none of them have any real experience or expertise in working with LGBT people, particularly not around an issue that carries with it as much emotion and bias as something dealing with sexuality," he said.

In order to have an effect on the disease in the African-American community, he added, "not only do we have to address the increase among women, but we have to address the fact that gay men continue to be the largest number of people living with AIDS and that, if we look across the board, African-American gay men are infected at a younger age -- we're talking mid to late teens and early 20s."

Carey of the Task Force took issue with the White House statement following the Iowa supreme court's ruling on same-sex marriage that restated President Obama's support for civil unions.

"We talked to them about if there was anything else that we could do to educate those in the White House who may be writing statements on issues concerning our community," she said.

But asked about the lack of big accomplishments like passing a hate-crimes bill or issuing certain executive orders, leaders mostly agreed that Obama's first 100 days have paved the way for very significant and consistent advances to come.

"I've been impressed," said Solmonese. "Given all that this president and this administration has encountered coming in -- the most daunting economic crisis in a generation, the war in Iraq and heightening situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and, quite frankly, all they have had to undo from the Bush administration -- I'm optimistic and inspired by the first 100 days."

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