Less than halfway through his first term, President Obama has appointed more openly gay, lesbian and transgender officials than any other president in history, according to new analysis by the AP.
"Gay activists say the estimate of more than 150 appointments so far — from agency heads and commission members to policy officials and senior staffers — surpasses the previous high of about 140 reached during two full terms under President Bill Clinton. 'From everything we hear from inside the administration, they wanted this to be part of their efforts at diversity,' said Denis Dison, spokesman for the Presidential Appointments Project of the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute.
"In a sign of how times have changed, few of the appointees—about two dozen required Senate confirmation—have stirred much controversy. It's a far cry from the 1993 furor surrounding Clinton's nomination of then-San Francisco Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg as assistant secretary for Housing and Urban Development. Achtenberg was the first openly gay official to serve at such a senior level, and she won confirmation despite contentious hearings and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who denounced her as a 'militant extremist.'
"Gay activists, among Obama's strongest supporters, had hoped he would be the first to appoint an openly gay Cabinet secretary. While that hasn't happened—yet—Obama did appoint the highest-ranking gay official ever when he named John Berry as director of the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the nation's 1.9 million federal workers. Other prominent names include Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Fred Hochberg, chairman of the Export-Import Bank. Obama also named Amanda Simpson, the first openly transgender appointee, as a senior technical adviser in the Commerce Department. And David Huebner, ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, is the third openly gay ambassador in U.S. history."
White House spokesman Shin Inouye confirms the record number and adds that Obama has hired more gay officials than the Clinton and Bush Administrations combined. Inouye says Obama "is proud that his appointments reflect the diversity of the American public."
Definitely good news but it's also very relative. In 1993, much of the public and the political establishment was anti-gay and there had never been any openly gay presidential appoointments. In 2010, five states have marriage equality, gay couples can marry in Washington DC, there are openly gay congressmen and openly gay heads of state. The Administration deserves kudos for its appointment record but the focus should remain on impact legislation that will affect many thousands of people, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.