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Obama's team: Good news for LGBTs
by Lisa Keen, Keen News Service
2008-12-03

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The appointments are rolling out steadily now for Barack Obama's administration. Sometimes, they are actual announced appointments; sometimes, they are leaks about presumably certain appointments. But so far, most sound like good news for the LGBT community.

Seven openly LGBT people are part of the transition team that is helping to prepare the president-elect to take charge of the federal government beginning Jan. 20. Interestingly, five of them are former appointees of President Bill Clinton.

The three appointments of greatest interest during the past week have been for Secretary of Health and Human Services ( HHS ) , U.S. Attorney General and the White House domestic policy adviser.

Former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle ( pictured ) , a longtime friend to the LGBT community, has been tapped to head HHS, though his appointment has not been formally announced. Daschle represented South Dakota in the U.S. Senate and, while considered friendly to gay causes, did not score well on his last 'scorecard' with the Human Rights Campaign. He earned only a 63 ( out of a possible 100 ) in his last two years in the Senate.

Daschle declined a request to co-sponsor the Early Treatment for HIV Act of 2003. According to HRC, the bill would have enabled people with HIV to receive Medicaid and would enabled people with HIV and low incomes with the ability to receive state aid under the category of 'categorically needy.' He also declined a request to add sexual orientation to his Senate office non-discrimination policy, even though an earlier scorecard showed he did and in the scorecard for the previous two-year session, Daschle earned a 100 percent score.

In recent days, the Obama campaign's transition Web site has stated that, 'In the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies.' And Daschle, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank headed by Obama's transition chief John Podesta, is presumably onboard with that plan.

President-elect Obama is reportedly planning to appoint former Deputy Attorney General ( under Bill Clinton ) Eric Holder as his U.S. attorney general.

Tracey Conaty, who, for many years headed up a group documenting and seeking to prevent LGBT-related hate crimes in Washington, D.C., said Holder 'clearly cared about the issue of hate crimes.'

'He was smart and informed about the law,' said Conaty. 'He was also very respectful, and you got the impression that he took these meetings with community folks seriously.'

Though the position gets far less attention than cabinet positions, White House domestic policy adviser is a critical office to the LGBT community. The adviser makes recommendations to the president on a wide range of domestic issues, including many that can be of specific interest to gays. The position became notorious under former President Ronald Reagan, when he appointed ultraconservative activist Gary Bauer to the spot.

To that position, President-elect Obama has named Melody Barnes, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, one of the most pro-gay members of Congress in history.

'She's smart, sharp, solid—she totally gets the gay and HIV issues,' said Chai Feldblum, who worked with Kennedy in the drafting of the Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA ) . 'I worked with her a lot in Kennedy's office. I'm more excited about this appointment than just about anything.'

Transition team

Most familiar among the seven openly LGBT people serving on the transition team is Roberta Achtenberg, who served as assistant secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Clinton. Achtenberg garnered more attention than most assistant secretaries when then-Sen. Jesse Helms referred to her as 'that damn lesbian' and tried to block her confirmation.

Others on the transition team include Michael Guest, former George W. Bush ambassador to Romania; Fred Hochberg, former Small Business Administration leader under Clinton; Elaine Kaplan, who headed Clinton's Office of Special Counsel; Thomas Soto, who was appointed by Clinton to serve on an international commission involved in conservation efforts with Mexico; Rick Stamberger, president of an online gay news-collection Web site called SmartBrief; and Brad Kiley, a deputy assistant for administration at the Clinton White House.

Kiley is one of 13 people listed on the transition's senior staff as one of two directors of operations. He, along with Soto and Stamberger, are among 21 people on the 'Executive Office of the President' team.

Achtenberg is one of 12 people on the HHS transition advisory team. Guest is one of 11 people on the Department of State segment of the National Security Team. Kaplan is one of 10 people on the Government Operations Team. Hochberg is one of 20 on the Economics and International Trade Team.

While the others served under Clinton, Stamberger was a White House fellow under then Vice President George H.W. Bush, during the Reagan administration.

The seven openly gay appointees ae among about 300 people named to help the Obama administration prepare to take the reins of the government starting Jan. 20.

Gay leaders have taken note of the Obama transition Web site's inclusion of the President-elect commitment's to gay civil-rights issues. The Human Rights Campaign called it an 'encouraging sign.'

Meanwhile, the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute reports having received more than 1,300 applications from LGBT people interested in seeking an appointment with the Obama administration. Spokesperson Denis Dison says the Institute groups are putting together their own 'review teams' to examine the applications and 'tease out applicants who are qualified.' Dison says the Obama transition team is 'aware of the project.'

©2008 Keen News Service


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