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Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights: LGBTQ hopefuls await appointments amid Biden transition


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Pete Buttigieg is among LGBTQ hopefuls in contention to be part of Biden’s Cabinet. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

With the current administration winding down — despite continued bluster and refusal to concede from President Trump — LGBTQ hopefuls shut out from the U.S. government for four years are eager to reemerge amid high hopes for change when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The process of finding those appointees is underway. Last week, the Biden team sent out interest surveys to LGBTQ people who are looking to join the Biden administration and signed up with the Presidential Appointments Project, an initiative spearheaded by the LGBTQ Victory Institute to get LGBTQ people into the federal government.

Ruben Gonzales, vice president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, affirmed in an interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday the Biden team sent emails to potential LGBTQ applicants.

“Victory has received over 600 resumes from LGBTQ people from across the country who are interested in serving at all levels of government,” Gonzales added. “We’ve shared a number of resumes that we are really excited about. And we know that a lot of those folks have heard back from the administration and have been asked to submit information. So really excited that they’ve been recognized as folks that can play a role in the administration.”

The Biden team will have to make a lot of appointments from the LGBTQ community if it wants to catch up to President Obama, who made a record number of more than 250 LGBTQ appointees over his eight years in the White House, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute.

But the Victory Institute has specific requests in mind for Biden: the nomination of the first Senate-confirmed openly LGBTQ Cabinet member; the nomination an openly LGBTQ U.S. Supreme Court justice for the first time; and appoint openly lesbian ambassadors, LGBTQ ambassadors of color, and transgender ambassadors for the first time.

Gonzales said he’s hoping at least one part of those requests pertaining to LGBTQ ambassadors in the Biden administration would “happen in the first quarter of 2021” after the Cabinet officials are named.

Will Biden make it happen? The comprehensive LGBTQ plan he issued during his campaign signaled his intent to appoint LGBTQ people to the U.S. government, as does guidance from the Biden transition team on building an administration that looks like America.

One LGBTQ appointment in particular was named just this week: On Tuesday, the Biden team announced Anthony Bernal, who’s gay and served as deputy campaign manager and chief of staff to Jill Biden, would join the East Wing as senior adviser to the first lady.

An adviser to the Biden family for more than decade, Bernal was chief of staff in the Office of Dr. Biden from 2017 to 2019 and served in the Obama administration in multiple roles, including as director of scheduling and trip director for Dr. Biden, and as special assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff to Dr. Biden, according to his bio.

Gonzales said Bernal is the first LGBTQ person named as a Biden appointment and said he’d be a welcome addition to the next administration.

“We feel really good that there’s an LGBTQ person who’s been active in the community already a part of that list, and we think it’s going to continue to make history,” Gonzales said.

A number of LGBTQ appointees have also been named to the Biden landing teams to review policy at specific federal agencies, including former U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner Chai Feldblum; Jeff Marootian, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation; and Shawn Skelly, a transgender veteran who’s also an alumnus from the Obama administration.

Feldblum, who as an EEOC commissioner successfully pushed the agency to begin taking up cases of anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, comes to the role after the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton.

LGBTQ advocates are pushing for the Biden administration to implement that ruling, which reached the same conclusion anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, across federal agencies in implementation of all laws against sex discrimination, including laws in housing, credit, health care and education.

Skelly, who during the Obama administration was special assistant to the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics and coordinator of the Department of Defense Warfighter Senior Integration Group, comes to the position amid expectations Biden will undo Trump’s transgender military ban expeditiously.

But let’s face it: The big question is what job the Biden team will offer Pete Buttigieg. After making history as a gay candidate in the Democratic presidential primary, Buttigieg made an early exit and endorsed Biden, putting himself in a good spot for a high-level appointment. The media outlet Axios reported after the election Buttigieg was “near-certain” to win a Cabinet role in the Biden administration.

Talk has ensued in Washington circles that Buttigieg could get the nod as chief for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which would build off his experience as an Afghanistan war veteran. The nomination would also set him up to become the first Senate-confirmed openly LGBTQ Cabinet member in U.S. history.

Buttigieg, however, has also reportedly been in contention for the role of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, which would give the multilingual former presidential hopeful a boost to his foreign policy credentials in a future second attempt to win the White House.

Despite his ambitions for the role, Buttigieg lacks the foreign policy background that would normally be found in that high-level appointment. According to Politico, another potential pick as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is Wendy Sherman, who helped lead nuclear negotiations with Iran and served as the State Department’s under secretary for political affairs during the Obama administration

Gonzales said whether Buttigieg gets an appointment as secretary of Veterans Affairs or U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, he would “expect that he will have a prominent role” based on the former South Bend mayor’s work for the Biden team.

“We think very highly of Mayor Buttigieg and his experience,” Gonzales said. “I think he’d be well suited for either of those roles. I think he has served with President-elect Biden’s campaign very well as a spokesperson, really representing [not just] himself but our community very well throughout his campaign and throughout the campaign for president. So I think he’s well positioned.”

But as more Americans are growing impatient with Trump for refusing to concede the election — which is holding up the transition process allowing Biden to have access to federal health data to begin implementation of his coronavirus plan — the same holds true for potential appointees.

Asked about any meetings or talks with the transition team about LGBTQ appointments, Gonzales said that team “isn’t officially working” because the General Services Administration hasn’t been able to sign off on it.

“We’re very heartened by the number of LGBTQ people who were named to landing teams for specific agencies,” Gonzales said. “We’re also excited by the number of LGBTQ people who are working on the transition. But there has not been a federal meeting, because there’s not a formal sort of transition team.”

Asked if Trump refusing to back down has delayed the presidential appointment process, Gonzales said “it seems like it is” because Trump’s intransigence has “delayed everything.”

“That concession by the president, and the move by [General Services Administration] just kind of triggers a lot of functions to start happening,” Gonzales said. “And so, I think everyone’s waiting for that to happen. They’re doing as much as they can, obviously prioritizing a lot of positions already, but haven’t been able to sort of really dig into some of the agency pieces.”

The GSA didn’t respond Wednesday to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on when Emily Murphy, head of the agency, would begin to certify the election to allow the transition to move forward.

Does the Victory Institute want Trump to concede? Gonzales gave a veiled signal that was the case.

“We think that there’s a lot of work to be done on the transition, and the sooner that we can all get to work, the better for our country,” Gonzales said.

Despite the anti-LGBTQ record Trump built over his tenure, defenders will point out he had significant gay appointments, most prominently Richard Grenell, who before becoming the face of LGBTQ outreach for the 2020 Trump campaign was acting director of national intelligence, making him the first openly gay Cabinet member, though he was not Senate confirmed.

Grenell, also former U.S. ambassador to Germany, was one of at least five openly gay ambassadors nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate during his administration. Trump named Circuit Judge Patrick Bumatay to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, making him the highest-ranking openly gay federal judge.

Other notable appointments were R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs; John Ring, chair of the National Labor Relations Board; and Tyler Goodspeed, acting chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere touted the LGBTQ appointments under the Trump administration in response to a request for comment from the Washington Blade.

“President Trump has hired and promoted LGBT Americans to the highest levels of government, including positions at the White House, agencies, judgeships, ambassadorships and appointed the first openly gay Cabinet member in our history,” Deere said. “While an individual’s sexual identity is not a qualification, the president’s appointments of LGBT people are significant and historic.”

Gonzales didn’t dispute the importance of those LGBTQ appointments, but said the Presidential Appointments Project “had a drastic reduction” in the number of LGBTQ hopefuls who wanted a position in the U.S. government with Trump in the White House.

Although Gonzales said most LGBTQ appointees “support full equality for LGBTQ people and therefore are best informed and best positioned to advance equality for our community,” he made an exception for Grenell, who has publicly criticized the LGBTQ Victory Fund for not helping Republican LGBTQ candidates.

“Ric Grenell excludes trans people from his vision of equality and cheerleads Trump’s record on LGBTQ rights despite an administration-wide effort to erode protections for our community and especially trans people,” Gonzales said. “Not much to celebrate, unfortunately.”

Grenell didn’t respond Wednesday to a request to respond to Gonzales for this article or weigh in on LGBTQ appointees in federal government.

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Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights