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Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights: White House: Grenell, not Buttigieg, is the first out LGBTQ Cabinet official


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The White House says former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell is the first openly gay Cabinet official, not former Mayor of South Bend, Ind. Pete Buttigieg, whom Biden chose as transportation secretary. (Photo of Grenell public domain; Washington Blade photo of Buttigieg by Michael Key)

Amid an ongoing dispute over whether the distinction of being the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet official belongs to Pete Buttigieg or Richard Grenell, the White House said Friday that President Trump believes the distinction belongs to Grenell, even though the Trump appointee didn’t seek or obtain Senate confirmation for his Cabinet-level role.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern, gaggling with reporters, said in response to a question from the Washington Blade Trump “does agree” with the designation of Grenell as acting director of national intelligence makes him the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet official.

“Yes, the president does agree with that,” Morgenstern said. “He’s very proud of it. In fact he as a gift gave the ceremonial Cabinet room chair that Ambassador Grenell used during his time as acting ODNI to kind of signify how meaningful it was to him to break through that barrier.”

The dispute emerged after President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday he selected Buttigieg, who made history as a gay presidential candidate in the 2020 election, as secretary of transportation.

Sweeping under the rug the anti-LGBTQ record Trump has built over his administration, Morgenstern said Grenell’s appointment is a “good example of tolerance” and Trump believes “immutable traits” shouldn’t disqualify capable people from the roles for which they are qualified.

“And so, yeah, the president’s very proud of that — of sort of breaking through that barrier for our country setting a good example of tolerance and that people who are best suited to have a position to get that position then no matter what their immutable traits may be,” Morgenstern said.

Morgenstern concluded he would “leave it at that” before announcing to reporters in the gaggle he’d take just one more question.

Despite Morgenstern’s claims the Trump administration believes qualified people should be able to get a position “no matter what their immutable traits may be,” the White House under Trump just months ago signaled it would keep in place the transgender military ban, citing unfounded claims of “military readiness and unit cohesion.” Biden made reversing that policy a campaign pledge and is expected to undo the ban upon taking office.

The honor of being the first openly gay Cabinet official has ignited a firestorm of controversy on social media in the aftermath of Biden announcing Buttigieg’s appointment. Former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Jim Hormel, who became the first openly gay ambassador when President Clinton granted him a recess appointment in 1999, said Thursday via email to the Blade he acknowledges Buttigieg with the distinction because Grenell only served in an acting capacity.

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Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights