Obama appoints record number of gay officials

Less than halfway through his first term, President Barack Obama has appointed more openly gay officials than any other president in history.

Last Updated: Oct 27, 2010, 00:11 AM IST

Washington: Less than halfway through his first term, President Barack Obama has appointed more openly gay officials than any other president in history.

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.

The pace of appointments has helped to ease broader disappointment among gay rights groups that Obama has not acted more quickly on other fronts, such as ending the "don`t ask, don`t tell" policy that bans gays from serving openly in the military.

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 furore 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-NC, who denounced her as a "militant extremist."

"It`s both significant and rather ordinary," said Michael Cole, a spokesman for the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. "It`s a simple affirmation of the American ideal that what matters is how you do your job and not who you are."

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 US history.

White House spokesman Shin Inouye confirmed the record number, saying Obama has hired more gay officials than the Clinton and George W Bush administrations combined. He said Obama "is proud that his appointments reflect the diversity of the American public".

Bureau Report