Views & Voices

An openly LGBT cabinet member? Let’s talk about key priorities…

White House photo by Pete Souza JERAME DAVIS [e]Political Consultant, Former Executive Director of National Stonewall Democrats[m]

Some activists have been pressing hard recently for a Cabinet appointment of an openly LGBT person. An admirable goal to be sure, but with only one remaining open Cabinet position, it’s increasingly unlikely that this wish is going to come true.

In a recent Washington Post article, a representative of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) was quoted as calling this a “failure” of the Obama administration, and that an LGBT cabinet appointment was a “key priority” for HRC.

White House photo by Pete Souza

An openly LGBT cabinet secretary would be another milestone for LGBT inclusion and an important symbol of pride for our community — but let’s be clear, this should not be a key priority for our community.

Moreover, the idea that this would be a mark of failure on the part of the President doesn’t sit well with me.

In addition to the myriad policy advances he has delivered for our community, President Obama has already appointed hundreds of openly LGBT people throughout his administration.

To me, a “key priority” for our community should be something tangible that actually advances our equality or improves our lives through policy or action.

Symbolic wins are important for morale and to show momentum, but with six new marriage equality states since November, a host of politicians coming out in support of the freedom to marry, and the continued attention to LGBT issues by this Administration and many key lawmakers, we aren’t short on good news to keep up our spirits.

A much-needed executive order barring LGBT discrimination by federal contractors is something tangible with real policy outcomes that this president could provide and that would positively impact our community. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

If the President doesn’t sign this executive order, when nearly a quarter of the country’s workforce could be protected at the stroke of a pen, that might be considered a failure on the part of this Administration. But the lack of an openly gay Cabinet member hardly rises to that level.

Our community should be pushing hard for the passage of ENDA, the legislative repeal of DOMA, and other real and pressing matters. It is far more important that the President choose the best Secretaries for his Cabinet than for our community to mark another box on our checklist of firsts.

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President Obama has more than enough of a challenge in choosing his key players without our grousing about whether or not one of them is openly LGBT.

We have had some major successes recently and we need to keep building upon that success, but we should not get ahead of ourselves. Policy outcomes are what average LGBT people need. The dignity of a job, respect for our relationships, and full equality under the law are the ideals that drive our community’s key priorities.

How does gaining an openly LGBT Cabinet appointment advance any of those goals?

In short, it doesn’t.

This is why I’m not putting a bit of energy into pressuring the President to appoint an LGBT person. He should appoint the right person for each job. I hope a great many of them are LGBT, but I’m not going to lose any sleep just because we don’t have a queer person in the upper echelons of the executive branch.

We have bigger fish to fry.

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