Today the Obama-Biden Transition Team invited dozens of LGBT movement leaders to their offices to discuss the role the incoming administration can play in securing equality for all Americans. Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Leadership Institute, talked about the community’s expectations surrounding the thousands of presidential appointments Barack Obama will make throughout his term. These are the comments he delivered today to transition leaders:
I would like to acknowledge the historic nature of this meeting. Thank you for having us here today. When President Carter had the first LGBT meeting at the White House there was considerable hope in the LGBT movement that we could have a role in our government. Since then there has been significant progress, and many of the trailblazers are here, but our hopes have not yet been realized.
So in the spirit of honest communcation, if America’s promise is going to apply to all Americans it is time that LGBT people be appointed to the Cabinet and to the highest ranks of government service. In fact, the time for closeted service in the military and government is over.
Many gay and lesbian Americans are skilled leaders with brilliant ideas and strong management skills. And many out leaders have paid their political dues. This year our community coordinated a professional, joint project to lower barriers so qualified, openly LGBT Americans can serve the Obama administration. Mark Periello, the coordinator of this project, has made clear that we are not concerned with who identifies potential appointees or who recommends them; we only care that they are able to serve. The patriotism, talent and commitment of applicants to this project are great. The applicants simply want a place at the table as President-elect Obama works to rebuild our country. And we want to make sure, as he does, that his administration reflects the diversity of this country.
I had the honor of serving the late Lawton Chiles while he was Governor of Florida and among his many sayings was that when things went wrong it was “muddy water under the bridge.” Our community’s goal today is that this administration avoid as much muddy water under its bridge as possible. And the place to start is making sure LGBT people serve at the highest levels of government.
President-elect Obama promises a diverse administration filled with talented individuals from all walks of life. This must include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. Anything less is not fully inclusive, and that could be seen as an indication that our community is little more than an ATM for campaigns.
We have paid our political dues, but still have not benefited greatly from that. In our nation’s 232-year history there has never been an openly gay cabinet secretary, let alone passage of a major piece of LGBT-specific federal legislation that would bring us closer to full equality. And while there are true champions for LGBT equality in both major political parties, no administration has thrown its weight behind expanding opportunities for LGBT Americans. It is long past time for that to change, and so, told to expect change in an Obama Administration, we expect just that.
There are thousands of LGBT people ready to serve this administration. While acknowledging that our community, like every community, has a long way to go in diversifying its leadership, I would point out that the network of openly LGBT elected officials is five times as diverse as that of their straight counterparts.
We understand selecting an openly LGBT cabinet secretary carries some political risk, but that risk may not be as great as you think. A nationwide poll conducted by Zogby this year found that 70% of Americans could support an openly LGBT cabinet appointee if they believed the person was qualified for the position.
Let me close by saying that throughout my career working with openly LGBT public officials, many of them tell a similar enlightening story. Not long after their elections or appointments they get a phone call. Sometimes it’s from a young lesbian in their town, or a gay high school student across the country who read about them in the news. It happened to Harvey Milk. It happened to Neil Giuliano when he became mayor of Tempe, Arizona. Those kids called to connect with someone like them who made it. They call to tell their own stories, to ask advice…maybe even to just make sure what they read about really happened.
We owe those young people real leaders they can look up to, and so we will work hard to make you understand how important it will be when the country has its first openly LGBT cabinet secretary. Young Americans need to know that this country’s promise applies to them – that they can achieve success, and have a voice in their government, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
For more information on the Presidential Appointments Project, click here.