Last summer President Obama made history by announcing his support for gay marriage. Now the LGBT community is looking for the next step: appointing an openly gay person to a cabinet post.
There are two LGBT candidates that the gay community touts for high level office–and both of them already serve in the Obama Administration. John Berry, currently the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, is Obama’s highest-ranking openly gay political appointee. Berry has long been rumored to be the choice to lead the Interior Department (where he served in the Clinton Administration as an assistant secretary). The Washington Post once said Berry was “seen as a star over there [at the White House] and one of the stars in the Obama world over all.”
“John is one of the most talented managers in government,” said Steve Elmendorf, former Deputy Campaign Manager to John Kerry’s Presidential Campaign and newly elected Chair of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. “He’s qualified to run almost any cabinet agency but particularly Interior because of his experience there, as Director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and as Director of the National Zoo.”
Fred Hochberg, Chairman and President of the Export-Import Bank, is another openly gay rising star in the Obama Administration. Hochberg is widely speculated to be under consideration for Commerce Secretary or as the U.S. Trade Representative. “They are definitely looking at Fred,” said one source familiar with the process. “They’re carefully considering him and they’re pleased with his record at the bank,” the source said of the White House.
Hochberg, once a Hillary loyalist who later raised and bundled donations for Obama after he secured the nomination in 2008, is well respected by the business community and the Export-Import Bank has set record finance exports under his leadership.
“A cabinet of the best talent that also looks like America would include a guy like Fred Hochberg,” said openly gay Congressman-Elect Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18). “He knows how to bring people together and create jobs,” said Maloney, also a former senior West Wing adviser to President Clinton.
Congressman-Elect Maloney knows a thing or two about breaking barriers. Come January he will be the first openly gay Congressman from New York and was the youngest person to serve as White House Staff Secretary.
Both Berry and Hochberg have already survived the Senate confirmation process for their current positions–a plus, should President Obama nominate one or both of them to higher post. “That’s one of the advantages of having been through the Senate and passing the initial vet,” said Elmendorf.
“Neither of them would have a problem making it through the process again as a Cabinet Secretary,” he said.
In 1993 Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) led the opposition to President Clinton’s nomination of Roberta Achtenberg to be Assistant Secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Helms called Achtenberg a “militantly activist lesbian” who “tried to bully the Boy Scouts of America into permitting homosexual scout leaders.” Achtenberg was eventually confirmed and the appointment was seen as a milestone for the LGBT community at the time.
In 1997 Clinton nominated James Hormel to be the first openly gay ambassador. Senate Republicans opposed him, forcing Clinton to issue a recess appointment. Hormel was eventually sworn in and served as Ambassador to Luxembourg but was never confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
How much has changed? We’ll find out as President Obama pulls together his second-term Cabinet.