Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Work In Progress

It’s perhaps a sign of the times — a good one, too — that this kind of news isn’t getting a lot of attention.

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 furor 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-N.C., 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.”

I get it that a lot of people are not happy with the speed — or lack thereof — of the repeal of DADT, including the seemingly contradictory way the Obama administration has handled the court cases that have come up recently. But I also think that by this record number of appointments, it’s going to make a difference where it really matters: in the average workplace in Washington and elsewhere. Sometimes the most effective way of changing the culture is just by people showing up to do their job with little or no notice of what they are — black, white, brown, gay, straight — but that they’re just people.

I’m pretty sure the obsessed and tormented folks at Focus on the Family and the rest of the homophobic lobby are convinced that this record number of appointments by the Obama administration is a plot to inculcate the Radical Homosexual Agenda into the mainstream of America and thereby undermine our white straight picket fence America and all of its Yankee Doodle dandyness. Actually, I’m pretty sure that it’s just been the natural progression of the hiring process. People in the LGBT community need jobs, too, and they’re just not hiding the fact that they are members of the community because it just doesn’t matter any more. It would be really great if the same could be said for all branches of the government, but for now, this is pretty damn good.