With the appointment of California
Representative Hilda Solis (Democrat) to the position of Labor
Secretary, the aspirations of gay rights leaders for a cabinet-level
appointment have most likely evaporated.
Openly lesbian Mary Beth Maxwell had
been considered a strong contender for the position. Maxwell is the
founding executive director of American Rights at Work, and had
helped line up support for the pro-union Employee Free Choice Act.
It was just last week that members of
President-elect Barack Obama's transition team met with dozens of gay
and lesbian activists fueling speculation that a cabinet-level
appointment might be in the offing.
But no openly gay, bisexual or
transgender person has ever served in one of the fifteen cabinet
secretary positions that report directly to the president.
In that meeting, Chuck Wolfe, president
and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, made it clear to the
Obama transition team that he felt the political aspirations of the
gay community had not yet been fully realized: “We have paid our
political dues, but still have not benefited greatly from that.”
“[I]n the spirit of honest
communication, 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,” he told members of
President-elect Obama's transition team.
The senior-level appointment of openly
lesbian Nancy Sutley as chairwoman of the White House Council on
Environmental Quality was announced earlier this week, despite having
served as a member of Hillary Clinton's LGBT steering committee
during the Democratic primary race. She will oversee coordination
and implementation of environmental policies for the president.
Wolfe expressed his disappointment:
“It's now clear that President Obama's top appointees will gather
in a Cabinet Room that does not reflect the living rooms, board room
or rooms of worship across this country. Openly LGBT people are
accepted and involved in nearly all aspects of American life, but
they still will not have a place at the table at the highest reaches
of their government.”
Gay activists, however, point out that
many gay-affirming, high-ranking appointments already announced –
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security
Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Daschle
and Secretary of Commerce Bill Richardson included – may likely
result in gains for the gay and lesbian community as they appoint
sub-cabinet positions and create a gay-friendly atmosphere.
Solis, along with Ken Salazar and Bill
Richardson, is the third Hispanic appointed to Obama's cabinet.