Sunday, December 07, 2008

The possibility of fairness

The Washington Blade had an article this week on how President-elect Obama's cabinet picks could impact gay rights.

A lesbian in Obama’s cabinet?
Speculation swirls around Maxwell for labor secretary
By CHRIS JOHNSON, Washington Blade

President-elect Barack Obama this week was reportedly considering nominating an openly gay person to serve as labor secretary.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama was considering Mary Beth Maxwell, the founding executive director of American Rights at Work, to head the Labor Department. If nominated, and confirmed by the Senate, she would be the nation’s first openly gay cabinet member.


Cabinet picks could impact gay rights

Meanwhile, Obama this week nominated several other prominent figures to fill key cabinet positions. The nominees would hold positions that would significantly influence how the administration handles gay issues.

Gays working in the State Department, for example, could benefit from Obama’s choice of gay-supportive Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) as secretary of state.

The head of the State Department could change rules on how the department treats the partners of gay Foreign Service officers, who are not entitled to the same benefits as the spouses of straight Foreign Service officers.

Michelle Schohn, head of Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, said partners of their gay Foreign Service officers are not included in travel orders, not eligible for health insurance, not entitled to emergency or medical evacuation, and not eligible for more than basic language and security training at the Foreign Service Institute — unlike the spouses of their straight counterparts.

The State Department also provides no help in providing visas for the partners of gay Foreign Service officers, and while the department will pick up various travel expenses when moving overseas, including the cost of transporting a pet, the department will not reimburse costs for transporting a domestic partner, she said.

Michael Guest, former U.S. ambassador to Romania, retired from the State Department last year in protest because of these inequities and said they could have been rectified by a rule change from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Guest declined to comment for this article.

Schohn said Clinton could change things by making the partners of gay Foreign Service officers “eligible family members” as opposed to considering them “members of household.”

“Senator Clinton can, with the stroke of a pen, grant the families of LGBT employees equality,” Schohn said. “I am hopeful that Senator Clinton will see this as a matter of simple fairness and offer the protections to our families that will enable us to continue to serve.”


You can read the whole article here.

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