By Lisa Keen
The big news in the presidential transition this week for the LGBT community was not the appointment of primary favorite Hillary Clinton to Secretary of State, nor that of long-time ally Bill Richardson to Secretary of Commerce. It was a Wall Street Journal blog report Tuesday that President-elect Barack Obama is considering an openly gay person for his administration’s Secretary of Labor – a pick that would make history.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Mary Beth Maxwell, openly gay founder and executive director of a pro-labor advocacy group, is on a short list for the post. If chosen, Maxwell would become the first openly gay person ever to hold a cabinet post.
The Journal suggested Maxwell is a long-shot for the post, not because she’s gay but because she’s not as well known as many of Obama’s other appointees so far. Others reportedly on that short list include Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.
The Journal blog noted that the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT political group, sent a hurried letter to the transition team Monday to urge support for Maxwell’s appointment, even though it had earlier endorsed another candidate, U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.).
Maxwell did not return a reporter’s call, but in her biographical sketch on the Web site of organization, American Rights at Work, Maxwell notes she is a member of the Human Rights Campaign, as well as the Family Equality Council, an organization that advocates on behalf of gay families. She also notes that she lives in Washington, D.C., now with her seven-year-old son.
In speeches available on YouTube, Maxwell is a tough advocate for the rights of workers to basic safety and respect on the job. She calls the labor movement part of the overall struggle for human rights. She also wields a dual strategy, both criticizing employers who treat workers poorly and publicly praising those who treat them well.
In his Dec. 1 letter to President-elect Obama, HRC President Joe Solmonese said Maxwell has been “an active supporter of the LGBT community’s efforts to enact protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Solmonese said Maxwell and American Rights at Work have been “strong allies” in the effort to pass an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act bill.”
“Ms. Maxwell clearly understands that the challenges facing our workforce must be solved by including all American citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” wrote Solmonese.
Solmonese had kind words this week for another recent Obama appointee – Executive Director of the political action committee EMILY’s List, Ellen Moran. Moran has been named White House Director of Communications.
“She’s one of my best friends,” said Solmonese, who shared an office with Moran when they both first arrived at EMILY’s List.
“On personal level, she really understands the struggle LGBT people face – including families,” he added.
The role of communications director at the White House puts her in a position to be “one of a group of people” who could have influence on when the president might use the bully pulpit to address LGBT concerns, said Solmonese.
Obama formally appointed his former Democratic presidential opponent, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, Monday to be his administration’s Secretary of State. Clinton was a heavy favorite among LGBT voters during the Democratic presidential primary. A CNN blog also notes that Obama’s pick to be National Security Adviser, former Supreme NATO commander and Marine Corps Commandant Jim Jones, has “softened” his opposition to gays in the military over the years. According to the report, Jones told CNN last year that “People can serve and serve honorably regardless of where they come from.”
There was at least one other appointment during the past week that is being eyed closely by the LGBT and AIDS community.
MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow reported that AIDS activists are concerned about reports that Obama may appoint U.S. Rep. James Ramstad (R-Minn.) as his administration’s director of national drug policy. Ramstad, unlike Obama, has supported bans against making clean syringes available to injection drug abusers.