A prominent transgender activist in Colombia died on Saturday.
Laura Weinstein, director of Fundación Grupo de Acción y Apoyo a Personas Trans (GAAT), a trans rights group based in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, passed away four days after she was hospitalized with difficulty breathing.
“I have been hospitalized since yesterday because of breathing difficulties,” tweeted Weinstein on Dec. 31. “They gave me a COVID test and we are waiting for the results, but not being able to breath is something that I never wish upon anyone.”https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=mklavers81&dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1344582721356656641&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonblade.com%2F2021%2F01%2F02%2Fprominent-transgender-activist-in-colombia-dies%2F&siteScreenName=WashBlade&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px
Wilson Castañeda Castro, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ advocacy group that works in areas along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, on Saturday told the Washington Blade that Weinstein’s coronavirus test came back negative.
Weinstein had previously fought cancer. Castañeda told the Blade her health had deteriorated in recent months.
“We mourn the death of GAAT Director Laura Weinstein,” tweeted Caribe Afirmativo on Saturday. “The joint work and collaborative effort for all these years forged a great friendship between us and her! We are devastated.”
Castañeda told the Blade that GAAT and Caribe Afirmativo in November requested Colombia’s National Electoral Council develop protocols to ensure trans Colombians can vote, regardless of their gender identity.
Weinstein over the last year worked with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to reduce HIV rates among Venezuelans who have migrated to Colombia. Castañeda said she worked with trans women and in particular sex workers.
Castañeda noted Weinstein a few months ago launched a campaign in Bogotá to support trans women and Venezuelan migrants. Weinstein was also among the Colombian LGBTQ activists who backed the 2016 peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that ended the country’s decades-long civil war.
“We will always remember her as a great ally, friend and tireless worker for human rights,” tweeted Colombia Diversa, another Colombian LGBTQ advocacy group.
Tatiana Piñeros, a trans woman who ran for the Colombian Senate in 2018, described Weinstein’s death to the Blade as a “big loss.” Mauricio Toro, who is the first openly gay man elected to the Colombian House of Representatives, is among those who also mourned Weinstein’s passing.
“Her fight and her inspiration will endure forever,” he tweeted.
The Trump administration has appeared to have given up a proposed regulation that would have allowed taxpayer-funded homeless shelters to refuse to place transgender people consistent with their gender identity, although another measure permitting HHS federal grantees to discriminate against LGBTQ people may be imminent.
With the Trump administration coming to an end less than one month away, the anti-trans rule under the Department of Housing & Urban Development hasn’t yet been submitted to the White House Office of Management & Budget. The Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs at OMB, which manages the rule-making process for federal agencies, has no listing for its rule under the “regulatory review” portion of the website.
A HUD official, speaking to the Washington Blade on anonymity, said in the normal schedule for rule regulations and filings the anti-trans homeless shelter rule “will not be finalized before Jan. 20 and isn’t scheduled for finalization until sometime in April.”
“Given the incoming administration, it would seem likely that HUD will take some form of action to either not finalize the rule or withdraw it from consideration soon after their arrival,” the official said.
It’s unclear whether or not a formal decision was made within HUD to let the rule die with the end of the Trump administration. The HUD official said “basically it wasn’t prioritized and therefore it won’t become a final rule because of scheduling.”
Any number of reasons could have contributed to HUD not prioritizing the rule, including delay due to the volume of comments, public backlash over the anti-trans regulation or simply incompetence in the Trump administration.
It could also be the result of legal uncertainty about the proposed rule in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, therefore illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The underlying reasoning behind the decision applies to all laws banning sex discrimination, essentially making anti-LGBTQ illegal in employment, housing, credit, health care, education and jury service.
With the HUD rule, the Trump administration appeared to propose a workaround for Bostock in the case of sex-segregated homeless shelters, asserting they couldn’t turn away transgender people entirely, but could refuse to place them consistent with their gender identity.
“For example, under the proposed rule, if a single-sex facility permissibly provides accommodation for women, and its policy is to serve only biological women, without regard to gender identity, it may decline to accommodate a person who identifies as female but who is a biological male,” the proposed rule says. “Conversely, the same shelter may not, on the basis of sex, decline to accommodate a person who identifies as male but who is a biological female.”
It’s possible, however, Trump administration lawyers concluded that rationale wasn’t enough to get around Bostock and convinced HUD to abandon the regulation on the basis that it would make the department vulnerable to lawsuits.
The coronavirus pandemic was the dominant international story in 2020, but other news impacted the LGBTQ community around the world over the past year. Here are our picks for top 10 international stories of 2020.
No. 10: Anti-democracy crackdown looms over Hong Kong Gay Games
Organizers of the 2022 Gay Games that are slated to take place in Hong Kong insist the event will take place as scheduled, despite ongoing human rights abuses in the former British colony.
Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government continues to target pro-democracy protesters. The U.S. and other countries have criticized the crackdown.
Shiv Paul, a spokesperson for the Federation of Gay Games, which will oversee the games, in November told the Blade the Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 committee has a contingency plan that will address “potential scenarios/risks such as an ongoing pandemic, social unrest or unseasonal weather events.” The games’ opening ceremony is scheduled to take place on Nov. 12, 2022.
No. 9: Sudan repeals death penalty for homosexuality
Sudan in July repealed a provision of its Penal Code that imposed the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations.
Article 148 of the Sudanese Penal Code from 1991 said anyone who is convicted of sodomy three times “shall be punished with death, or with life imprisonment.” Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chair of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, which was created in 2019 to govern the country on an interim basis after then-President Omar al-Bashir’s ouster, approved the removal of the death penalty provision from Article 148.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.
Lawmakers in Bhutan on Dec. 10 voted to amend portions of their country’s Penal Code that have been used to criminalize homosexuality. The amendment will become law once King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck signs it.
No. 8: Costa Rica becomes first Central American country with marriage equality
Costa Rica on May 26 became the first country in Central America to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Two women became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Costa Rica when they exchanged vows in the municipality of Heredia shortly after midnight. President Carlos Alvarado Quesada is among those who celebrated the historic milestone.
“Today we celebrate liberty, equality and democratic institutions,” tweeted Alvarado. “May empathy and love be the moral compass that allows us to move forward and build a country where everyone belongs.”
No. 7: Anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Poland draws international condemnation
The Polish government’s continued anti-LGBTQ crackdown sparked global outrage in 2020.
Police over the summer arrested Margot Szutowicz, a non-binary person, three times. One of the arrests stems from charges she allegedly damaged a truck promoting anti-LGBTQ messages and assaulted a pro-life demonstrator on June 2.
President Andrzej Duda in the lead up to the Polish presidential election said LGBTQ “ideology” is more harmful than communism.
Duda on June 24 met with President Trump at the White House. Duda on July 12 won re-election.
No. 6: ICE releases Blade contributor from Cuba
A Blade contributor who was in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody for nearly a year was released on March 4.
An immigration judge in September 2019 granted Yariel Valdés González asylum based on the persecution he suffered in Cuba because he was an independent journalist. The Board of Immigration Appeals on Feb. 28 dismissed an appeal of the judge’s ruling.
“I really feel that I am alive now,” Valdés told the Blade after he reunited with his aunt and uncle in Miami. “It is a wonderful feeling to feel free and to be able to take control of your life and above all knowing that you will not be persecuted again because of your ideas or your work.”
Valdés now lives with his boyfriend in Wilton Manors, Fla., and continues to contribute to the Blade.
No. 5: U.N. calls for global conversion therapy ban
The U.N. in July formally called for a ban on so-called conversion therapy.
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues, submitted a report with 130 submissions on practices and testimonies of victims who have experienced conversion therapy from civil society organizations, faith-based organizations, medical practitioners and individuals.
Germany, Brazil, Ecuador, Malta and Taiwan have all banned the widely discredited practice. Maryland, D.C. and Virginia are among the U.S. jurisdictions that ban conversion therapy for minors.
A federal appeals court in November ruled bans on conversion therapy for minors in the Florida cities of Boca Raton and Palm Beach are unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
No. 4: Trump policies further endanger LGBTQ migrants, asylum seekers
The Trump administration’s hardline immigration policy continued to put LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers at even more risk in 2020.
Three police officers in El Salvador who were convicted of murdering Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman who the U.S. deported in 2017 after she fled anti-LGBTQ violence, were sentenced to 20 years in prison on July 28.
Activists say LGBTQ asylum seekers who are forced to await the outcome of their cases in Mexico under the Trump administration’s “return to Mexico” (MPP) policy puts them at increased risk of violence and human trafficking. A Human Rights Watch report notes the closure of the U.S.-Mexico border in March left asylum seekers “to suffer persecution in their home countries or in Mexico.
People with HIV, among other vulnerable groups, who were in ICE custody in 2020 were also at increased risk for the coronavirus as the pandemic spread throughout the U.S.
No. 3: Pope Francis publicly supports civil unions
LGBTQ Catholics and activists around the world in October welcomed Pope Francis’ public support of civil unions for same-sex couples.
Francis made the comments in “Francesco,” a documentary about his life that debuted at the Rome Film Festival on Oct. 21.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, described Francis’ comments as a “historic moment” that “signals that the church is continuing to develop more positively its approach to LGBTQ issues.” Esteban Paulón, an activist in Argentina, noted Francis “in private expressed his support” for civil unions for same-sex couples during the marriage equality debate in his homeland before he became pope.
The Vatican’s tone toward LGBTQ Catholics has become more moderate under Francis’ papacy. Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity remain unchanged.
No. 2: Biden election celebrated around the world
President-elect Biden’s election in November renewed hopes the U.S. will once again champion LGBTQ rights abroad in an impactful way.
The incoming administration has said Biden will “immediately appoint” a special LGBTQ rights envoy at the State Department and a special coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development to handle the aforementioned issues. Biden has, among other things, also pledged to use the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Act to sanction those responsible for anti-LGBTQ rights abuses.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell led the Trump administration’s initiative that encouraged countries to decriminalize homosexuality, but many LGBTQ activists around the world remained highly skeptical of it.
“The planet is crying out for more compassionate, mature, visionary, unifying and empathetic leaders, and we now look to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris to be an example,” ILGA World Executive Director André du Plessis told the Blade after the election.
No. 1: Coronavirus sweeps the world
The coronavirus pandemic had a devastating impact on LGBTQ people around the world in 2020.
The vast majority of Pride celebrations took place virtually, with Global Pride drawing an audience of more than 57 million people on June 27. Ecuador is among the countries in which advocacy groups launched relief efforts to help LGBTQ people pay their rent and buy food and other basic supplies during coronavirus lockdowns.
The pandemic further exacerbated existing economic, social and racial inequalities. Efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus — such as “pico y género” rules in Panamá, Colombia and Perú that allowed people to leave their homes on certain days based on their gender — sparked criticism among transgender activists who felt they caused further discrimination based on gender identity.
Newsrooms around the world were stretched to the limit in 2020, as journalists, including those at the Blade, struggled to cover multiple once-in-a-lifetime crises at once: a pandemic, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a reckoning over racial justice and police brutality, and the 2020 presidential election.
Here are the Blade staff picks for the top 10 national news stories of 2020.
10: Methodist Church faces split
Amid division in the denomination over LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage, the Methodist Church proposed a formal plan this year to separate on the lack of agreement on religious views toward LGBTQ people.
The Methodist Church agreed to adopt a more LGBTQ-inclusive doctrine while allowing a coalition of conservative congregations in the United States and Africa who objected to change to separate. The “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” would allow the departing congregations to keep their property and give them $25 million to form a new denomination.
The plan would have needed approval in May 2020 in General Conference for ratification. The vote, however, never took place and was postponed until 2021 during the coronavirus pandemic.
9: Trump campaign stages Pride events
Upon stepping down from the Trump administration, Richard Grenell took on a new role as senior adviser for the Trump campaign on LGBTQ outreach and was made co-chair of the Trump Pride coalition, marking the first time a Republican presidential nominee had an LGBTQ political coalition.
Trump Pride held events in states deemed competitive in the election, including Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Tiffany Trump, who had heretofore kept a low profile during her dad’s administration, participated in Trump Pride events in full support of her father, although she was mocked on Twitter during her public appearances.
Arguably, the Trump Pride coalition found success in convincing some LGBTQ voters to come to their side. Exit polls revealed 61 percent of LGBTQ voters backed Biden, the lowest percentage of support ever for a Democratic nominee, while 28 percent backed Trump, doubling his LGBTQ support from 2016.
8: Ric Grenell named acting DNI, 1st out gay Cabinet official
A Republican administration made the historic first of appointing the first openly gay person to a Cabinet post when President Trump named Richard Grenell, who had been serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany, as acting director of national intelligence.
Critics pointed out Trump never sought or won Senate confirmation for the role. Grenell also used the position as a political tool to declassify documents, seeking to impugn Biden for unmasking individuals caught up in surveillance during the Michael Flynn investigation.
But Grenell also used the position to highlight the global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality he spearheaded, threatening to cut off U.S. partners overseas from shared intelligence if they didn’t respect LGBTQ human rights.
Upon his departure, Grenell posted a photo to Instagram asserting President Trump gave him his Cabinet chair because being the first openly gay person to serve at that level was a “big deal.”
7: LGBTQ candidates win big on election night
LGBTQ candidates in the 2020 election achieved historic firsts, breaking barriers and demonstrating political aspirants in marginalized communities have no limit in winning public office.
The LGBTQ Equality Caucus in the U.S. House will be expanded and diversified with the addition of Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones of New York, who will be the first Black, openly gay men elected to Congress. Torres is also the first openly gay Afro-Latino elected to Congress.
Sarah McBride, a transgender advocate famous for her speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, was elected to a seat in the Delaware State Senate, setting her up to become the highest-ranking openly transgender legislator in the United States. Other transgender candidates, Taylor Small in Vermont and Stephanie Byer in Kansas, won seats in state legislatures, nearly doubling the number of transgender legislators in the United States.
6: FDA eases gay blood ban
In a move uncharacteristically positive for the LGBTQ community from the Trump administration, the Food & Drug Administration this year eased the ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.
The previous policy, set up by the Obama administration, required men to abstain from having sex with men for 12 months before making a donation. The FDA, amid a blood shortage during the coronavirus pandemic, shortened the deferral period to three months. The 12-month wait instituted during the Obama administration was a drastic change from the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men instituted in 1983.
President Trump said he had no hand in the FDA decision. When asked by the Blade about the change during a White House news conference, Trump replied, “No. I didn’t know anything about that. That was done by the FDA, very capable people at the FDA.”
5: RBG dies weeks before election
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known as a champion of LGBTQ rights as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, died after 27 years on the bench. Hundreds gathered at the Supreme Court on the night of her death to adorn the ground with memorabilia in mourning over her passing.
Ginsburg had joined each of the milestone rulings in favor of LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage, including Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, Windsor v. United States and Obergefell v. Hodges. Most recently, Ginsburg joined the Bostock decision finding anti-LGBTQ discrimination is illegal under federal civil rights law.
President Trump, however, chose to fill Ginsburg’s seat with Amy Coney Barrett, a jurist who’s a favorite among the Christian right. Shortly after confirmation, Barrett participated in arguments for the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which will determine whether a Catholic foster care agency has a First Amendment right to reject LGBTQ families over religious objections.
4: Landmark SCOTUS ruling on LGBTQ workplace rights
In a historic ruling ending a long fight to prohibit employment discrimination against LGBTQ people in federal law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the consolidated case of Bostock v. Clayton County that anti-LGBTQ discrimination constitutes a form of sex discrimination.
Although the ruling pertained to employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the decision has broad applications to all laws banning sex discrimination, including civil rights law in housing, health care, education, and credit.
The litigation came about after Gerald Bostock was fired from his job as a municipal worker after expressing interest in a gay softball league and Aimee Stephens, a funeral home director in Michigan, who was fired for being transgender. Stephens died shortly before the decision was handed down.
The Trump administration, however, never fully implemented the decision, and outright flouted it with regard to access to sex-segregated spaces for transgender people. Biden is expected to recognize Bostock fully upon taking office.
3: Calls for racial justice after George Floyd killed
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police ignited a firestorm of protests and energized the Black Lives Matter movement, bringing calls for police reform, if not to outright defund the police, and end systemic racism.
LGBTQ Pride events, which had been cancelled amid the coronavirus epidemic, were in some cases back on with a renewed focus on anti-racism. (Drama followed, however, when LA Pride planned a solidarity march and sought cooperation with police. Organizers ended up handing over the reins to All Black Lives Matter, an advisory board of Black LGBTQ activists.)
Much of the outrage was directed at President Trump, who reportedly hid in a bunker amid protests that became violent outside the White House. Afterwards, Trump went to St. John’s Church near Lafayette Square with Cabinet officials to hold up a Bible in a controversial photo-op.
2: Biden wins; Kamala Harris makes history
Joe Biden won the presidential election this year, ensuring Donald Trump would be a one-term president and bringing an end to an administration with a record of anti-LGBTQ policies.
Biden, whose comments in favor of same-sex marriage on “Meet the Press” in 2012 are still remembered for their impact, has long-standing connections to the LGBTQ community and issued a detailed policy plan for LGBTQ initiatives he’d pursue in his administration. Biden has pledged to end the transgender military ban and sign the Equality Act into law within 100 days.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who made history as the first woman of color elected as part of a presidential ticket, also has deep ties to the LGBTQ community. As California attorney general, Harris declined to defend California’s ban on same-sex marriage on Proposition 8 in court and raised LGBTQ issues as U.S. senator.
In another historic move, Biden tapped Pete Buttigieg for Transportation Secretary. He would become the first openly gay Senate-confirmed Cabinet official if approved in 2021.
1: Coronavirus ravages U.S. public health, economy
The coronavirus pandemic left hundreds of thousands dead, disrupted lives and threw the economy into a tailspin, stoking fears in a way no other public health crisis has done since the HIV/AIDS epidemic as the virus continued to spread. The outbreak is the Washington Blade’s top national news event of 2020.
COVID-19, which originated in China, had killed by mid-December an estimated 300,000 people in the United States and infected 16 million. Although states kept tabs on racial, ethnic, and gender demographics on the disease, few recorded data on LGBTQ casualties.
An estimated 100,000 businesses across the nation closed their doors as governors ordered residents to remain at home, much to the consternation of conservative activists who said the directives were unconstitutional. The annual Pride month celebrations and parades were among the events cancelled.
The downturn in the economy forced many small business to close and put many workers on unemployment. Hospitality workers, many of whom are LGBTQ people, were hit especially hard. The Paycheck Protection Program saved many jobs, but as of late December, Congress had not come to an agreement on additional stimulus.
President Trump, who continued to insist the coronavirus would simply “go away,” faced heavy criticism for failing to contain the epidemic, leading to major change in the 2020 election.
Honorable mention: Blade reporter refuses to move seat in WH briefing room
When Blade reporter Chris Johnson was fulfilling his role in the pool rotation for the White House press corps, the White House press office sought to humiliate CNN’s Kaitlan Collins by ordering Johnson to switch seats with her. Collins had an assigned seat in the front row of the briefing room, while the seating arrangements had the Blade toward the back.
Johnson refused to move, pointing out the White House Correspondents Association controls the seating assignments, not the White House. Johnson held firm even though he was told the Secret Service was involved in wanting the switch. Secret Service later denied any involvement. Johnson won widespread praise from mainstream media colleagues for his cool-headed, brave handling of the situation. (By Kevin Naff)
LGBTQ staffers who are familiar faces from the Obama years are among the choices for the upcoming Biden administration as the transition continues to ramp up. One prominent LGBTQ Trump supporter is among the appointments President Trump has made prior to his exit.
Stuart Delery, who served during the Obama years as acting U.S. associate attorney general and was the most senior openly LGBTQ official in the U.S. Justice Department’s history, was announced Wednesday as White House deputy counsel for President-elect Joe Biden.
Delery, currently a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, was also assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, a role in which he supervised the defense of the U.S. law in court on behalf of the federal government, and was senior counselor to Attorney General Eric Holder, according to his bio. Delery now lives in Washington, D.C., with his husband and two children
Gautam Raghavan, who served as White House LGBTQ liaison under former President Obama and was chief of staff to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), was also tapped as deputy director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office.
Annise Parker, CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement Wednesday Raghavan’s appointment “demonstrates the President-elect’s long-term commitment to building an administration that is reflective of America.”
“He believes a diverse administration best serves the president and our nation and will ensure appointing qualified LGBTQ people, women and people of color at every level of government remains a priority for the next four years,” Parker said. “Gautam also understands our community is not monolithic and that LGBTQ people of all races, sexual orientations and gender identities must be part of the new administration.”
More LGBTQ appointees may be on the way. Biden, to great fanfare, has previously announced Pete Buttigieg would be his pick for transportation secretary, potentially making him the first Senate-confirmed Cabinet appointee.
Few Cabinet-level positions are remaining for LGBTQ people to fill. Randi Weingarten and Denise Juneau, former superintendent of the Seattle public school system, had come up possible names for education secretary, but Biden ended up picking Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardono.
But the role of head of the U.S. Small Business Administration is still open. Fred Hochberg, who during the Obama years served as head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, continues to be talked about as a possibility.
Biden has also yet to name his choice for U.S. attorney general. Maura Healey, who as Massachusetts Attorney General became the first openly gay state attorney general, has been named as a possibility, but she’s viewed as a long-shot amid reports Biden has narrowed his choice to either Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) or U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland.
The LGBTQ Victory Institute, which seeks to help qualified LGBTQ people obtain positions in the U.S. government, has been renewing its efforts calling on Biden to name a transgender person for an appointment subject to Senate confirmation, sources familiar with the talks told the Blade. No openly transgender person has ever sought or obtained Senate confirmation for a presidential appointment in U.S. history.
Although no exact position was named, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who was passed over for Biden’s choice as U.S. surgeon general, still comes up. Others are Amanda Simpson, who as the first transgender woman presidential appointee served in the departments of defense and homeland security during the Obama years, and Shawn Skelly, a transgender veteran and Obama alum who currently serves on Biden’s landing team for the Defense Department.
Securing the appointment of a transgender person during the Biden administration has openly been one of the main goals of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, in addition to the naming of a Senate-confirmed openly LGBTQ Cabinet official. Another goal is the naming of an LGBTQ woman, transgender person or person of color to a position of U.S. ambassador.
Jamal Brown, a Biden transition spokesperson, responded with a general comment when asked by the Blade via email about potential LGBTQ appointments.
“President-elect Biden is working to build an administration that looks like America, starting with the first woman of South Asian descent and first Black woman to be vice president-elect, as well as a slate of historic nominees and appointees, to-date,” Brown said. “Over the coming weeks, our team will continue to build upon President-elect Biden’s legacy of advancing LGBTQ+ equality by shaping a government that reflects the breadth and diversity of our nation.”
Meanwhile, on the same day, President Trump shook things up with a slew of pardons and railed in a video he posted to Twitter against the coronavirus spending package, the the White House announced he had selected Richard Grenell as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.
Grenell, a Trump loyalist who as former acting director of national intelligence was the first openly gay Cabinet member and was the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s re-election campaign, was among three individuals given seats on the council on Tuesday.
It remains to be seen whether Grenell will seek to amplify the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s mission to highlight gay and bisexual men who were victims of the Holocaust. Grenell didn’t respond via Twitter to comment.
‘Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy’ By Leslie Brody c2020, Seal Press $30/335 pages
I love reading biographies – especially, of queer artists and writers. But some bios put you to sleep.
Happily, “Sometimes You Have to Lie” by Leslie Brody, the new, intriguing biography of queer artist and writer Louise Fitzhugh, author and illustrator of the beloved children’s book “Harriet the Spy,” won’t give you any shut-eye.
“Harriet the Spy,” since its publication in 1964, has been enjoyed by generations of kids and adults. It’s been made into a movie. Brody was hired in 1988 to write an adaptation of “Harriet the Spy” for the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre Company.
I discovered “Harriet the Spy” only recently as I read “Sometimes You Have to Lie.” What a great find!
Harriet, a sassy New York City kid, is a writer. Her nanny, Ole Golly, tells her that writers take notes on people. Harriet, notebook in hand, soon begins to “spy” on everyone – from her neighbors to her schoolmates.
As Fitzhugh, who was queer, wrote to her friend, gay poet James Merrill, Harriet is a “nasty little girl who keeps a notebook on all her friends.”
Harriet is fabulously “nasty!” She wears jeans, carries a tool belt on her waist and says “I’ll be damned if I’ll go to dancing school!”
Harriet is the queer love-child of Jo March and Holden Caulfield. She’s inspired thousands of hetero and queer readers to become spies and rebels (writers).
As it so often is with LGBTQ artists and writers (even creators of classics), I had no idea that Louise Fitzhugh, who lived from 1928 to 1974, was queer. Fitzhugh wasn’t just a lesbian. She was fabulously queer!
Fitzhugh was born in Memphis, Tenn. Her family was wealthy. Her parents, who met and wed quickly in a “jazz age marriage,” divorced when she was a baby. She was raised by her father Millsaps Fitzhugh and her eccentric, but loving grandmother.. For years, she was told that her mother had died. Later, Fitzhugh learned that her mother, who was denied custody and visitation rights, was alive. She was devastated to read in news accounts of her parents’ acrimonious divorce proceedings that during their quarrels her folks had thrown her (a baby) on to a couch.
As a teen, Fitzhugh had a boyfriend who thought of her as “beautiful” but “a little different from the other girls, a little bit more serious and very smart.”
He was right on all counts. Early on, Fitzhugh knew that she liked girls. As a teenager, she fell in love with photojournalist Amelia Brent. At the same time, she eloped with Ed Thompson, because he, like her, wanted to leave the Jim Crow South. Fitzhugh soon had a change of heart, the unconsumated marriage was annulled and she returned to Memphis.
She didn’t remain back home for long. Soon, Fitzhugh, 19, left to attend Bard to study poetry and painting. For the rest of her life, she lived in Greenwich Village in New York and later in Connecticut (while traveling to Rome and other locales). Over the decades, she had several loving, long-term, same-sex relationships. Fitzhugh was quite close to a male friend, but rebuffed his wish for sex, because she couldn’t “abide” a man “in her bed.”
Fitzhugh’s circle of vital, creative queer friends ranged from children’s book writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak to playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Jane Wagner, Lily Tomlin’s spouse, was among those who knew her.
I so wish I could have been part of this glittering 1950s queer life — until I realize how closeted queers had to be.
“As an adult, Fitzhugh was unapologetically out of the closet,” Brody writes. Fitzhugh also was aware, Brody adds, that a “little lie to preserve your identity and self-respect can be a soul-saving measure.”
But, Fitzhugh knew that, as Ole Golly tells Harriet, “to yourself you must always tell the truth.”
“Sometimes You Have to Lie” is the fascinating story of the long-hidden truth about the life of the queer author of an iconic children’s book. Harriet wouldn’t be able to put it down.
In the wake of extended deliberations, Congress included in its deal to provide coronavirus relief and fund the government for fiscal year 2021 an increase of $137 million for the Trump administration’s plan to beat HIV/AIDS, but stopped short of the full request, much to the disappointment of advocates fighting the epidemic.
The $1.4 trillion deal, unveiled Monday after days of negotiations amid fears of a potential government shutdown, notably includes $600 in stimulus checks to U.S. adults and new money for small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program. In mere hours after the deal became public, Congress voted to approve the measure Monday evening.
The deal, however, also contains funds for the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, which seeks to beat the HIV epidemic by 2030.
The FY-21 deal appropriated $403 million for the initiative, increasing the FY-20 funding levels by $137 million. The $137 million increase breaks down as follows:
$35 million for Centers for Disease Control’s HIV prevention efforts;
$35 million for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program;
$52 million for HRSA Community Health Centers to focus on PrEP to prevent HIV transmission;
$5 million for Indian Health Service for HIV and hepatitis; and
$10 million for National Institute for Health’s Centers for AIDS Research.
The final package also includes important funding increases for other domestic HIV programs, including an increase of $20 million for HUD’s Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS, or HOPWA, $1.5 million for the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund and $1 million for the CDC’s School Health program.
But the funding is a far cry from the $412 million increase sought by the Department of Health & Human Services, making a total appropriation of $678 million in FY-21, to ramp up the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative in each designated high-incident jurisdiction with testing, linkage to care and PrEP activities.
Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, said in a statement the funds Congress appropriated aren’t what the Trump administration, or advocates against HIV/AIDS, were seeking, but he was hopeful they would be enough to keep the initiative going.
“We thank the president for initially proposing and now the Congress for including increased funding for the second year of the Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative,” Schmid said. “While it is not as much as we anticipated, it is reassuring that both the House and Senate, in a bipartisan fashion, support increases to our public health efforts so that we can continue the momentum already created and make further progress in ending HIV in the U.S.”
Evan Hollander, a House Appropriations Committee spokesperson, said the $403 million allocated by Congress represents a 48.8 percent increase, which he said “far outpaces the overall increase in non-defense discretionary spending.”
Taking a jab at the Trump administration, Hollander said the $678 million sought by the Trump administration sounds better than it is because it was “predicated on cuts to other labor, health and human services, and education programs.”
Hollander said House Democrats included $100 million in the Heroes Act, the $4 trillion COVID-19 relief passed in October, but Republicans “insisted on dramatic cuts to the emergency appropriations that were included in that bill.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article. The White House referred the Blade to the Office of Management & Budget, which didn’t respond to a request to comment. HHS also didn’t respond to a request to comment.
Jennifer Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was more bleak in her assessment and openly wondered if the amount Congress appropriated would be enough to complete the HIV initiative by its 2030 goals.
“The funding in the bill for the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative is below the president’s request, and it’s unclear if this will be sufficient for reaching the initiative’s goals within the timeline, particularly since the timeline itself has already been threatened by COVID-19,” Kates said.
Meanwhile, Congress also agreed to reject the draconian cuts the Trump administration had sought for global AIDS programs as part of its FY-21 budget request.
The deal allocated $5.9 billion for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, the same amount as FY-20 and $2.1 billion above Trump’s request. Congress also allocated $1.56 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is $903 million above Trump’s request.
Jessica Bassett, a spokesperson for the New York-based grassroots group Health GAP, said via email to the Blade, however, the allocation for global programs is “another punt from Congress when what people with HIV need is urgent, decisive action.”
“The U.S. was already underfunding its share of the global AIDS response via PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria – and that was before COVID-19,” Bassett said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated weaknesses in the HIV response, triggering life-threatening disruptions to HIV treatment, prevention, and care for adults and children, and undermining years of progress in the fight against HIV in just a matter of months.”
Bassett concluded she wants to see big changes when the Biden administration begins on Jan. 20, when she said Congress “won’t be able to use Trump’s perennial slash-and-burn budget proposals as cover for flatlining global AIDS funding.”
“The Biden-Harris administration should work with Congress to deliver a bold global HIV catch-up plan to save lives, particularly the lives of those who have suffered the most during the pandemics: LGBTQ+ people, children, pregnant people, sex workers, people who use drugs, and incarcerated people,” Bassett said. “Scaling up the U.S. investment to put the global AIDS response back on track must be a priority for the new administration, first to mitigate the harms done by COVID-19, and then year after year to successfully expand access to
Undeterred by being in the lame duck for Congress, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved the nomination of Stephen Schwartz to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Federal Claims, a nominee with an anti-LGBTQ record who rounds out the unprecedented number of judges confirmed under President Trump.
The vote on the Schwartz confirmation was a strict 49-47 party-line vote, with Republican senators, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), voting to approve the Trump pick while Democratic senators voted to reject him.
Nominated by Trump in June 2017, Schwartz’ nomination had been pending for more than two years and takes place in lame duck just before the end of the Trump administration and after the 2020 election when senators would be held accountable for their votes. Schwartz, 34, was confirmed to serve for a 15-year term on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Federal Claims.
When North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ House Bill 2 was challenged in court, Schwartz represented the North Carolina legislature in defending the law, which barred municipalities from enacting LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinances and transgender people from using bathrooms in state-owned properties consistent with their gender identity.
Schwartz has also served as counsel to the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia in seeking to bar transgender student Gavin Grimm from access the restroom consistent with his gender identity. After ruling in favor of Grimm, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in September refused to reconsider the case “en banc” at the request of the school.
Schwartz, in written responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee, denied his roles in the litigation would have any bearing on his approach as a federal appeals judge because he has “represented a diversity” of interests.
“Like many judicial nominees, I have represented a wide variety of clients in cases involving a wide variety of issues,” Schwartz wrote. “While some of them have been associated with political controversy, I have also been involved in a large amount of general commercial litigation with little, if any, political salience. I have represented farmers, small-boat cod fishermen, family business owners, and an inmate of the New York State prison system. I have been both aligned with and adverse to the federal government’s positions at various times.”
Asked specially about representing Gloucester County School Board against Grimm, Schwartz declined to offer go into details, but said he supports “privacy and dignity” for all people.
“This question refers to a pending case in which I currently represent one of the parties,” Schwartz wrote. “My obligations as an advocate make it inappropriate for me to answer this question in detail. I do believe that everyone is entitled to basic privacy and dignity.”
Sasha Buchert, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said in a statement the confirmation Schwartz “another dark day for the U.S. judiciary and the latest attack on LGBTQ people from the Trump-Pence Administration.”
“Among the terrible catalogue of Trump’s nominees, Schwartz ranks at the top because of the extreme damage we know he would inflict upon our communities and institutions,” Buchert said. “Now, he will serve for 15 years on a consequential court that oversees LGBT issues in the military, and the balance between government actions and the people.”
To counterbalance Trump’s picks, progressives have been pushing the expansion of the judiciary, otherwise known as packing the court, when Biden takes office with Democratic choices, although that plan will likely not come to fruition after Democrats came up short in Senate pickups in the 2020 election.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Schwartz’s record of litigating against LGBTQ right makes him unfit for the judiciary.
“Schwartz has made his career by actively working to undermine LGBTQ rights — from defending North Carolina’s House Bill 2 that mandated discrimination against LGBTQ people to supporting Gloucester County School Board’s discriminatory restroom policy that segregrated transgender students from their peers,” David said. “Schwartz is unqualified and unfit for any court, yet the Republican leadership in the Senate is attempting to advance his nomination through the lame duck with only days until President-elect Biden takes office.”
Other anti-LGBTQ judges confirmed under Trump are U.S. District Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, who served as deputy general counsel First Liberty Institute, which represented an Oregon refusing to make a wedding cake of a same-sex couple; and U.S. Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan, who also had a role in litigation against Grimm. More recently as a judge, Duncan refused to recognize the personal pronouns of a transgender inmate.
Arizona state Rep. Arlando Teller says he was ecstatic when the Biden campaign asked him to introduce Cher at an Oct. 25 campaign fundraiser in Phoenix.
“I was actually trying to be calm,” Teller told the Washington Blade a few weeks later during a Zoom interview. “Inside I was a screaming queen, just giddy as all get about.”
Teller said the campaign did not tell him the fundraiser’s location until an hour before it took place. Teller nevertheless described his experience with Cher as “amazing.”
“I opened for Cher,” Teller joked.
Teller is one of six openly gay members of the Arizona Legislature.
He was born and raised in Chinle, a town in northeastern Arizona that is in the Navajo Nation. Teller began the interview by formally introducing himself in Navajo.
“I am 100 percent Navajo and I have four clans,” said Teller. “What that clan system does is establishes who I am, where I come from and the family lineage that I come from as well.”
He also noted in his introduction the places from which his parents come.
“That also further allows other Navajos who have never met me to know where I come from and then establishes a kinship,” said Teller. “I could then be someone’s son, or grandson or father or grandfather, so that establishes the way we communicate with each other in Navajo.”
Teller’s mother and grandparents raised him after his father died from a heart attack when he was 5-years-old. Teller’s paternal grandfather was a Code Talker who used their language to help the Allies secretly communicate during World War II.
“His legacy is definitely part of my continued effort to ensure that family vote, they express their rights,” said Teller. “So, it is very important for my family to share with other members of the community the importance of what my grandfather had to do using our language.”
Teller attended public schools in the Navajo Nation before he enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz. Teller worked at two airports before he accepted a job at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).
He lived in San Francisco for a decade before he returned to the Navajo Nation 11 years ago. Teller said he was “in a sincere, committed relationship and that happened to dissolve.”
“My grandmother, who was my foundation, my everything, had passed on,” he told the Blade.
“So, a lot of stuff just seemed to crescendo into a situation at that time and I loved living there. I loved my friends. We’re still friends to this day and I had a yearning to come home, but I never really expressed that.”
Teller said he only came out to his mother when he was breaking up with his partner.
“Mom’s a social worker, very clinical, and so the conversation was for the first eight minutes, literally eight minutes, it was all about her, how dare you do this to me! How could you hide this from me? And rightfully so,” he told the Blade. “So, I let her vent and then I said, ‘Hi Mom, this situation is about me, your son. Not about you, and I need your help.’”
Teller said he heard his mother gasp and after a few seconds she said, “I’m sorry you’re going through this. I’m really sorry you’re dealing with this way up there. This is what you need to do and she went into clinical mode right away: Boom, boom, boom, boom … you need to write this down right now.”
He told the Blade his mother one day called him at his Caltrans office and told him she was at Oakland International Airport. Teller picked her up and she told him to bring her to his boss who he described as a “second mother.” He said his mother and his boss held hands and looked at each other before she said, “I accept your resignation.”
“I said thank you for taking care of my son and then she said you can have your son back,” his mother told him.
Teller said his mother then told him as they drove on Interstate 5 that it is “time for you to come home” and “use all that you have experienced, all that you know and you have been for years putting it all in a basket, all that knowledge.”
“She says I need you to come home, pour it on the ground and help us get out of the mud,” recalled Teller.
Teller said a medicine man performed a traditional cleansing ceremony before he entered his family’s home. Teller told the Blade that his uncles and family elders were in attendance, and his mother said in front of them that she wanted to know what his future plans were.
“I want to know what my son is going to bring back home,” she said.
Teller said he would be working with the Navajo Division of Transportation within a year and within two years he would become a manager and make himself “available for the leadership of tribal, state and federal leaders.” One of Teller’s uncles challenged his assertion.
“I said, with all due respect uncle … those are the people that make decisions that affect us at the home level,” recalled Teller. “When they meet me and when I meet them I will remind them that they cannot forget about us. They cannot forget that some of us in this room don’t have running water or electricity, that some of us have to drive through muddy roads to get to school, hospital or church or to see other family members.”
“Some of us have to fight for education,” he added. “That’s why I want to meet them because I want them to remember the difficulty of everyday living that we go through.”
Teller did get a job with the Navajo DOT and became the manager of its Department of Airports Management. Teller later became Navajo DOT’s deputy director.
Former Arizona state Sen. Jack Jackson, Jr., a gay Navajo man, became one of Teller’s mentors. Teller also said he befriended U.S. Reps. Ruben Gallego and Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) and U.S. Sen.-elect Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and other tribal leaders.
“And so, I decided to run,” said Teller, who was also a member of the Arizona State Transportation Board. “I decided to utilize my professional expertise in transportation, in addressing the needs of Arizona, of rural Arizona.”
Teller has represented the 7th District in the Arizona House of Representatives since his 2018 election. He won re-election last month.
“The main variable in my personal professional equation is not forgetting where I come from, not forgetting that I have four clans, not forgetting that my grandfather went to war and used his language, my language, to help beat the enemy and not forgetting the fact that my mother was a single parent and how she was able to manage funds,” Teller told the Blade.
Coronavirus continues to ravage Navajo Nation
The Blade spoke with Teller eight days after the Associated Press declared President-elect Biden won Arizona. The interview also took place as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the Navajo Nation.
Navajo Department of Health notes as of Monday there were 19,608 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Navajo Nation. Statistics also indicate the pandemic has killed 720 people.
The Navajo Nation’s population in the 2010 Census was 173,667.
Teller noted the Navajo Nation’s current unemployment rate is around 70 percent because the pandemic has “just absolutely gutted the economy and people working.” Teller said many people in the Navajo Nation are struggling with mental health issues.
He said his mother one day brought donated food to a “poverty-stricken family” who lived in a rundown home. Teller told the Blade that one of her clients was living in a car sitting on cinder blocks because her mother and grandmother who lived with her had coronavirus.
“I can’t go to their houses, so I’m out here,” the client told Teller’s mother. “I don’t want to get sick.”
“My mom saw the desperation in that client’s eyes,” said Teller.
The client died by suicide four days after Teller’s mother visited her.
“The desperation is that bad,” said Teller. “My mom last week when she was talking with me and my sister said I wish I could have done more. I knew something was wrong and she hung herself. I’m like, ‘oh my God.’ That bothers her. It bothers me.”
Teller described the Navajo Nation — which encompasses northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and southern Utah — as “pulsating in a red COVID map.” Teller said the lack of infrastructure, access to running water and electricity and broadband internet have only exacerbated the pandemic’s impact.
“Some folks have been defeated, spiritually defeated and that’s what this COVID has done to some families,” he told the Blade. “Other families are holding strong. That’s great. We still need resources. We still need PPE (personal protective equipment.) Winter’s upon us. What does that mean? It means that folks that didn’t get any firewood or coal or even prepare for the winter are going to have a dark winter. It gets really cold up north, in northern Arizona.”
The pandemic also prompted Teller to end public events for his re-election campaign.
“My family were ready to go walk parades, go to country fairs, and so forth, but I’m like, ‘No we can’t do that. I love you guys too much and I’m not going to allow the exposure to happen in my own family,’” he said.
Less than 50 people attended the Biden fundraiser at which Teller introduced Cher. The event took place outside, and the campaign required attendees to wear masks and did not allow them to leave their seats once they arrived.
The Navajo Times newspaper reported Teller on Nov. 25 tested positive for coronavirus after he checked himself into a hospital in Chinle. Teller said he suspects he contracted the virus while he was in Phoenix.
Teller remains in the hospital. He tweeted on Dec. 7 that his mother had died.
“ShíMa (the Navajo word for mother), you were called home to be with the angels,” said Teller in a tweet that included pictures of his mother. “Your light and love is cherished and remembered. Journey on, ShíMa, you have equipped us with your teachings and prayers.”
Teller’s mother contracted the coronavirus and died in the same hospital where he continues to recover. Her funeral took place on Dec. 9.
With President-elect Joe Biden quickly filling out his Cabinet, fewer opportunities remain for him to make history by nominating the first openly LGBTQ person to a Cabinet-level role for Senate confirmation, which many see as a missed opportunity as Pete Buttigieg has rejected the idea of serving as director of White House Office of Management & Budget and secretary of Veterans Affairs, according to Democratic insiders.
Some LGBTQ leaders are quietly expressing frustration that the movement hasn’t pushed more aggressively for representation in Biden’s Cabinet, especially when Black and Latino advocates have been vocal and have had their efforts pay off with prominent appointments. As of now, none of Biden’s major appointees — Cabinet or otherwise — have been out members of the LGBTQ community.
Meanwhile, Buttigieg — widely assumed to be a top contender for a Cabinet post in the Biden administration — has reportedly turned down two prominent roles.
In talks with the Biden transition team, one Democratic insider said the idea of Buttigieg becoming White House OMB director came up, but he rejected it and said he wanted a “real Cabinet” position, not a “staff-level” job. Buttigieg wasn’t formally offered the role because the idea was more a discussion with senior members of the transition team, the insider said.
Additionally, Buttigieg in separate talks on Monday signaled to Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, that he won’t pursue the position of secretary of Veterans Affairs, according to two senior Democratic sources, despite media reports he was in consideration for the job.
Buttigieg didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did his political action committee, Win the Era.
Biden has never explicitly made a promise to appoint an openly LGBTQ Cabinet member, notably declining to make that commitment when asked during the presidential campaign in an interview with the Philadelphia Gay News. In an interview last week with CNN, Biden generally recognized the importance of including marginalized communities in his administration, including LGBTQ people.
“Every advocacy group out there is pushing for more and more and more of what they want. That’s their job,” Biden said. “My job is to keep my commitment, to make the decisions. And when it’s all over, people will take a look and say, I promise you, you’ll see the most diverse Cabinet, representative of all folks, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, across the board.”
But if Biden declines to nominate an openly LGBTQ person to his Cabinet for Senate confirmation, he’ll miss an opportunity to make history and grant prominent visibility to a community that has a history of talented leaders being sidelined because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
It would also give Richard Grenell — who as acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration became the first openly gay Cabinet member in U.S. history — a reason to celebrate: Trump would have achieved a first for the LGBTQ community that Biden didn’t even attempt. (Grenell never sought or obtained confirmation for the DNI role, but did get Senate approval for his concurrent role as U.S. ambassador to Germany.)
Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for the Biden transition team, pointed out Biden has achieved many firsts for other communities in response to the simmering discontent over no LGBTQ appointees.
“President-elect Biden is working to build an administration that looks like America, starting with the first woman of South Asian descent and first Black woman to be Vice President-elect, as well as a slate of historic nominees and appointees, to date,” Brown said. “Over the coming weeks, our team will continue to build upon President-elect Biden’s legacy of advancing LGBTQ+ equality by shaping a government that reflects the breadth and diversity of our nation.”
Many observers thought Buttigieg, who made history as a gay presidential candidate in the Democratic primary, would be a shoo-in for a Cabinet role. After all, Buttigieg gave Biden a boost in the primary by dropping out after the South Carolina contest and endorsing his fellow moderate, then campaigned hard for Biden in the weeks leading up to the general election.
But finding the right role for Buttigieg — who’s talented, but lacks government experience other than serving as mayor of the small city of South Bend, Ind. — isn’t easy.
The multilingual Buttigieg emerged as a possible pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as many media outlets reported. It’s a not a Cabinet position, but is a prominent role and would have burnished Buttigieg’s foreign policy credentials for a subsequent run for public office.
But with Biden promising to conduct foreign policy with seasoned professionals, in contrast to the Trump administration’s reliance on dilettantes like Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the job ended up going to Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who as a Foreign Service officer had multiple postings in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia and served as assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Obama administration.
As noted, both the idea of director of OMB and secretary of VA have come up in talks with Buttigieg, but he rejected them, according to knowledgable sources. The nod for OMB ended up going to Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, although she may face a difficult Senate confirmation fight.
It should be noted the VA has a long history and reputation for institutional problems in delivering care to veterans. Anyone running the VA would face criticism for its inefficiencies and the job is widely considered more appropriate for an elder statesman as opposed to a young politician eager to make another run for office.