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    No Fanfare for President’s Confirmed Highest-Ranking LGBT Official

    By Andrea Shorter–

    At a birthday celebration a few days ago, I was overjoyed to see a mutual friend who had the privilege of working in the Obama administration throughout the entirety of his two terms as President. It was so wonderful to see her. We have always taken great pride in her as just an all-around terrific person, no matter where her talents and skills would have been put to great use. We were admittedly prouder and more thankful of her service in and about the White House. After all, she was one of the historic record-breaking LGBTQ appointees in that administration. The plentiful hugs, smiles, and cheers at this reunion could not have been more sincere and buoyant at an already joyous occasion.

    As we trudge through the turbulence and tabloid of the Trump administration, we can hardly afford nostalgia and to reminisce about better days gone by. It’s been less than two years since the begrudged formal transition of power took place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and it already feels like a lifetime ago. In some quarters, the debate continues per the gross impact, pace, and far enough reach of the gains made for the LGBTQ community under Obama’s watch. Still, those gains were undeniably epic. According to the Victory Institute, Obama appointed over 300 LGBTQ staffers and professionals, more than all previous administrations combined. Several came through gateways such as the Presidential Appointments Initiative that worked with LGBTQ leaders and “pro equality presidential administrations to ensure LGBT people are included in government.”

    LGBTQ appointees at every level of government provided the talent, tenacity, and tenure to advance record gains. Beyond the brightly lit marquee achievements of doing away with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and former President Obama’s eventual evolution to embrace and advocate for same sex marriage equality, a top line summary of other marked gains includes: preventing bullying and hate crimes against LGBT Americans, supporting LGBT health inclusion in the Affordable Care Act, ensuring LGBT equality in housing and crime prevention, and protecting the rights of LGBT people globally through Department of State, USAID and other U.S. government agencies initiatives. For a deeper dive and review of such achievements, it is encouraging to see that a historic account still exists online (obamawhitehous.archives.gov).

    Sadly, the Victory Institute has put its key Presidential Appointments Initiative on hiatus. As it states, “The Presidential Appointments Initiative exists to advance equality for the entire LGBTQ community—including LGBTQ immigrants, women and people of color. The initiative is premised on a theory of change that LGBTQ people empowered in decision-making roles can influence leaders to push forward equality. Unfortunately, the current administration through its cabinet appointees and rhetoric have made clear their opposition to full equality for all LGBTQ people—effectively disempowering any potential LGBTQ appointee from moving forward inclusive policies. Therefore, the Presidential Appointees Initiative is not actively recruiting or placing LGBTQ leaders in the administration at this time.”

    What a tremendous loss to our movement this forced resignation of sorts represents. The writing on the wall is made painfully clear by even the most casual, yet telling, representations of a glaring lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity portrayed in the eye-popping photos of White House interns, cabinet, and revolving door of senior advisors, and loyal sycophants (or is that now spelled psycho-phants?) the President demands being surrounded and accessorized with daily.

    After two long years of wading through the muck and mire of this deeply entrenched anti-LGBTQ Trump swamp, the President finally saw fit to appoint the now Senate-confirmed Mr. Richard Grenell as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany. This makes Mr. Grenell the highest-ranking LGBTQ person in his administration, and the only openly gay ambassador. In keeping score, President Obama appointed at least six openly-gay ambassadors during his two terms.

    Hooray? Aside from the Log Cabin Republican’s froth over this pick, the parade and rallies have been slow to embrace and celebrate this not so monumental bone throw to our majority progressive ranks. Out of the Fox News pen, from which Trump is prone to select his “best of the best” appointees, and as former Mitt Romney designated talker for the gays, Grenell also brings with him the added distinction of being a blatant sexist.

    An avid tweeter, he seems to take delight in hurling insults at openly LGBTQ MSNBC Anchor Rachel Maddow (whom he says, “needs to take a breath and put on a necklace”), Hillary Clinton (whom he says is “starting to look like Madeleine Albright”—whatever that’s supposed to mean—and other women of note and notoriety.

    Grenell’s remarks are so offensive that they prompted Senate Democrats to pointedly address his tweeted misogyny during his confirmation. After all, he will be Ambassador to Germany, an ally headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, perhaps the most powerful leader—much less woman leader—in Europe. Chalking up his remarks at attempts to be funny, not insulting, Grenell managed to feign contrite—contrite but, of course, never apologetic.

    We will soon see if Ambassador Grenell can execute his duties as envoy without public issue of further sexist insult and assault. From all accounts, he managed to contain himself from taking to Twitter the day after his confirmation when Chancellor Merkel visited the White House. Within the context of an already declarative sexist, ill-fated administration, Grenell may very well be the “best of the best” to be selected as the nation’s highest-ranking openly-gay official.

    One can hardly wait, however, for the tides to turn toward the next pro-equality administration that welcomes back the recruitment, vetting, and placement of women-positive gay officials to be ushered in by the much-needed Presidential Appointments Initiative. Maybe the June Primaries and November elections will help to start resurrecting hopes for the initiative’s eventual dust-off from the shelf.    

    Andrea Shorter is President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights, and marriage equality. A Co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.