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Meet the LGBTQ people working on Biden's White House transition

The Biden transition team includes a lot of experienced, and out, LGBTQ staffers.

By Casey Quinlan - November 12, 2020
Joe Biden

The group working on President-elect Joe Biden’s transition to the White House has announced the members of its agency review teams. The staffers include 10 openly LGBTQ people, some of whom worked in the Obama administration.

The transition team announced about 500 people in total for the review teams, which it said are “responsible for understanding the operations of each agency, ensuring a smooth transfer of power, and preparing for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris and their cabinet to hit the ground running on Day One.”

One of the openly LGBTQ staffers is Shawn Skelly, appointed to the team reviewing the Department of Defense. Skelly served in the Obama administration as special assistant to the undersecretary of defense for acquisition.

Skelly was the first transgender veteran appointed by a president when Barack Obama named her to the position of director of the Office of the Executive Secretariat of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Skelly is a co-founder of Out in National Security, an association of national security professionals who advocate for LGBTQ equality.

Chai Feldblum will serve on the review team for the Department of Justice. In 2010, Feldblum, a lesbian, was the first openly LGBTQ person to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She worked on the Americans with Disabilities Act and fought against the exclusion of LGBTQ people from the military.

“To me, when I think about social justice, it means a world in which everyone can live a life of honesty, integrity, and dignity,” Feldblum said in a speech in 2019. “That means being able to live openly and honestly about who you are, whether you’re lesbian, bisexual, whether you’re transgender, genderqueer, or nonbinary. It’s about living a life of honesty, integrity, dignity, whoever you are, and economically, that you have a job and you can buy food and housing.”

Pamela Karlan will also be joining the Justice Department review team. Karlan, a lesbian, served in the civil rights division of the Justice Department in the Obama administration. During that time, she helped implement the 2013 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, which held that a section of the Defense of Marriage Act that did not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples violated the constitution.

Ken Choe, a gay man, is on the Department of Health and Human Services team. He was deputy general counsel and counselor to the office of health reform in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration before he moved to the law firm Hogan Lovells. Choe was also the co-chair of the LGBT Issues Coordinating Committee set up at HHS to determine steps the department should take to improve conditions for the LGBTQ community.

Other lesbian and gay transition team members include Michael Guest on the State Department team, Jeff Marootian on the Department of Transportation team, Kathleen Hartnett and Lynn Rosenthal on the Justice Department team, and Kei Koizumi on the National Science Foundation and Office of Science and Technology Policy team.

Amanda Fischer has been named to the Federal Reserve, Banking and Securities Regulators team.

As the transition team lays the groundwork for the Biden administration, LGBTQ groups are sharing the policies they expect to see implemented and vowing to hold Biden accountable for his promises to the LGBTQ community.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect more out LGBTQ people to positions in government, has already made a number of requests. The group called on Biden to appoint at least one openly LGBTQ person to a Senate-confirmed cabinet position.

In addition, the group says that Biden should nominate the first openly LGBTQ Supreme Court justice and appoint as ambassadors LGBTQ women and people of color. Since there will be more than 4,100 appointees in the Biden administration, the LGBTQ Victory Fund said there should be 185 people from the LGBTQ community represented among them in order to proportionally reflect its share of the U.S. population.

The organization shared the names of LGBTQ lawmakers, former and current city officials, union presidents, and heads of state agencies as potential candidates for high-level appointments: Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay person elected to the Senate, for the Department of Health and Human Services; Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate, for ambassador to the United Nations; and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the first openly gay attorney general, for U.S. attorney general. It is not their full list of possible appointments.

Ruben Gonzales, vice president of LGBTQ Victory Institute and head of its presidential appointments initiative, said the organization has had informal conversations with people with the Biden transition team. 

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who is a lesbian, is on the group’s list as a potential choice to lead the Education Department, as is Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, the first openly gay and first Latinx mayor of Long Beach. The group also suggested Garcia to potentially lead the Labor Department or the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The group suggested Raphael Bostic to head the U.S. Treasury. In 2017, Bostic made history as the first Black man and first openly gay man to lead a regional bank for the Federal Reserve when he was chosen to become the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Dr. Rachel Levine, who is serving as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, is one of the highest-ranking transgender officials in the country. The organization suggested her for either secretary of health and human services or surgeon general.

“I’m feeling very confident and very hopeful that we will see trans people serve in high-level roles in this administration,” Gonzalez said. “Dr. Rachel Levine has served Pennsylvania incredibly well as their secretary of health for a number of years, leading their response on COVID, and leading their response on the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania. I think someone like her is well-poised to serve at a high-level in a Biden administration.”

The LGBTQ Victory Fund also recommends Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, a lesbian, as a possible fit for secretary of housing and urban development and Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), who was the first openly gay person of Asian descent elected to Congress.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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