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Obama’s choice of gay rights foe for Cabinet slammed by activist

Tony Grew February 6, 2009

President of the United States Barack Obama’s Cabinet choices are dividing the gay community.

While Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest LGBT rights group, has welcomed the confirmation of Eric Holder as US Attorney General, other activists have questioned the nomination of Republican Senator Judd Gregg for Commerce Secretary.

Senator Gregg has a poor voting record on gay rights.

He opposed expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation and prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation and voted in favour of a ban on same-sex marriage.

“Once again our efforts for equality are being set aside for political gain,” said David Mixner, a prominent gay rights activist, public affairs adviser and fundraiser.

“Just look at Senator Gregg’s record and you will see that over the last three sessions of Congress he has been with us only 28% of the time.

“In the 108th Congress (2003 to 2005), his voting record was only 13%! It is one of the lower rankings in Congress.

“That is totally unacceptable. Surely the rights and freedoms of an entire group of people under attack around the country should be enough to disqualify someone from a key position in the Obama Cabinet.

“When President John Kennedy was presented with the opportunity to appoint Senator J.William Fulbright as Secretary of State, who was gifted when it came to foreign policy, he refused to do so because of Fulbright’s votes against civil rights legislation for African-Americans. That seems like real leadership to me.”

LGBT rights activists were disappointed that no out people were appointed to the new President’s Cabinet.

When the original nominee for Commerce Secretary, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, withdrew last month, an LGBT grassroots political organisation urged Barack Obama to nominate a gay man, Fred Hochberg.

“In more than 200 years, the United States Cabinet has never included an openly gay member,” Equal Rep said in a statement.

Senator Gregg was chosen instead and he will take office after confirmation by the Senate.

The selection and confirmation process has not been easy for President Obama.

His choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Daschle, withdrew this week after it emerged he had failed to pay almost £90,000 in taxes.

The nominee for Chief Performance Officer, Nancy Killefer, also withdrew this week over unpaid taxes.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was confirmed but it emerged during his hearing he had had to pay back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service.

Eric Holder was grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee about his role as President Clinton’s deputy Attorney General and his involvement with the Presidential pardon for financier Marc Rich, whose wife had donated money to Mr Clinton’s Presidential Library.

Mr Holder admitted he had made a mistake in that case in testimony to the committee. He was confirmed by 75 to 21 in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Human Rights Campaign said Mr Holder is a strong supporter of federal hate crimes protections for the LGBT community and would return the department to its rightful place as a defender and protector of civil rights.

“Eric Holder has long been a voice for fairness and equality for all Americans, including LGBT citizens,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.

“The Department of Justice which will now be led by an Attorney General dedicated to civil rights, protecting communities from hate violence and the fair and equal application of our laws.

“We were proud to join our allies in the civil rights community to support this important confirmation.”

HRC said a strong Department of Justice headed by an Attorney General that understands the importance of a strong federal justice system can ensure that the DOJ responds appropriately to the needs of the LGBT community.

These include:

* Returning the DOJ to a position of support for the expansion of federal hate crimes statutes and support the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in any expansion;

* Supporting expansion of federal employment non-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity;

* Prioritising vigorous enforcement of federal hate crimes statutes;

* Ensuring comprehensive collection of hate crimes statistics;

* Vigorously investigating and prosecuting police misconduct or “colour of law” cases;

* Setting policies for federal detention facilities that protect LGBT inmates,

* Establishing effective asylum precedent for the LGBT community.

President Obama is in favour of federal hate crimes protection for LGBT people, protection from discrimination at work and full equal marriage rights via civil partnerships but he does not support gay marriage.

More: Americas

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