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Eye Opener: Obama administration's gay outreach continues

By Ed O'Keefe - The Washington Post

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eye Opener: Obama administration's gay outreach continues

Happy Thursday! (Unless you're White House Counsel Gregory Craig?) The gay rights community scored two more small victories on Tuesday, courtesy of the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services.

HHS will establish the nation’s first national resource center for the support of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender senior citizens. The move is designed to help community groups support the estimated 1.5 to 4 million LGBT seniors. HUD introduced a series of proposals ensuring its housing programs do not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The changes would clarify that the term "family," when referring to beneficiaries for housing or voucher programs, would include eligible LGBT individuals and couples.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said Tuesday that her group is "genuinely pleased" by the creation of the HHS resource center and welcomes the "much-needed reforms" at HUD.

But as The Eye and his colleagues recently reported, many gay rights leaders feel that despite several symbolic and the incremental moves, President Obama has put their agenda on the back burner. He recently said he will end the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy, but critics say he could have said spoken out and acted much sooner.

Obama supported ending "don't ask don't tell" and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act during his presidential campaign. Since then, he has stated a preference for Congress to repeal the military policy, and while a recent Justice Department filing clearly stated the president’s opposition to DOMA, government lawyers had to defend it earlier this year in a federal case.

Despite that, Obama has extended some benefits to the unmarried partners of gay federal employees while voicing support for legislation that grants them others. The White House distributed tickets to gay families to attend the annual Easter Egg Roll and hosted a Gay Pride Month celebration. The State Department now allows married gay and lesbian couples to obtain passports with their married names, and the administration is taking steps to end a policy that prohibits HIV-positive foreigners from entering the country.

Obama also awarded the Medal of Freedom posthumously to former San Francisco mayor and gay activist Harvey Milk. He picked John Berry to serve as director of the Office of Personnel Management, making him the highest-ranking gay official in American history.

That’s a good start, activists say, but they want more. References to parents on federal government paperwork should state “Parent 1 and Parent 2” instead of “Father and Mother.” HHS should provide more funding to help homeless gay teens. The administration should also ensure that faith-based social services do not deny care to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Oh, and hurry up with "don't ask don't tell" and DOMA already.