Obama's gay appointments near 100

Openly gay man appointed to position of New Zealand, Samoa ambassador

By Lisa Keen

On Oct. 7, President Barack Obama issued a statement announcing the nomination of an openly gay man to serve as the nation's ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.

David Huebner, a founding board member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is a lawyer currently living in Shanghai, where he heads the China Practice and International Disputes Practice of the U.S. law firm of Sheppard Mullin. He did not respond to an e-mail request for an interview.

Huebner's nomination brings to 61 the number of openly LGBT people nominated by President Obama to serve in his administration. Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has led an effort to promote openly LGBT people for such appointments, said the group's Leadership Institute estimates another 25 to 35 openly gay people have received appointments, bringing Obama's total, so far, to approximately 100.

Dison noted the administration releases announcements about only those appointees above a certain hierarchal level.

Dison said President Clinton appointed a total of about 140 openly LGBT people to his administration. President Bush appointed three.

"If 10 months into his administration, President Obama is close to 100" appointees, said Dison, "he's on a path to appointing the most" openly LGBT appointees of any president.

Huebner is originally from Pennsylvania but has lived for many years in Los Angeles, where he served on the state Law Revision Commission and taught at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. He currently serves, pro bono, as legal counsel for GLAAD, a service the organization says he has provided for more than a decade.

"We congratulate David and know he will bring the determination and expertise that he has brought to his work at GLAAD to this new post," said GLAAD's new President Jarrett T. Barrios. "His commitment to public service is unrivaled and for over a decade as a founding national board member and today as our legal counsel, GLAAD and the LGBT community have been the beneficiary of his commitment, dedication and skill."

The first openly gay ambassador was James Hormel of San Francisco, who served the Clinton administration as ambassador to Luxembourg (population half-a-million). The second was Michael Guest, appointed by President George W. Bush to serve in Romania (population 22 million). New Zealand and Samoa have a combined population of about four million.

New Zealand and Samoa are off the east coast of Australia in the South Pacific. Samoa is just west of the U.S. territory of American Samoa and was, at one time, called Western Samoa.

Both Samoas were hit last month with an earthquake-produced tsunami that killed 184 people.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Huebner will be replacing a restaurateur who served the double-post under President Bush.

In addition to Huebner, the administration recently appointed longtime LGBT activist and law professor Chai Feldblum to serve as one of only five members of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The position is considered particularly significant given the improved chances, under a Democratic Congress and administration, for passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Feldblum, as part of the commission, will have considerable influence in the writing of federal regulations to enforce such a law. She will also be the first openly LGBT person to serve on the commission.

Feldblum and one other nominee are, so far, the only openly LGBT nominees to raise a hackle out of right-wing conservatives. A Catholic News Agency story on Oct. 1 suggested Feldblum supported a "radical 2006 manifesto which endorsed polygamous households."

Kevin Jennings, founder of the national Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, was appointed in May to serve as the assistant deputy secretary in the Department of Education. (The position does not require confirmation.) Jennings, a native of Massachusetts, is to head up the department's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. The Family Research Council and right-wing news organizations, including Fox News and the Washington Times, are calling for Jennings' resignation, claiming he failed to report an incident he heard about in which a teenaged male told him, 21 years ago, that he had had a sexual relationship with an older man.

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