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Berry tapped as U.S. ambassador to Australia

John Berry, gay news, Washington Blade

John Berry, who’s gay, was named U.S. ambassador to Australia. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama nominated on Friday for the first time ever an openly gay person to serve as ambassador to a G-20 country.

John Berry, who formerly served as director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management until his departure in April, was nominated as U.S. ambassador to Australia. Before his departure from OPM, Berry was considered the highest-ranking openly gay person within the Obama administration. His nomination as ambassador is subject to Senate confirmation.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement praised the nomination of Berry, whose nomination fulfills the request from HRC for the nomination of an openly LGBT person as an ambassador to a G-20 country.

“John Berry has been a devoted public servant for 30 years, and will bring tremendous experience to our embassy in Canberra,” Griffin said. “His lifetime of professional experiences make him an outstanding choice to be the nation’s next ambassador to Australia. I urge the Senate to confirm his nomination.”

At the start of Obama’s second term, Berry was discussed as a potential nominee as secretary of interior, which would have made him the first openly gay Cabinet member. During the Clinton administration, Berry served in a senior position within the Department of the Interior and later was director of both the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and the National Zoo. However, the role of secretary of the interior ultimately went to Sally Jewell.

In the course of his time at OPM, Berry in addition to his regular duties acted as adviser on LGBT issues within the administration. The OPM director was present at the meeting in which White House officials informed LGBT advocates it wouldn’t issue at this time an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, and Berry also took part in a White House meeting with transgender advocates on the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Berry donated $5,000 to Obama’s presidential re-election campaign.

Berry wasn’t the only out nominee that Obama named on Friday. The president also named James “Wally” Brewster Jr., who’s senior managing partner for the Chicago-based consumer dynamics strategy consulting firm SB&K Global, as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Griffin praised Brewster, who’s a national LGBT co-chair for the Democratic National Committee and serves on HRC’s board.

“Wally Brewster is an excellent choice to be our nation’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic,” Griffin said. “His global business and management expertise is matched by his enthusiasm and commitment to human rights and democracy around the world. Wally’s political intelligence and work in public affairs and communications would make him a valuable contribution to our nation’s diplomatic efforts.”

According to OpenSecrets.org, Brewster has made significant donations to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. In the last election cycle, Brewster donated $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee, $5,000 to Obama’s re-election, and made numerous donations to state Democratic parties and campaigns for Democrats, including lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Obama made the two openly gay nominations as part of a group of 15 nominations on the same day. In a statement, Obama emphasized their capabilities as U.S. ambassadors.

“These men and women have demonstrated knowledge and dedication throughout their careers,” Obama said. “I am grateful they have chosen to take on these important roles, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

The two nominations of Friday come on the heels of several other nominations of gay men to ambassadorial posts. Last week, Obama named Rufus Gifford, the finance director for his 2012 presidential campaign, as ambassador to Denmark, and James Costos, who’s HBO’s vice president of global licensing and retail, was named U.S. ambassador to Spain. In the previous week, Obama named Daniel Baer, who previously served as a senior State Department official as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.

Three other openly gay men have previously served as U.S. ambassadors. David Huebner has been U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa since 2009. Michael Guest was U.S. ambassador to Romania during the Bush administration and James Hormel was U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg during the latter part of the Clinton administration.

21
Jun
2013

Hagel a disappointing choice from Obama

07
Jan
2013

Hagel commits to extending partner benefits to gay troops

Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has committed to extending partner benefits to gay troops (public domain photo by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones)

Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has committed to extending partner benefits to gay troops (public domain photo by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones)

Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has committed to extending partners benefits “permissible under current law” to gay service members as part of attempts to allay concerns among Democratic senators about his potential performance as Pentagon chief.

In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Hagel responds to queries the California Democrat apparently expressed on issues like Iran, Israel and protection of female service members against sexual assault — in addition to asserting support for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and a commitment to extending partner benefits for gay troops.

“I fully support the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and value the service of all those who fight for our country,” Hagel writes. “I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”

LGBT concerns persist over Hagel, whom President Obama nominated last week for defense secretary, regarding 1998 anti-gay remarks he made against then-ambassadorial nominee James Hormel — comments for which he has apologized — and a dismal anti-gay voting in record in Congress. Some LGBT advocates have been pushing Hagel to state a greater commitment to LGBT service members during his confirmation process.

Among the commitments LGBT advocates have been calling for is a secretarial directive to grant certain benefits to gay troops, such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing. Pentagon officials said they were looking at these benefits more than a year ago since the time “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011, but no action has been taken.

Allyson Robinson, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, said in a statement she’s pleased with the commitment to partner benefits expressed by Hagel in the letter.

“Sen. Hagel’s commitment is a turning point for our gay and lesbian military families,” Robinson said. “His promise to grant these service members the family benefits they have earned demonstrates his deepening grasp of the injustice currently being done to them.”

But Robinson, who was unavailable for an interview with the Blade on Tuesday, also advised Hagel to stand firm against what she said was the reported intransigence among the military service chiefs — the chief of naval operations, the Marine Corps commandant, the Army chief of staff and the Air Force chief of staff — against implementing these benefits, as well as reluctance to taking another step for gay troops.

“The best way for Sen. Hagel to deal with that kind of foot-dragging in the Department of Defense is to take another step: the amendment of the military’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity policies to cover our community,” Robinson said. “These documents help establish the command climate for the entire force, and for Senator Hagel to expand them in this way would send a very clear message that the days of treating LGBT service members as second class citizens will be coming to an end under his leadership.”

In a statement, Boxer on Tuesday said she supports Hagel based on the conversations she’d had with the defense secretary nominee.

“After speaking extensively with Senator Hagel by phone last week and after receiving a detailed written response to my questions late today, I will support Senator Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense,” Boxer said.

Boxer isn’t the only senator who had questions for Hagel about his commitment to gay troops. Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said on MSNBC upon the news that Obama would nominate Hagel that she had “tough questions” for the former senator on his evolution and commitment to LGBT issues. Her office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on whether any conversations had yet taken place.

15
Jan
2013