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    January 09, 2009

    Grassroots push for gay Cabinet pick

    Posted by: Chris

    Fredhochbergblog Those of you reading between the lines already know that I'm less than enthusiastic about the demand that President-elect Obama appoint someone openly gay to his Cabinet. I would agree, of course, that it's a shame there has never been an openly gay Cabinet secretary, and that cultural and political pressures are partially to blame. Then again, so are the complicated closets of some of those who served in silence -- Donna Shalala, anyone?

    With Bill Richardson's withdrawal as Obama's nominee to run the Commerce Department, the president-elect has one final opportunity to tap someone openly gay to be among his initial selections. Leading the list of possibilities is Fred Hochberg, who was deputy and later acting director of the Small Business Administration under Bill Clinton.

    I have great respect for Fred Hochberg, and I remember how personally encouraging he was back in 1997 when William Waybourn and I were launching our own small business -- Window Media, which went on to publish a gay publications in Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Washington, and New York. That said, I don't know enough about the position at Commerce or the other leading candidates to say for sure that Hochberg is the most qualified.

    Neither do those who are behind a grassroots push -- on Facebook, where else? -- to pressure Obama into selecting Hochberg. Their argument sounds more of the affirmative action variety:

    In more than 200 years, the United States Cabinet has never included an openly gay member. Growing national focus on GLBT civil rights has therefore made the Secretary of Commerce appointment a national issue in the struggle for equal representation.

    One question for those involved in the grassroots push: Since Clinton elevated SBA to a cabinet-level agency and Hochberg was acting administrator for the agency, hasn't he already broken this particular glass ceiling, serving as the cabinet level, albeit in a temporary capacity?

    Putting that aside, offering up Hochberg as a diversity pick for Obama's cabinet is a good example of how affirmative action can produce counter-intuitive results at times. Hochberg made his name in business over two decades at the helm of the Lillian Vernon Corporation, a direct mail company. He got the job because Lillian Vernon is his mother. Don't get me wrong -- Hochberg is credited with transforming the small business into a huge, publicly traded success, but he hardly required affrimative action assistance to launch his career or faced any hurdles of significance because he is gay.

    In that sense, it's a bit of an insult to Hochberg to suggest him for the Commerce job as an affirmative action hire, rather than simply on his own merit. His example is also why sexual orientation is generally a square peg for the round hole of affirmative action, and why including gays in diversity "goals" should be very, very low on the priority list for the movement.

    A certain segment of the "progressive" gay media and political sorts are arguing, for example, that we should scrap ENDA, put repeal of DOMA and DADT on the back burner, and press for inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which would mean LGBT inclusion in affirmative action programs. It's not just a wasted priority; it's bad policy, for that reason.

    Which brings us back to Hochberg, whose selection for Commerce ought to rise or fall based on his qualifications for the post, and not his sexual orientation. Given his experience in the public and private sector, and the importance of small business to the U.S. economy, he is probably the right candidate for the job anyway.



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