Despite the snowpocalypse and continued Republican efforts to block presidential appointments, on Thursday the U.S. Senate confirmed two openly gay individuals to fill positions in the Obama administration, including a top job in the Defense Department.
By unanimous vote, senators confirmed Douglas Wilson to the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. This is a civilian position in the Defense Department; therefore, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT),” which prevents openly gay people from serving the U.S. military, doesn’t apply to him. During the Clinton administration, Wilson had served as the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for public affairs.
I initially did not understand the significance of Wilson’s appointment until I did some research. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs acts as the principal staff advisor and assistant to the US Secretary of Defense and the US Deputy Secretary of Defense. He is responsible for providing Defense Department information to the public, United States Congress and the media. Wilson will lead a worldwide public affairs community comprised of almost 4,000 military and civilian personnel.
ACTION from the White House! Finally. Not words, but action. This appointment is crucial in the repeal of DADT. We finally have someone who not only sympathizes, but EMPATHIZES with the discrimination that gays face.
Additionally, the Senate confirmed by unanimous consent openly lesbian attorney Cynthia Atwood, to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the independent federal agency that regulates challenges to citations or penalties of OSHA inspections in the American workplace.
For the last three years, Atwood has been an administrative appeals judge for the Labor Department’s administrative review board, and for eight years was an attorney adviser for that board.
Both Wilson and Atwood were nominated to their positions after being recommended by the Presidential Appointments Project, a Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund-led initiative that helps openly LGBT individuals get appointments in the Obama administration.
Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, praised the Senate for confirming Wilson and Atwood. “We’re glad the Senate finally confirmed these two outstanding individuals,” he said. “They are proof that the president is focused on finding the best people to work in his administration, and we’re proud they’ve stepped up to serve their country.”
The Senate confirmation came after President Obama threatened to use his power to make recess appointments after obstruction tactics by Republican senators had prevented the confirmation of more than 63 nominees.
In a statement, President Obama commended the Senate for allowing 27 nominations to move forward, but said he may still make recess appointments if the Senate doesn’t act on more nominees when it comes back from break.
“While this is a good first step, there are still dozens of nominees on hold who deserve a similar vote, and I will be looking for action from the Senate when it returns from recess,” Obama said. “If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future.”
I take this as an olive branch, a sign of peace indicative of a new attitude from our President. Perhaps he will use or at least threaten his executive authority in more ways than one? Regardless, we now have some “family” on the inside. And that is something to give us Hope.