“None of us would be here if it weren’t for Frank,” Justice Department lawyer Melissa Schraibman marvels, sipping a Coke next to her partner, Mindy.
Before Stonewall, before AIDS, before “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, there was Frank Kameny. He was fired in the late ’50s from the U.S. Army Map Service because he was gay, and a few years later he led a picket line in front of the White House that made him an early hero of the gay rights movement. Since his death in Washington last month at 86, many LGBT civil servants have been taking stock of his continuing legacy.
As the Partnership for Public Service releases results Wednesday from its annual Best Places to Work survey — which ranks agencies on such key issues as support for diversity — the federal world is awash in symbols of partway progress for LGBT employees.
There are definite signs of change: More than 200 LGBT presidential appointees serve under President Obama, among them the first two who are openly transgender. Gay men and lesbians can serve openly in the armed forces. Intrusive questions about sex lives have been purged from security-clearance vettings.
But even while the first openly gay U.S. ambassador promotes his memoir of life in the closet, an American contractor in Afghanistan is blocked from a gay social-networking site.
And while the Environmental Protection Agency embraces Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, an EPA boss cancels an employee’s registration for an out-of-town conference because budget cuts would require him to share a room at the hotel with a straight co-worker.
The Obama administration refuses to stand behind the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, but government workers can’t share their health benefits with their same-sex partners.
With 2 million people, the government is the largest employer in America and sets the tone for a lot of private companies. Its old anti-gay policies were copied by many of them. But now the government seems to be lagging behind. Industry giants, from Lockheed Martin to General Motors, have become models of same-sex partner benefits.
“The glass is a third full,” says Diego Sanchez, a transgender aide to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) who leads a new group for LGBT employees called the Federal Equality Council. “We need to step up the pace.”
‘A battle’ for rights
“We’ve faced a battle in terms of visibility and achieving basic rights, which we haven’t achieved under the law yet,” says Bob Gilchrest, 47, a Foreign Service officer who arrived at the State Department with a girlfriend in 1990 but came out after his first tour.