America — especially federal employees — lost a great leader this week.
Frank Kameny was a powerful human rights activist. To the shame of the United States government, he was fired from his position with the Army Map Service in 1957 because he was gay.
But getting fired only fired him up. He became a founding father of the civil rights movement for the gay community.
It’s important to note that his fight for the rights of gay people in the federal workforce, and America in general, made the workplace and the nation better for everyone, not just for gay men, lesbians and transgender people.
Because of Kameny, and others, the overt discrimination that denied the government the talents and skills of gays and lesbians is over. “He helped make it possible for countless of patriotic Americans to hold security clearances and high government positions, including me,” said John Berry, the openly gay director of the Office of Personnel Management.
On behalf of the government, Berry formally apologized to Kameny during an agency event “for the wrong you endured,” Berry said in an interview. He recalled that Kameny stood and said, “Apology accepted.”
Without Kameny’s work, Berry said, he could not have been hired at the Treasury Department, where, earlier in his career, he was in charge of about 40 percent of federal law enforcement. The government once blocked gay people from getting the security clearance needed for that kind of work.
To Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal Globe, an organization of gay federal workers, “Frank was our hero.”
“Frank fought against legal discrimination from the Civil Service Commission, which could and did summarily dismiss gay workers, and finally won,” Hirsch said. “It was years until the White House issued the 1998 executive order formalizing non-discrimination in civilian hiring practices. Frank worked tirelessly to get that EO.”
In the past couple of years, the disgrace of discrimination has been lifted bit by bit, to the point that “the glass is nearly full,” said Jennifer Pizer, legal director of the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law.
President Obama has ordered agencies to extend to same-sex partners of federal employees many of the same benefits, including long-term-care insurance, available to spouses of heterosexual federal employees. Obama signed the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which discriminated against openly gay members of the armed forces. The Justice Department no longer enforces a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the administration from extending health insurance and retirement benefits to spouses and partners of federal employees in same-sex relationships.
Kameny knew his work was not done. DOMA remains on the books.
At a federal gay pride event last year, before the repeal of “don’t ask,” Kameny called for the repeal of both laws, Hirsch said.
Now, said Hirsch, it’s “one down, one more to go.”
My father would say cutting funds for the IRS during a time of budget deficits is “going out the world backwards.”
That also is the basic message from Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.
Kelley, whose labor organization represents IRS employees, told reporters Wednesday that “a failure to adequately fund the Internal Revenue Service is counterproductive to the best interests of the American people. The IRS collects 93 percent of all government revenues. It only makes sense to view IRS funding as an investment, rather than a cost. The IRS funds almost every other government agency.”
She spoke against proposed House legislation that would cut $600 million from the agency’s current funding level and a Senate bill that would slice $450 million. The IRS budget is about $12.5 billion.
“Cutting IRS funding is penny-wise and pound-foolish,” she said. “These cuts would result in more than $4 billion annually in foregone revenue.
“It makes no sense to eliminate one of the most effective deficit-reduction tools, collecting revenue that is owed and has not been paid,” she added.
Kelley said the proposed cuts would result in the loss of 4,000 IRS positions at a time when staffing levels are already 20 percent below that of 15 years ago.
Kelley also announced a $32,000 contribution from NTEU to the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund. It provides no-interest loans up to $1,000 for federal families in need.
“Like too many of their neighbors and friends,” Kelley said, “some federal employees are having trouble paying their rent or mortgage, figuring out how to make up for the lost income of an out-of-work wife or husband, or even just trying to pay the water or electricity bill.”
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