Editors' note: Leonard Hirsch works for the Smithsonian on international environmental issues. He also has been active in the LGBT Political Science Caucus, the Network of Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae Associations, and is one of the founders and President of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government, an organization that works to address harassment and discrimination in the Federal workplace.
In March, my kidneys failed. I was hospitalized and my life partner of over 25 years was counseled to prepare for the worst.
His constancy in caring for me and watching my care is one of the major reasons I was able to walk out of the hospital 6 weeks later.
We are lucky, we work for a part of the government which allowed my partner, my husband of almost one year, to use sick leave when he was at my bedside, when he was taking on the extra burdens and stress of this period. People should not have to be lucky to have enlightened supervisors to provide the benefits that their colleagues down the hall would take for granted because they are in a heterosexual partnership.
Today, the President instructed all Executive agencies to provide this and other important benefits to their federal employees. This is an important next step in the American march to a more perfect union.
Many in the LGBT community consider this too little, too late. I fully understand their frustration and expectations. However, when I walked into the Roosevelt room of the White House prior to the meeting, there was Frank Kameny, one of my heroes. Frank is one of the most important leaders in the 20th century (and now 21st century) LGBT movement. Frank was fired from the government 52 years ago for being gay. He fought for many years to overturn the US Government policy on excluding gays and lesbians from government service, and 20 years later finally won his case.
It was too late for Dr. Kameny to resume his career in astronomy, but it moved us forward towards a more perfect union.
In 1992, Federal GLOBE: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government was started. At that time, the biggest concern of our members was being denied security clearances and therefore losing their jobs or opportunities. We, and many of the LGBT organizations, worked hard to get that policy reversed resulting in President Clinton's Executive Order reiterating that discrimination based on (legalese here) "non-merit factors" would not be tolerated. That included sexual orientation and Departments and Agencies changed clearance, hiring, and promotion practices. It was another step in the historical march to a more perfect union.
After a long period of standing in place while the rest of the world picked up pace on LGBT rights, the actions of President Obama today, based on careful analysis of the law, are another step forward. As someone who recently faced death, yes I want it all now and I want it yesterday. I want the equal rights for all of my sisters and brothers, Americans and everyone in every country of the world. I want equal treatment, I want proud LGBT Americans who desire to serve our country in the military to do so openly, proudly, and most importantly, honestly. But as a proud government worker, and a proud American and citizen of the world, I applaud the President for staying within the law, while also calling for changes to the law by passing the bi-partisan Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act and repealing the noxious, pernicious Defense of Marriage Act. These would be major leaps forward in our establishment of a more perfect union.
Thank you, President Obama and your team (you know who you are). Thank you, Secretary Clinton and GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies) for taking an important lead on these issues during this Administration. Thank you to all of the people who have worked hard in Federal GLOBE and the Department LGBT organizations doing the unglamorous work of actually developing and implementing policy rather than pontificating about it. Thank you to all of the organizations and individuals, LGBT and straight, who support equal rights for all individuals. And thank you love of my life and our biological families and families of affinity who supported, helped, cared, prayed and fought for me during that dark and scary weeks.
We still have much to do for LGBT equality and to eliminate hate, discrimination and harassment in our society and our laws. Let us all redouble our efforts to educate, to convince Congress to set the legal stage for true equality, and then to do the work of implementing the vision of our Founding--life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.
Together we can march forward to an even more perfect union.
Federal GLOBE: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government, is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit employee resource group for all government employees. It was founded in 1992 to provide voice and guidance to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees who faced harassment and discrimination on the job and in many areas of employment from initial hiring through promotions and transfers.