President Obama Names LGBT Advocates to Historic Appointments

Roberta Achtenberg

On Wednesday, the White House announced the appointment of pioneer LGBT rights activist Roberta Achtenberg as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the nomination of openly gay lawyer J. Paul Oetken as a federal judge in Manhattan. Achtenberg is the first openly gay person to serve on the Commission, and if approved by the Senate, Oetken will be the first gay male federal judge. Achtenberg was the co-founder of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in 1977 as well as its executive director from 1983-1990. The NCLR describes her as “a corporate advisor in economic and workforce development policy, with more than 30 years of senior-level leadership.” She is a past chair of the California State University Board of Trustees and has been a member since 2000. She is the Vice Chair of the Board of the Bank of San Francisco and was also elected to the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco in 1990. Furthermore, the Associated Press writes that Achtenberg was the first openly gay person to be confirmed for a federal appointment when President Bill Clinton nominated her as assistant secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1993. She has experience as a nonprofit director, civil rights attorney, public official, and educator. She will be the first out gay person to be appointed to the Commission. “Her appointment assures that a woman of remarkable intelligence, broad commitment to justice and equality, and a life-long legacy of public service will be there to give voice and representation to those who are denied opportunity, fairness, and equality under the law,” says NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell.

J. Paul Oetken

President Obama also nominated J. Paul Oetken, an openly gay attorney, to a judgeship for the prestigious U.S. District Court that encompasses Manhattan. Oetken is currently the senior vice president and associate general counsel at Cablevision Systems, according to the New York Times. He served as associate counsel to President Clinton from 1999-2001 and in the Justice Department. If approved by the Senate, Oetken will be the third openly gay federal judge in the country, and the first male. (Deborah Batts and Emily Hewitt are both openly lesbian federal judges appointed by President Clinton.) The Huffington Post notes that his appointment was supported and petitioned by Senator Charles Schumer, who called him “a strong advocate for the LGBT community” with “the right combination of skills, experience, and dedication to make an excellent judge.” “My three criteria for judges are simple: excellence, diversity, and moderation, and Mr. Oetken fits that description to a ‘T,’” Schumer wrote. Gay City News describes Oetken as having done work in the past with Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project. He co-authored an amicus brief supporting the landmark 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Yale Law School, and is an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School. In addition, the President named Jeffrey Levi, who once headed the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, as a member of a newly created Advisory Group on prevention and health promotion at the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday. Levi was previously a leader in AIDS prevention efforts in the 1980s. He “was the first full time federal lobbyist on AIDS issues, just as the epidemic crested in our communities. Jeff crafted a plan to secure federal funding for AIDS research and treatment, marking the first successes in garnering federal resources to combat the AIDS crisis,” said Rea Carey, current executive director of the NGLTF, to the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. GLAAD applauds President Obama’s appointments of these important advocates for the LGBT community, and will continue to monitor media coverage of their achievements.