Bil Browning

Openly gay man takes over federal Office of Personnel Management

Filed By Bil Browning | April 24, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Politics
Tags: Frank Kameny, John Berry, Michelle Obama, Office of Personnel Management, OPM

Openly gay John Berry was sworn in yesterday as the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). First Lady Michelle Obama attended the ceremony and made some brief remarks. Also in attendance was Frank Kameny, who led the original protest marches to stop the OPM from automatically firing gay and lesbian federal employees as "security risks" and "degenerates."

john-berry-smithsonian.jpgWhile we often complain at what seems the glacial pace of our civil rights struggle, it's refreshing to see history being made. It may have taken almost 50 years, but we - as a community - have gone from being unwanted perverts to the leader of the department with the swearing in ceremony attended by the First Lady as a historic occasion.

Sometimes the world does change for the better.

Berry's remarks after the jump.

Director John Berry
Swearing-In Ceremony
OPM Auditorium
2:00 p.m., Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thank you all very much for that very warm welcome. I am truly honored and privileged to have been chosen by President Barack Obama to be your new director. OPM has a long and proud history of accomplishments. Our federal civil service is, in many ways, a model for the entire world. And, with your help, I know that we are going to make OPM even stronger and more effective - an agency that leads and inspires by its own example of excellence.

I would like to thank our two very special guests, First Lady Michelle Obama and Constance Newman, former Director, mentor and friend. I would also like to introduce you all to my family and partner, whom I am honored could attend today.

From the very first days of this new Administration, we have admired and watched Michelle Obama as she has visited our federal agencies and connecting with all our dedicated and hard working employees. As she has often said, she has done so not just to thank each of you for your public service but to emphasize that you "make up the foundation of this democracy."

And the sweep of history is on display this afternoon too, when I also recognize a civil rights pioneer with us here today, Dr. Frank Kameny, a military veteran and lifelong activist. For those of you who do not know, Dr. Kameny was fired from his federal job in 1957 solely because of his sexual orientation. At the time, it was not only lawful to fire employees on this basis - it was government policy. In 1975, this injustice was overturned by the U.S. Civil Service Commission.

It is the President's and my opinion that employees should only be judged by their abilities to do the job and their performance on the job - and not by any other irrelevant factor. In no small part, Dr. Kameny's work, and other leaders like him, made it possible for me to stand here today. For that, Frank, I personally thank you for your leadership, passion and persistence and express our nation's appreciation for your courage in teaching America to live up to our promise and our potential.

Our mission is to ensure an effective workforce for our nation. Our vision is bigger - we want our workforce to be THE model of Best practices for the world.

Our seal is built around the four pointed Pole Star which symbolizes the importance of merit in all we do. I believe its four points represent our tasks: Hiring the Best, Serving the Best, Expecting the Best and Honoring the Best.

I am mindful that good, even great ideas can come from everyone. At OPM, our culture will thrive, advance and succeed because our minds are as open as our doors and our offices. We can find new, fertile and imaginative solutions to our own workforce challenges by recognizing the best practices of all employers, private and public, and listening carefully to all of the employees and managers we serve.

Thanks to each and every one of you, both here in Washington and out in the field, for helping not only bring out the best in ourselves, but the best that America deserves.

And now, it is my highest honor and special privilege to introduce to you the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.

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This + HR 1913 passing committee makes me feel good about this week.

One question about John Berry-- has he yet announced how he intends to handle this lawsuit?

Okay - I'll admit it - each time I've read headlines that use phrasing similar to "Openly gay man takes over federal Office of Personnel Management" a visual similar to the Invasion of Normandy pops into my head. I guess I'm still adjusting from the Bush era when this would have seemed more like a farce than a reality.

I'm so happy that Frank was able to be there for the event and that John noted the significant nature of this accomplishment. While it's not a cabinet level position - it's a very important role and they've selected an excellent person to fill it.