Gay groups back lesbian candidate for US Secretary of Labour

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners

A coalition of 12 leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans organisation in the United States have written to the country’s President-elect urging him to nominate Mary Beth Maxwell as Secretary of Labour in his new Cabinet.

Ms Maxwell is the founding executive director of American Rights at Work.

Launched in 2003, its mission is to modernise and reform America’s labour laws.

“Ms Maxwell is a strong supporter of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community’s effort to enact comprehensive employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” the letter read.

“Through her leadership, American Rights At Work is a strong ally in the fight to pass an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

The letter to President-elect Barack Obama was signed by Human Rights Campaign, the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute, Lambda Legal, the National Centre for Transgender Equality, the Servicemembers Legal Defence Fund and other groups.

Mary Beth Maxwell’s position on the shortlist is an historic moment – if nominated and confirmed by the Senate she would become the first openly gay person to serve in the US Cabinet.

The other candidates for Secretary of Labour are both female state Governors: Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.

Barack Obama was elected on November 4th, beating Republican John McCain. He will take the oath of office in an elaborate inauguration ceremony in Washington DC on January 20th.

“Barack Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity,” according to a statement on LGBT rights on the Presidential transition website.

“While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees’ domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy.

“Obama also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

A recent survey commissioned by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) found a slight majority of US adults (51%) favour protecting gay and transgender people under existing federal laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Existing non-discrimination laws cover gay and transgender people in only 12 states and the District of Columbia, and eight other states’ laws cover sexual orientation but not gender identity.

Attempts by the US Congress to pass a federal law protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans Americans from workplace discrimination fell apart earlier last year amid acrimonious claims and counter-claims over trans rights.

In November the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was passed by the House by 235 to 184.

ENDA was originally designed to make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or promote a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The decision to remove trans people from the scope of the legislation caused anger among the LGBT community in the US, with many demanding an “all or nothing” stance.

Many of the House Democrats serving their first term did not want ENDA to include protections for trans people, fearful of a backlash from conservatives.

President Bush indicated he would veto ENDA.

The White House expressed constitutional concerns that the proposal could “trample” religious rights.

The vast majority of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their employment nondiscrimination policies.

Equality Forum reported that 471 (94.2%) of the 500 American corporations voluntarily include sexual orientation.