John Berry, President Obama's openly gay Office of Personnel Management director, gave an impassioned speech on anti-gay discrimination this week at the Department of Justice's (DoJ) awards ceremony celebrating Gay Pride Month, as reported by Government Executive. Berry, who has been a major player in employment policy before he entered the job, offered a particularly pointed criticism of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy:
A good friend of mine was a colonel who honorably served in the Middle East. His sacrifice and risk of life was no less dear than anyone. I ask America, where do you stand--with this honorable service or with those who would make him lie to do so?
The Bush administration had stopped the DoJ celebration from 2003 to 2007, before Attorney General Michael Mukasey resumed it in 2008.
Berry drew on his own experiences--among them, seeing his partner of 10 years lose a battle with AIDS--to make a forceful case against gay discrimination.
He challenged those in attendance again before he was done: "Again, I ask: where do you stand? Honoring love as precious and true wherever you find it, or with those who would demean or deny it?"
Obama has said he wants to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but he has yet to do so. His relationship with gays has been slightly strained since he took office; they saw hope in his candidacy, but there's a sense that he's yet to deliver. Don't Ask, Don't Tell, domestic partner benefits (or, preferably, federal civil unions), hate crimes (which the Senate will reportedly address), and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act are pieces of their agenda.
Berry's significance, I'm told, is partly symbolic. He's the government's highest-ranking openly gay official, and he happens to be in charge of human resources. There's a notion of the federal government as a "model employer," sending signals to the private sector on issues like diversity.
The signal of Berry's speech Wednesday was loud and clear--albeit one that was not widely attended by media or widely publicized.