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Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the HUD LGBT Pride Month

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Washington, D.C.

June 23, 2009

Thank you, Ron - for that very warm introduction, but more than that, for your lifetime of advocacy for tolerance, respect, equal rights, and diversity.

Let's give Deputy Secretary Sims a hand. I agree - we need to be a society that respects everyone, embraces everyone, and puts all of us on the same footing in the eyes of the law.

We are so fortunate to have you at HUD, Ron. And it's great to have Congressman Barney Frank with us as well.

Well, let me first simply welcome all of you as we kick off only the second LGBT pride month celebration in our department's history, ushering in what I intend to be a new day of inclusivity and diversity here at HUD.

The last HUD pride celebration was 12 years ago and I understand Congressman Frank was here for that one too. Mr. Chairman, we will make sure it is not another dozen years before we have you back. In fact, I hope the pride month celebration becomes an annual event.

We at HUD value the service and friendship of all our employees.

There are hard-working, dedicated, and patriotic lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans serving throughout our Federal government - and HUD is no exception.

I know we may not have always lived up to the high bar we set as Americans.

Despite these frustrations, we at HUD have been trailblazers nonetheless. HUD welcomed the first openly lesbian or gay public official whose appointment to a federal position was confirmed by the United States Senate:

Roberta Achtenberg, who faced down incredible adversity to serve our country and our department as Assistant Secretary here at HUD.

That tradition will be furthered by two nominees currently before the US Senate: Raphael Bostic, nominated to be Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research and Mercedes Márquez, our nominee for Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development. And of course, countless others in HUD's LGBT community—some of whom we saw on the video—who make a difference every day.

And I want to acknowledge a major contributor to progress here at HUD: AFGE Local 476 and their President Eddie Eitches for twenty years of advocacy on behalf of LGBT employees.

In building a staff of diverse, talented Americans, I intend to make HUD the most welcoming, inclusive and respectful workplace environment in the Federal government.

As the video we just saw demonstrates so clearly, while pride month is an important step forward for all of us here at HUD, those are values we need to celebrate every day.

That is why, first, I want you to know that I'm committed to following the directive the President issued last week.

As you know, last Wednesday President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination.

I wanted to take a moment to briefly explain the process that memorandum laid out and what it means for the HUD family.

First, it allows domestic partners of federal employees to be added to the federal long-term care insurance program.

It also enables us to allow employees to use their sick leave to care for domestic partners and their partner's children, so no one ever has to resort to the kind of extraordinary measures to care for their loved one that Debbie Rizzo had to.

The Presidential Memorandum also requests that the heads of all executive branch departments and agencies conduct internal reviews within the next 90 days to determine whether any other benefits we administer might be similarly extended.

I would add that we have been asked to report the results of those reviews to the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry—himself openly gay—who will be providing guidance throughout the review process.

We at HUD have already formed an Exploratory Task Force to get that review underway - and I want you to know that I am determined to ensure HUD provides as many benefits to same-sex couples as heterosexual couples as the law allows.

As President Obama has said, his memorandum is just a start - a first step down the path toward inclusiveness and equality for same-sex couples. And believe me, I understand the frustration of those who want to go further.

That is why I share the President's support for passage of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act which would extend additional benefits to federal employees - including those that are essentially prohibited by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

The President has also committed himself to repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.

That law is discriminatory.

It's unfair.

And more importantly, it doesn't represent the values that motivate us here at HUD.

It's time the Congress repealed DOMA once and for all. Extending equal benefits to the same-sex partners of Federal employees is the right thing to do.

But as we follow the President's lead, HUD will also take steps of our own to better embrace and celebrate diversity among our employees and create the kind of future Ed Campbell and so many of us envision for our Department.

I want to announce that I recently signed a Non-Discrimination policy memorandum that reaffirms our department's commitment to encouraging a healthy, respectful work environment.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or any other prejudice is not acceptable at HUD and will not be tolerated by any of our employees.

That is why we are committed to ensuring members of our LGBT community who believe they have been subject to discrimination have an avenue to pursue their grievances and seek redress. We will be reviewing and updating that process and hope have it finalized shortly.

Lastly, I am proud to announce the creation of a HUD Diversity Council.

All program offices and affinity groups—including LGBT employees—will appoint a representative to serve on the Council, which we will charge with developing a diversity plan for HUD.

This effort will ensure that there is coordination and accountability in our ongoing efforts to attract and retain a diverse pool of talented employees.

At HUD, we not only want the unique differences every employee brings to the workplace - to fulfill our mission of providing safe, affordable housing to every American, we absolutely need them.

Whether it is federal benefits that celebrate the values of all families, a tough non-discrimination policy that ensures we at HUD are respectful to one another, or a Diversity Council that ensures our department represents a broad cross-section of America, HUD is committed to making sure our LGBT community not only recognizes that they are welcome at HUD - but are essential to everything we do.

If we can even hope to create change in the communities of America, it must start with a culture of inclusiveness here at HUD.

Now, it is my honor to introduce someone who is no stranger to our department - someone who we recognize for his contribution toward ending discrimination against federal employees and for his more than 28 years of service in the United States Congress.

When he is not working closely with us at HUD to keep families in their homes as Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Congressman Barney Frank is among America's most influential and energetic advocates of civil rights.

No one has been more articulate or effective when it comes to civil rights issues. For him, fighting for equal rights comes naturally. As he said once when there was a Republican Congress: "I'm used to being in the minority. I'm a left-handed gay Jew."

But the difference he's made for the LGBT community is no laughing matter.

During the formulation of the 1990 Immigration Act, he played the key role in removing homosexuality from the list of reasons foreigners could be denied entry into the United States.

He led the successful fight to persuade the Clinton Administration to issue an executive order barring discrimination in the federal workforce based on sexual orientation. It is in fact that order that forms the basis of HUD's non-discrimination policy on the basis of sexual orientation today.

During the same period, it was Congressman Barney Frank who led the fight to prevent sexual orientation from being used as a barrier to receiving a security clearance - a change that not only impacted federal employees, but also employees in private sector firms with federal contracts.

In 1998, he founded the National Stonewall Democrats—the only LGBT Democratic Organization that acts as a force for social change within the Democratic Party.

And he has long sponsored legislation that calls for providing domestic partner benefits to federal workers.

As we celebrate our first LGBT Pride Month, we are absolutely thrilled to have him with us today at HUD. I give you Congressman Barney Frank.

 
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