I knew something significant had occurred in our country when, standing in a grocery store check-out line in 2008, I observed a copy of a popular magazine. On the cover were Ellen DeGeneres and her long-time girlfriend Portia de Rossi adorned in their wedding apparel. People as they often do with those magazines, were curiously grabbing a copy and flipping to the pages of the wedding pictures.
I didn’t know what they would say, but I certainly didn’t expect what I heard: “Wow, Portia is beautiful,” and, “This is great.” Yes, I mused, things have changed so much that a popular weekly calculated that it would be okay to put a lesbian couple on the cover; they had calculated that the country was in a place where there would be no significantly harmful backlash.
And they were right.
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. It is a time to recognize the often difficult decisions —and courage— of people who are homosexual, transsexual, questioning, bi-sexual, or who otherwise would not be considered part of the sexual identification norm. It is a time to allow those who are allies and who walk alongside to add their voice to acceptance and understanding.
The magazine experience I recounted above is just a small peek into a world that is finally opening up. As a nation we are beginning to appreciate and take note of the fact that gay people are, well, people.
Many activities are planned to raise awareness of LGBT achievements, contributions, and challenges during the month of June. This is an opportunity to learn about the issues, to hear from the gay community, to appreciate that all our struggles resonate with each other as part of being human. It is a time to challenge old norms, reconcile contradictions, and broaden perspectives.
Major initiatives that have been implemented since last June include:
- The Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. In the Federal Government, this meant that health care and retirement benefits extended to employees in same-sex marriages. This added on to the existing leave benefits regarding same-sex domestic partners.
- The Office of Personnel Management issued Guidance Regarding the Employment of Transgender Individuals in the Federal Workplace. This guidance provides answers to frequently asked questions. In short, OPM and DOT are committed to full inclusion and acceptance of all individuals regardless of their gender identity and adherence to gender norms.
- And, I’m happy to boast that during the 2014 Civil Rights Virtual Symposium, we featured a session on Transgender Cultural Competency. And in the FAA, our Office of Civil Rights continues to sponsor training sessions on the Management of Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace.
I am also excited to announce that our June 20th installment of DOCR’s Distinguished Speaker Series featured “Moving toward Equality, A Conversation with Gautam Raghavan.” Mr. Raghavan is an Advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he serves as President Obama’s liaison to the LGBT and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
Here at the Department of Transportation and within all of the Federal Government, it is our policy to increase the knowledge of our employee communities to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and consistently in winning work environments. While our country has achieved considerable progress in affirming the rights of LGBT citizens, there is still more that can be done.
As President Obama affirmed in his Presidential Proclamation “During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains.”