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I love delivering good news. Last week, I had the honor of recapping the Administration’s civil rights accomplishments to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting in Las Vegas.
The chamber’s annual meeting was sold out. I stopped in to talk to them about what a great week we had just had. It had started with President Obama signing the Executive Order that makes clear that Federal employees and Federal contractors can come to work each and every day without fear of discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The week ended with the release of OPM’s update of the Title V discrimination regulations. These new rules make it crystal clear that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is a form of sex discrimination and is against the law.
I think about how far we’ve come. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed. We ended the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court ruled in United States vs. Windsor that the Federal government must recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples. The President signed historic hate crimes legislation into law. The Affordable Care Act has expanded access to health coverage, and in the process we addressed LGBT health care disparities.
But this conversation is about more than policy fixes and court decisions and legislation. What we are witnessing is a sea change in the way the United States of America treats lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
This is personal. This year we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. What we have done under this President is a defining civil rights accomplishment of this generation.
As director of OPM, I am so proud of the work that our employees do every day to make sure that our LGBT brothers and sisters are not denied access to health, retirement or life insurance benefits or the Family and Medical Leave Act simply because of who they are and who they love.
I know we have more work to do. As the President said in his proclamation declaring June LGBT Pride Month: “We celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains.”
But we sure have made a great start!
Each February we celebrate the heritage, achievements and turning points for African Americans in the United States. This year we mark a pivotal moment in our history: 2014 is the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
This year’s theme for the month, “Civil Rights in America,” celebrates that landmark legislation.
As we at OPM work to create a Federal workforce that reflects the bright mosaic of the American people, we should take time to reflect on the trailblazers and civil rights leaders who chose to continue their service to the American people by becoming Federal workers.
Just two years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he appointed Robert C. Weaver as the first Secretary of the new Department of Housing and Urban Development. Weaver’s Federal service dated back to President Roosevelt’s administration and he became the first African American to hold a Cabinet post.
And we shouldn’t forget that such more well-known African American leaders as Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the United States Supreme Court and Colin Powell, the first African American Secretary of State were, in fact, Federal workers. Their service, and the example set by President Obama, can be traced back to that July day in 1964 when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.
We must carry on with the work of making the Federal government a welcoming and engaging place for all Americans to work. We must make sure that young people making career choices, new members of the Federal service, employees in the middle of their Federal careers and those about to retire get the encouragement and tools they need to succeed.
Here at OPM, leaders are working with the Blacks in Government organization to mentor BIG members and to help mentees reach their professional development goals.
Throughout the history of the civil rights movement in America, people of African descent have formed organizations and coalitions to promote the battle for equal rights. The Colored Convention Movement, the Afro-American League, the Niagara Movement, the National Council of Negro Women, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference carried the banner of equality when allies were few.
In the modern era, groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, and the Congress of Racial Equality have fought for and protected equal rights.
In his proclamation commemorating National African American History Month, the President calls on us to “honor the men and women at the heart of this journey – from engineers of the Underground Railroad to educators who answered a free people’s call for a free mind, from patriots who proved that valor knows no color to demonstrators who gathered on the battlefields of justice and marched our Nation toward a brighter day.” You can read the President’s full proclamation.
So during this month and all through the year, we should take time to pause to reflect on where we have come as a nation in the struggle for equality, and what we need to still do to realize the full promise of that groundbreaking piece of legislation that 50 years ago forever changed the face of this great country.
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