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Speeches & Remarks Out and Equal Workplace Summit

Remarks of OPM Acting Director Elaine Kaplan

Out and Equal Workplace Summit

Minneapolis, MN

October 30, 2013

As prepared for delivery

Thank you. Let me thank as well the wonderful leader of Out and Equal, your Founder and Executive Director Selisse Berry. 

It is a pleasure to be with you this afternoon.  Out & Equal’s work has been so important to LGBT workers everywhere and especially to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management as we attempt to recruit, retain and honor a world-class workforce for the American people.

It is a treat for me to speak to an audience that is focused on equality in the workplace. 

From my many years in the Federal government, first as a new lawyer in the Department of Labor, next as the Deputy General Counsel of the National Treasury Employees Union, then as the head of the Office of Special Counsel and now the Acting Director of OPM, I can tell you how the American people benefit from having a truly diverse federal workforce.  Every single community across America has talented individuals who can and do contribute to the vibrancy of our nation.  And to ensure that our federal workforce has the best and the brightest serving our nation, we must recruit from every single community – otherwise, we are leaving valuable talent behind. 

I can also tell you that President Obama values every American, and his Administration has made historic strides to expand opportunity, advance equality, honor differences, and level the playing field for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, their families and their communities.

Now, our former OPM Director – my good friend and colleague John Berry – had the privilege of speaking at your 2009 Workplace Summit in Orlando. At the time – and look, I know that he’s a convincing speaker – but, at the time, he said a lot of things that some thought were crazy.  For one, he said that under this President we would end the shameful practice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  He also told the conference that we’d see the successful overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act.  And, he said that under this President we would extend family benefits to the same-sex partners of Federal employees.  If you listened to the talking heads in 2009, they certainly didn’t think that was possible.

But, you know what?  He was right. Under President Obama, we have seen the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; we saw the invalidation of the Defense of Marriage Act by the Supreme Court; we have extended family benefits to the same-sex partners of Federal employees; and, we’ve been able to do so much more. 

Let me give you an update.

Shortly after John spoke to you in 2009, President Obama signed the Mathew Shepherd & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, which extends the coverage of Federal hate crimes law to include attacks based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Thanks to this President, we have now extended hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones. Following a directive from President Obama, the Department of Health and Human Services now requires all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds – which is just about every hospital in America – to allow visitation rights for LGBT patients. Additionally, the President directed HHS to ensure that the medical decision-making rights of LGBT patients are respected.

And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we can be assured that insurance companies will no longer be allowed to discriminate against anyone due to pre-existing conditions, and because of the Affordable Care Act, insurers can no longer turn someone away just because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

The Affordable Care Act also provides funding to address health care disparities, including tobacco control, obesity prevention, HIV, nutrition and physical activity.  Through increased research and data collection on these health disparities, policymakers will have the knowledge and tools they need to continue to address the health needs and concerns of every community, including the LGBT community.  Akin to your own work at Out & Equal, funding is going toward building a more diverse and culturally competent health care workforce.

Good stuff, right?  And, there’s more …

Since 2009, this President has taken steps to ensure LGBT equality in housing.  For example, in 2012, the Administration issued a final rule declaring that all of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s core housing programs are open to everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Additionally, the Justice Department issued guidance stating that Federal prosecutors should enforce criminal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act in cases involving same-sex relationships, and the President signed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that contains important new protections for the LGBT community.

The Department of Education has issued importance guidance to school districts informing them of their obligation to address bullying against LGBT students. And, nearly every Federal agency has been involved in efforts to address and prevent bullying against LGBT young people.

I also want to note the tremendous work by President Obama, Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry, Ambassadors Rice and Power, and USAID Administrator Shah in advancing LGBT rights around the world.  Not many people are aware of the work that has gone into implementing this foreign policy, but it is incredibly important.  President Obama has directed our Federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.  And that is something that will impact LGBT people far beyond our shores.

In addition, the President, in consultation with the Attorney General, directed the Department of Justice to stop defending the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, and his Solicitor General, on behalf of the United States, urged the Court to strike that law down.  After the Court issued their historic ruling, the Obama Administration has acted to implement that decision to ensure that married same-sex couples have access to the federal rights and benefits they deserve.  On a point of personal privilege, I’d like to note that OPM was the first agency to announce its first implementation plan – two days after the Windsor decision was announced. 

A lot has happened over the past four years, but we are not done yet.

The Supreme Court’s Windsor decision demonstrated that now is not the time to rest.  In fact, I think I’ve gotten less sleep since the DOMA decision than before.  It turns out that cleaning up years of discriminatory regulations and rules is hard work. But, we’re up to the task. 

Your Federal agencies are acting to clarify equal access for same sex married couples.  Things most Americans take for granted – passports, family and medical leave, health care benefits, visas, tax filing, even joining the Peace Corps with your spouse – all of these things have multiple rules that must be sorted through and figured out.

The good news is that we’ve got a great team at the Department of Justice who is actively working to implement these changes.  I am proud that our own agency has played a significant role in ensuring the equal treatment of Federal LGBT employees in a post-Windsor world. 

And speaking of waiting far too long for equality, I also want to take a moment to reiterate the President’s strong support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which the Senate may take up soon. The President has long supported a fully inclusive ENDA because in this day and age, it’s both unconscionable and un-American that there are no explicit federal protections against employment discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Not only is this just wrong, it’s bad for business. That’s why major companies – including all of those being honored at this conference – have implemented LGBT inclusive policies in the workplace. And that’s why six in 10 small businesses owners believe that employment nondiscrimination laws help their bottom line by attracting the best and brightest employees.

Since most of you are here because you are passionate about your employees, let me take a moment to share my passion about mine.  I know that we have Federal employees who are involved in Out & Equal, some of whom are here at the Workplace Summit today. So, let me do what I always do when I speak with Federal employees, and that is thank you for your work.

I hope that everyone here recognizes the critical role that our Federal employees play in making our nation great.  Despite the pay freezes, furloughs, and sequestration – among other things – they show up every day to work on your behalf.

Most people think of Federal employees as faceless individuals off in Washington.  Yet, the vast majority of our Federal workforce – more than 80% - live and work in communities outside of the Washington Beltway, in places like Minnesota, where thousands of Federal employees are making a difference every day.

Federal civil servants are dedicated, hard-working men and women committed to serving the American public in meaningful fields.  I constantly speak with Federal civil servants who are passionate about the people and country they serve. These are individuals who provide support to our troops, facilitate loans to small businesses, assist our farmers through droughts and disasters, research new vaccines, and send Americans into space. These are people who want and truly do make a difference. And, I thank them for their tireless efforts on behalf of our country.

I came here today because OPM is committed to recruiting, retaining and honoring a world-class workforce for the American people. And, that inherently means that we are committed to a diverse workforce.  As the policy achievements I’ve laid out suggest, we have made progress.  But, there is still much work to do.  Federal protections provide a foundation to creating a strong workforce in America.  But, they require additional work by our private sector to ensure that all of us are attracting and retaining diverse talent. That is why you are here. That is why I am here.  Working together, we will get the job done. 

Thank you to Out & Equal for inviting me to speak today, and for your continued efforts to create an inclusive and diverse workforce.  

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