By AUDREY FISCHER
The Library of Congress both preserves and makes history. It made history on June 30 with the Library’s first observance of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, featuring as keynote speaker Elaine Kaplan, general counsel for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
It both made and preserved history in October 2006, with the Library’s acceptance of more than 70,000 letters, documents and memorabilia comprising the personal papers of Franklin Edward Kameny, pioneering crusader for gay rights. The Kameny papers, housed in the Library’s Manuscript Division, trace the gay equality movement in the United States through Kameny’s life and activism.
“Frank Kameny is a walking history book,” said Kaplan, who with Kameny was in attendance on June 17 when President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum granting a limited number of federal employee benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers.
“People who know me know that I can be cynical and irreverent. But when the president handed the pen to Frank Kameny, I got a lump in my throat,” said Kaplan. “It was very moving.”
Naomi Earp, a former EEOC commissioner and the Library’s new director of the Office of Opportunity, Inclusiveness and Compliance, which co-sponsored the Library’s LGBT Pride Month event with Library of Congress Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Employees (GLOBE), offered welcoming remarks. (See story on page 152.)
“Over the past 40 years, American society has made great progress in guaranteeing equal employment opportunities. In the last 20 years or so, we have moved beyond race and gender to include equal opportunity and respect for other dimensions of diversity,” she said.
Welcoming staff and guests to the “first Pride Month celebration at the Library of Congress,” Earp acknowledged the roll of LC GLOBE in “making the Library open and hospitable for all of us” and being “an outstanding example of what a small group of committed individuals can accomplish.”
During his introduction of Kaplan, Beacher Wiggins, the Library’s director of Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access, observed, “The workforce is changing and becoming both more diverse and more inclusive.”
During his tenure at the Library, Wiggins said, he has witnessed greater openness of LGBT employees within the workforce—among both the staff and management of the Library. “Over the years this diversity point has become a proud distinction as we make contributions to the workforce; at the same time, it remains a difference that simply does not matter as we focus on getting the work done.”
Wiggins reviewed Kaplan’s government legal career, which includes service in the Solicitor’s Office of the U.S. Department of Labor; as senior deputy general counsel for the National Treasury Employees Union of 150,000 members; and as head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (appointed by President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the Senate).
Since her appointment to OPM in March 2009, Kaplan has been responsible for making the federal workplace diverse, inclusive and nondiscriminatory.
That was not the case in 1957, when Kameny was fired by the Civil Service Commission (the forerunner of OPM) because of his homosexuality.
Kaplan read excerpts from the letter Kameny received from John Macy, former head of the Civil Service Commission, outlining his arguments for not employing “sexual deviants” in the federal workplace, not the least of which was “the apprehension it caused other employees.”
“Frank fought back,” said Kaplan.
Fifty years later, the Office of Personnel Management, led today by Kaplan’s boss John Berry, repudiated the actions taken against Kameny by the agency.
Kaplan observed that beginning with the Reagan administration in the 1980s, every presidential administration—Democrats and Republicans alike—have eschewed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Echoing Kameny’s observations, Kaplan said “things have really changed.”
Kaplan acknowledged other agents of change, for example, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who were all accused of treason for forming a new nation. She cited other champions of equality, such as Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr., whose ideas were not universally embraced in their time. And she cited the efforts of some “to use scripture and threats of secession to justify slavery.”
According to Kaplan, President Obama is aware that there is “much to be done to fulfill the promise of equality to the LGBT community.” She observed that he has begun to “put the federal house in order” by reviewing policies such as “don’t ask, don’t tell” and enforcing existing antidiscrimination policies. But many in the gay community are “impatient.”
“There are political forces that are resistant to the winds of change and will not budge,” said Kaplan. “But the president plans to build the support he needs to accomplish his goals.”