Gay-Rights Leaders Warm to Obama, and Not Just Over Gene Robinson

A transition team outreach effort produces a distinct change of tone after some early grumbling.

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I've got a new story up at usnews.com about how happy the gay-rights movement is about President-elect Obama's invitation to gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson to deliver the invocation to kick off inauguration week, especially on the heels of the Rick Warren invitation.

What's remarkable is how bullish Human Rights Campaign, the biggest gay-rights group in the country, is on Obama now after going apoplectic over Warren a few weeks back. Some of that is a reflection on the symbolism of Robinson after Warren.

But it's more than that. It's a testament to how strenuously the Obama transition team has been reaching out to gay-rights leaders and how enthusiastically it has responded to those leaders' list of policy priorities. Here's part of my story that draws from an interview I did this morning with Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese:

Despite the fallout the Warren invitation engendered in the gay community, the Human Rights Campaign's Solmonese says the Obama transition team has been "very enthusiastic to the list of agenda items for the LGBT community."

That wish list includes executive orders for instituting nondiscrimination policies for federal employees on sexual orientation or gender identity grounds, for interpreting the Family and Medical Leave Act to include same-sex partners, and to enact a congressionally approved end to a ban on HIV-positive travelers from entering the U.S.

"Four years from now, will we believe that we have made more progress for advancing gay equality than at any other time in our history and than under any other president?" says Solmonese. "I think the answer is yes. That is what's paramount."

Solmonese is fairly gushing here. Very high hopes for Obama. Compare that to my conversation with Human Rights Campaign Vice President David Smith about a month ago:

Smith...said Obama's gay outreach to date has been a "mixed bag." He said HRC had been disappointed in how few openly gay appointments Obama had made so far. The only such appointment to a prominent White House post so far, according to Smith, is Nancy Sutley as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality....

"The Obama team has sent a very uplifting message that positive change is coming for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] Americans, but we haven't seen it yet. There has been no concrete evidence of inclusion. That's the environment in which this Warren announcement happened—it exacerbates the level of disappointment that exists."

In four short weeks, HRC is singing a much different tune. And it ain't all 'cause of Gene Robinson. The transition team has clearly stepped up its LGBT outreach. Now let's see how many of those executive orders Obama delivers.