Friday, February 25, 2011

White House Announces Jeremy Bernard As New Social Secretary

The first man and first openly gay Social Secretary in White House history...
UPDATE: Bernard's first event was the St. Patrick's Day Reception...
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have selected Jeremy Bernard to be their third Social Secretary, the White House announced today. Bernard leaves a post at the US Embassy in Paris to become the first man in more than 200 years of White House history to be named as the chief host and event planner. He is also the first openly gay person to serve as Social Secretary.

“Jeremy shares our vision for the White House as the People’s House, one that celebrates our history and culture in dynamic and inclusive ways," President Obama said in a statement.

At the US Embassy, Bernard, 49, was Senior Advisor to the Ambassador. Prior to that role, he worked for two years as the White House Liaison to the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was also a member of the Democratic National Committee, a prominent fundraiser for the Obama Campaign in California, and has done plenty of advocacy for gay and lesbian issues.

"We look forward to Jeremy continuing to showcase America’s arts and culture to our nation and the world through the many events at the White House,” President Obama said.

Social glass ceiling-buster Bernard will also be Special Assistant to the President, which was the dual title given to outgoing Social Secretary Julianna Smoot, who is leaving to work on the President's 2012 re-election campaign. She's served for less than a year, replacing Desiree Rogers last March. Rogers was the first African American to ever be Social Secretary.

“I am deeply humbled to join the White House staff as Social Secretary and support President Obama and the First Lady in this role,” said Bernard.

Bernard was previously appointed by President Bill Clinton to the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“I have long admired the arts and education programs that have become hallmarks of the Obama White House and I am eager to continue these efforts in the years ahead,” Bernard said.

Historic moment..but there are plenty of openly gay staffers at the White House
Bernard and his longtime romantic and business partner Rufus Gifford raised so much money for the Obama Campaign in California that they were referred to as "the gay goldmine." His appointment is being seen as a "win" for gay rights issues. (Above: With the Candidate in 2008; Gifford is on left, Bernard is on right)

President Obama had major support from the LGBT community during his campaign, but came under fire after his first year in office failed to produce any hard gains in civil rights. Things have gotten better, however: In December of 2010, President Obama signed the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Two days ago, the Administration announced it will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that bans recognition of same-sex marriage, although the President has said he is still "struggling" with the issue of same sex marriage.

The White House has other openly gay staffers; so many in fact, that a special White House video featuring staff speaking about their experiences as gay and lesbian youth was created for the "It Gets Better" project. Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses is also openly gay, but he's considered Domestic Staff, rather than part of the Administration staff.

“I look forward to working with Jeremy to continue the great work of the Social Office, from fun and educational student workshops to elegant State Dinners that welcome world leaders to the White House," said Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to the First Lady. Tchen has also been an advocate for LGBT issues.

"Jeremy’s creativity, perspective and skills will be a welcome addition to our East Wing team, as we showcase the White House and celebrating America’s arts and culture,” Tchen said.

Bernard is a native of San Antonio, Texas. He has been a board member of A.N.G.L.E. (Access Now for Gay & Lesbian Equality) and the National Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.Bernard was also a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's LGBT Advisory Committee, the Los Angeles Police LGBT Advisory Committee and the Los Angeles Mayor's LGBT Advisory Committee. He was a Principal of B&G Associates from 2007 to 2009, Vice-President of Mapleton Investments from 1999 to 2006 and Director of Government Affairs of Falcon Cable TV from 1996 to 2006.

*Top photo by Chantal Mistral-Bernard, via the US Embassy; second from LA Weekly