In a week that had already seen President Obama take a decisive step toward equal rights for gays and lesbians (in announcing that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act) comes the further shattering of the lavender ceiling late Friday: The historic appointment of the first man, who is also openly gay, to the position of White House social secretary. For decades to come, the incoming social secretary, Jeremy Bernard, will be intrinsically linked to the Obama Administration just as Letitia Baldrige has been to Jacqueline Kennedy and her husband's presidency. Call him Mister Social Secretary.
Bernard is eminently qualified for this role as the current senior advisor to the U.S. ambassador to France. He previously held roles as the White House liaison to the National Endowment for the Humanities and as an early fundraiser and supporter of President Obama. In addition, President Clinton had appointed Bernard to serve on his Advisory Committee on the Arts for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
According to a statement released by President Obama, "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. 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."
As social secretary, Bernard's duties will include everything from arranging teas for the First Lady, educational and cultural events at the White House, to welcoming world leaders and organizing the high-mannered state dinners each administration is known for. With any luck, Bernard will further erase the image of the disastrous state dinner organized by the President's first social secretary, Desiree Rogers, known mostly for its party-crashers.
Still, with the appointment of the first openly gay man don't expect any change in state protocol or White House etiquette: Gays and lesbians greet their guests and set their tables just as heterosexuals do.
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