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Obama appoints two gays and nominates out lawyer for federal judge

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Wednesday made two administration appointments and nominated a judge – all from the LGBT community.

Longtime lesbian activist Roberta Achtenberg of San Francisco was appointed to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. She made history as the first openly gay presidential appointee during the Clinton administration, when she was named assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Achtenberg is one of the founders of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a former San Francisco supervisor.

Veteran gay rights advocate Jeffrey Levi was appointed to the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health at the Health and Human Services Department. He formerly led the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Levi is currently executive director of Trust for America’s Health nonprofit and a professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.

Openly gay attorney J. Paul Oetken was nominated for judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, based in Manhattan. Oetken served in the Clinton administration as an associate counsel to the White House and once clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, weighed in on the Achtenberg appointment.

“The appointment of Roberta Achtenberg to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is history making. Roberta will be the first openly lesbian or gay person appointed to the Commission," Kendell said.

"More importantly, her appointment assures that a woman of remarkable intelligence, broad commitment to justice and equality, and a life-long legacy of public service will be there to give voice and representation to those who are denied opportunity, fairness, and equality under the law,” Kendell said.

Rea Carey, executive director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, applauded the appointment of former board member Achtenberg to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an advisory panel charged with investigating, reporting on, and making recommendations to the president and Congress on issues concerning civil rights in the United States.

"The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is a vital voice for fairness, and Roberta Achtenberg's inclusion on the panel will be of great benefit to it and to our country,” Carey said.

“As an accomplished champion of civil rights and of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Roberta brings a critical and invaluable perspective to the table. We've had the great pleasure of working with Roberta as a member of our board; she is someone who truly embodies the Task Force's belief that no one is free when others are oppressed. As a truth-teller of courage, conscience and conviction, she will serve our nation well as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights."

Carey also reacted to Levi's appointment.

"Jeff Levi's long and distinguished career in public health advocacy and research has well prepared him to assume a larger role in public health service to the nation,” Carey said.

“He is a former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and was the first full time federal lobbyist on AIDS issues, just as the epidemic crested in our communities. Jeff crafted a plan to secure federal funding for AIDS research and treatment, marking the first successes in garnering federal resources to combat the AIDS crisis. Jeff’s expertise will go a long way to inform the council on the issues facing those living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases."