Obama Administration Policy, Legislative and Other Advancements on behalf of LGBT Americans

President Barack Obama at the HRC National Dinner

Over the last four years, President Obama has led the way on significant advancements in equality for the LGBT community. From his historic endorsement of marriage equality, to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to hospital visitation for same-sex partners and numerous other administrative changes throughout the government, President Obama has done more to improve the lives of LGBT people than any president in our nation’s history. Learn more about all of the advancements we’ve made during the Obama administration, and read the op-ed from then-HRC President Joe Solmonese explaining why were proud to endorse President Obama for reelection.


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Regulatory and Policy Changes

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted a regulation ending the ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants. 
  • The State Department reversed a Bush Administration policy that refused to use a same-sex marriage license as evidence of a name change for passports.
  • The Census Bureau overturned the Bush Administration’s overbroad interpretation of the Defense of Marriage Act and agreed to release data on married same-sex couples along with other demographic information from the 2010 Census.
  • President Obama issued two Presidential Memoranda (in June 2009 and June 2010) directing federal agencies to extend whatever benefits they could, under existing authority, to the same-sex partners of federal employees.   
  • In response to the first memorandum, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued proposed regulations extending sick and funeral leave, as well as long-term care insurance, to the same-sex partners of federal employees.  The State Department extended numerous benefits to the partners of Foreign Service officers, including diplomatic passports, access to overseas medical and training facilities, inclusion in housing allocations, and access to emergency evacuation.
  • The second memorandum directed the extension of additional benefits to the partners of federal workers, including travel and relocation assistance, child care subsidies, and certain retirement benefits.   
  • In January 2010, OPM added gender identity to the equal employment opportunity policy governing all federal jobs.  In September 2011, OPM issued additional guidance to federal managers regarding the equal treatment of transgender workers.    
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development issued regulations recognizing LGBT families for federal housing programs, prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in accessing federally-insured mortgage loans, and requiring HUD grantees to abide by LGBT-inclusive state and local antidiscrimination laws.  HUD also announced it would conduct the first-ever nationwide study of LGBT housing discrimination.
  • President Obama issued Presidential Memorandum in April 2010 directing HHS to issue regulations requiring all hospitals receiving Medicaid and Medicare to prohibit discrimination in visitation against LGBT people.  HHS issued regulations that went into effect in 2011.  
  • HHS rescinded provisions of a Bush-era rule which allowed health care providers to refuse to provide any health care service or information for a religious or moral reason.
  • The federal Prison Rape Elimination Commission proposed national standards to reduce sexual abuse in correctional facilities, including standards regarding LGBT and intersex inmates.  In early 2011, the Justice Department proposed regulations to implement those standards.   
  • HHS’s Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability reviewed the lifetime ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men, concluded that it is a “suboptimal” policy that screens out low risk donors and called on HHS to conduct research to support a move to a policy based on risk behavior, regardless of sexual orientation.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has initiated research into alternative approaches. 
  • The Department of Justice issued an opinion clarifying that the criminal provisions of the Violence Against Women Act related to stalking and abuse apply equally to same-sex partners.
  • The Department of State revised the standards for changing a gender marker on a passport, making the process less burdensome for transgender people.
  • The Department of Labor issued guidance clarifying that an employee can take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a same-sex partner’s child, even where the partner does not have a legal or biological relationship to that child.
  • HHS revised its funding guidance around abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs, requiring that recipient programs are inclusive of and non-stigmatizing toward LGBT youth, and mandating that they include only medically-accurate information.
  • HHS awarded a $900,000 grant for the creation of a national resource center on LGBT aging issues to Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE).  HHS also awarded a $13.3 million grant to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center to create a model program supporting LGBT and questioning youth in the foster care system. 
  • At the request of HHS, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a lengthy report in March 2011 detailing the range of areas in which more research is needed on LGBT health needs.
  • In March 2011, HHS sent a number of recommendations to the White House for policy and regulatory changes that HHS could undertake to improve the health of LGBT people, including: collection of LGBT health data, guidance for states on including LGBT families in federal welfare programs, and guidance for states on protecting the financial resources of a same-sex partner when his or her partner enters long-term care under Medicaid.
  • In June 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs published a directive establishing a policy of respectful delivery of healthcare to transgender and intersex veterans in all VA healthcare facilities.
  • In June 2011, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued guidance clarifying that state Medicaid agencies have the authority to provide same-sex couples with equal access to the financial and asset protections available to opposite-sex couples when a partner enters a nursing home or care facility.
  • In June 2011, the Department of Education held the first-ever LGBT Youth Summit.  At that event, Secretary Duncan announced guidance to schools nationwide making clear that right of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) to form and meet in public schools is protected under federal law.  
  • In June 2011, HHS awarded a grant to Heartland Alliance in Chicago to create the first-ever resource center for LGBT refugees being resettled in the United States.
  • In June 2011, HHS publicly committed to collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity in federal health surveys and laid out a timeline for identifying the best ways to collect quality data on LGBT people and including the appropriate questions in surveys.     
  • In December 2011, President Obama issued a memorandum creating a strategy for U.S. government agencies to combat LGBT human rights abuses internationally. 
  • In March 2012, U.S. Customs and Border Protection published a proposed rule that will expand the definition of family to include domestic partners for the purposes of processing the family through customs when re-entering the U.S. from abroad.
  • In April 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the U.S. will recognize valid marriages for immigration purposes regardless of a spouse’s subsequent gender transition.
  • In May 2012, the Department of Justice published final regulations creating national standards aimed at eliminating sexual abuse in America’s prisons, jails, and local detention facilities as mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).  These standards directly address the needs of LGBT, intersex and gender nonconforming prisoners.
  • In June 2012, the Internal Revenue Service published guidance specifically addressing the unique filing issues faced by same-sex couples, and clarified their eligibility for the adoption tax credit.**
  • In July 2012, the Administration on Aging published clarifying guidance that LGBT older adults should be included as a population with a “greatest social need” for purposes of Older American Act programs and funding.**
  • In July 2012, the Office of Personnel Management published a proposed rule that would expand eligibility for healthcare coverage for the children of a federal employee’s domestic partner for whom, because of state law, the federal worker cannot serve as a legal parent.* 
  • In July 2012, the Office of Personnel Management published a final rule extending the presumption of an insurable interest annuity, a form of retirement benefits, to include the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees.

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Support of Pro-LGBT Legislation

  • President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.
  • President Obama signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law, after including DADT repeal in the 2010 State of the Union address and brokering a compromise with the Pentagon that honored both the legislative calendar and the Pentagon process.
  • Administration officials testified in support of ENDA in House and Senate in the 111th Congress.
  • Administration officials testified in support of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would extend spousal benefits to the partners of federal workers, including health insurance and insurance benefits.
  • The Department of Justice announced that it would stop defending lawsuits brought against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), because the President and Attorney General believe that provision is unconstitutional.  In June 2011, DOJ filed its first brief implementing this decision in federal court, acknowledging the federal government’s role in discrimination against gays and lesbians.   

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  • President Obama has appointed more than 250 openly-LGBT individuals to positions throughout his administration, including: John Berry, Director of the Office of Personnel Management; Nancy Sutley, Chairperson of the Council for Environmental Quality; Kristina Johnson, Under Secretary of Energy; Fred Hochberg, chairman of the Export Import Bank; Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington; Chai Feldblum, commissioner, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and David Huebner, Ambassador to New Zealand.
  • The President has also nominated numerous openly-LGBT people for positions in the federal judiciary, including: Emily Hewitt, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Federal Claim; J. Paul Oetken; judge, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York – the first openly gay man on the federal bench; Alison Nathan, judge, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; and Michael Fitzgerald, judge, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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Other Pro-LGBT Actions

  • President Obama issued LGBT Pride Month proclamations in 2009 and 2010, the first since 2000, and held the first-ever Pride events at the White House.
  • Among the 2009 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom were LGBT icons Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King.
  • Early in 2009, the administration added the United States to a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for an end to criminal penalties based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a measure that former President Bush had refused to sign.  In June 2011, the administration also supported a first-ever UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning violence and discrimination against LGBT people.  
  • The President launched a National AIDS Strategy with key goals to lower the number of new HIV infections, increase the number of people receiving care, and reducing racial disparities.  He also announced a new, five-year outreach and prevention project called Act Against AIDS, which targets populations most at risk. 
  • In October 2010, the White House held a summit on school bullying and formed an interagency working group to look at ways to address this pervasive problem, including in regards to LGBT youth. 
  • In response to an epidemic of anti-LGBT bullying and youth suicides, the President and numerous other high-level officials recorded video messages of support as part of the “It Gets Better” Project.
  • In June 2011, the White House added a specific page on LGBT Americans to its official website. 
  • In December 2011, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made a historic speech on LGBT human rights in Geneva.
  • In May of 2012, President Obama announced his support for marriage equality nationwide – the first sitting president to do so in our nation’s history.

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*Indicates a policy recommendation included in HRC’s November 2008 “Blueprint for Positive Change”.
**Indicates a policy recommendation advanced by HRC subsequent to the Blueprint or involving substantial work by HRC with the administration.

 Paid for by the Human Rights Campaign PAC and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.