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Obama appoints first male, openly gay social secretary

Gay rights advocates hail the selection of former Los Angeles resident Jeremy Bernard for the White House event-planning job.

February 25, 2011|By James Oliphant, Washington Bureau
  • Jeremy Bernard, left, with partner Rufus Gifford.
Jeremy Bernard, left, with partner Rufus Gifford. (Linda Davidson / Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — President Obama's choice of Jeremy Bernard as the new White House social secretary Friday made history in multiple ways: Bernard is the first male and the first openly gay person to take over the event-planning role.

Gay rights advocates hailed the appointment, which came in the same week the Obama administration decided it would no longer stand up in court for a law that defines marriage as between a man and woman.

"We celebrate his appointment not merely because of the ground that he is breaking but because we know that he will serve the president and first lady exceptionally well," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization.

Obama last year led the push that struck down the ban on openly gay service members and said his views on gay marriage were evolving. In a statement announcing the appointment, the president acknowledged the diversity Bernard will bring to the White House.

"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," Obama said.

Bernard worked in Los Angeles as a businessman, community activist and Obama campaign fundraiser. His selection may be a sign that the president, as he heads toward a reelection campaign, is looking more toward California.

"Los Angeles will have even greater access to the White House than ever before," said Marc Jacobson, a Democratic Party activist and chairman of Mapleton Investments, where Bernard once worked. "Many of Jeremy's resources and contacts are people from the area."

While in Los Angeles, Bernard became a leading advocate on gay and lesbian issues. He served on advisory committees for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office, the Los Angeles Police Department and the mayor's office, as well as working on behalf of A.N.G.L.E (Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality) and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Bernard said he was "deeply humbled to join the White House staff as social secretary and support President Obama and the first lady in this role."

He becomes the Obamas' third social secretary in just more than two years, after Desiree Rogers and Julianna Smoot. Rogers resigned in February 2010, three months after a Washington couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, crashed a state dinner, resulting in widespread questions about White House security. Smoot, like Bernard a former Obama fundraiser, is moving over to help manage Obama's reelection bid.

Bernard, a native of San Antonio, will move to the White House staff from the U.S. Embassy in Paris. He previously worked as the White House liaison to the National Endowment for the Humanities. National Endowment Chairman Jim Leach praised Bernard's "humor, good will and high standard of professionalism." For eight years, he was a member of the Democratic National Committee.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

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