Commissions Calling

Presidential Appointments Project's new push promotes LGBT candidates for unpaid positions

by Will O'Bryan
Published on May 6, 2010, 12:43am | Comments

Plenty of people are looking for work during this recession of double-digit unemployment rates. But how many might be looking for unpaid positions? The Presidential Appointments Project, led by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund-affiliated Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute (GLLI), aims to find out -- particularly if those qualified job seekers are LGBT.

"We set it up in 2008 before even the primaries were complete," says Denis Dison, vice president for external affairs at both the Victory Fund and GLLI. "It is a coalition of a dozen national groups. We've been coordinating those efforts, primarily serving right now as a talent bank for LGBT people."

At the beginning of the Obama administration, the project worked to get qualified LGBT candidates into full-time appointments. Now, more than a year into the administration, the project has taken a slightly new tack, recently announcing a push to promote LGBT candidates for the many unpaid presidential appointments to boards and commissions.

"The key to finding any job is to look for one for which you are qualified, and at that level you want to be bringing something to the table," Dison says of the unpaid, part-time positions. "Our intention is to show our community for what it is: far more diverse and dynamic than a lot of people give it credit for."

Joseph Palacios is a good example of that dynamism. A member of the Georgetown University faculty, Palacios has an impressive résumé -- and an impressive recent presidential appointment making it more so.

"I don't think I'd be in my position without the GLLI," says Palacios, who joined the board of visitors for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in October. "I think it was GLLI's aggressively pushing my name that made the difference. GLLI is on top of things."

As a gay Latino with a doctoral degree, a Catholic priest and a human-rights activist, Palacios brings his expertise to the body better known -- and infamously so -- by its former name, School of the Americas. In the latter half of the 20th century, the SOA became associated with training police and military personnel from Latin America who went on to commit human-rights violations.

"I was told by my contact from the Department of Defense that my curriculum vitae matched perfectly for the description from the board," says Palacios, adding that he was well aware of the SOA's reputation, and surprised that he'd been selected for this particular seat. "I don't like the history of this thing, but I'm being asked to serve in the long-term process of changing it."

So far, says Palacios, the opportunity to serve in this capacity, to which he's been committing an average of 10 hours per week, has been thrilling. And he's got advice for others in the community who would like to serve similarly.

"One, assess where your career is. Imagine two years spending time volunteering at a federal level. What is your talent and interest in making a difference?

"Two, do research. Go see what positions are there. See where you might fit in.

"Three, if you know people, have them lobby for you. You have to be actively engaged. I was a nagger."

Adds Dison: "President Obama is certainly on track to appoint more LGBT people than any other president. One way they can work through the system is to work through the Presidential Appointments Project."

For more about the Presidential Appointments Project, call 202-628-9151 or visit glli.org/presidential.