- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

The Bush administration is advertising for a "gay and lesbian program specialist" at the U.S. Department of Agriculture at a salary of up to $97,108 a year, drawing criticism from many pro-family and conservative groups.

"This is the first time a federal agency has gone out and specifically identified a position to address internal workplace issues for gays and lesbians. … It's absolutely necessary," said Kitti Durham, a board member of Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Employees (GLOBE), an advocacy group for homosexuals working for the federal government.

The position was created near the end of the Clinton administration and was funded by Congress in the fiscal 2001 budget. But the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is just now trying to fill it.

The GS-14 post, which pays between $74,697 and $97,108, depending on experience, was posted on the Office of Personnel Management Web site on June 19.

According to the ad, the duties of the "gay and lesbian program specialist" at the USDA would include:

•Working with individuals and groups to identify obstacles to equal opportunity for homosexuals and lesbians.

•Developing policy on the use of homosexual and lesbian individuals and groups involving both programs and employment at the USDA.

•Writing policy on the goals, use and integration of homosexual and lesbian individuals and groups into the human resources management, civil rights and other programs of the USDA.

•Developing training programs designed to educate and train agency management as well as non-supervisory employees in the skills, policy, approaches and advantages of having and dealing with homosexuals and lesbians.

•Designing systems to track and evaluate the success of homosexual and lesbian initiatives.

Peter LaBarbera, senior policy analyst at the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America, says the position would constitute "government-funded promotion of homosexuality" and should be eliminated, not filled.

He warns that the administration's decision to advertise for the position will have negative political repercussions.

"This is not going to play well with the conservatives, Catholics, evangelicals and Mormons who voted for George W. Bush in November" and who view a post "affirming homosexuality" as the "promotion of immoral behavior," said Mr. LaBarbera.

Allen Wildmon, spokesman for the American Family Association, said this federal personnel matter is not playing well with pro-family Republican supporters. "The [Republican] 'big tent' is expanding under the Bush administration to include people based on bedroom behavior. We're very disappointed," Mr. Wildmon said in a telephone interview from his office in Tupelo, Miss.

Yet an agriculture official, who asked not to be identified, said it's wrong to focus only on the job of the homosexual and lesbian program specialist. "This is not about one position. It's about a group of [seven] positions we're trying to fill."

The official said the department is also seeking specialists to work with women, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asians and to address "diversity" issues. Funding all seven GS-14 positions would cost between $522,879 and $679,780.

"This department has had real problems with discrimination issues, and there have been costly civil action cases it has lost. It paid out $600 million in a settlement in a discrimination case brought by black farmers," said the USDA official.

Given the department's troubled past with minorities, he said, the "USDA has looked for ways to be proactive and prevent discrimination," and the advertising of these seven new posts is one such approach.

Mr. Wildmon said the American Family Association does not object to the other positions the USDA wants to fill. "But there is no comparison between homosexuality and race, nationality and gender. The last three are matters of heredity. The other is a matter of choice," he said.

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