Friday, June 26, 2009

Kathy goes to Washington

Kathy Greenlee has been unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the new Assistant U.S. Secretary for Aging of the Department of Health and Human Services. This puts Kathy in charge of all the federal programs for the elderly and their caregivers.

I'm particularly pleased since I've known Kathy for as long as I've been in Kansas.

The first time we talked was when we bumped into each other at the now defunct Laundromat at 12th and Connecticut in East Lawrence. This was in 1985.

I had just arrived in town and knew almost no one. Kathy was in her first year in law school and was hunched over a thick textbook with her laundry soap at her elbow. She was warm, funny, and most importantly for me that day, willing to be distracted from her studies.

I got to know her better when we both worked on LGBT equality. Kathy and her former partner were among the co-founders of the Freedom Coalition. Working with Ben Zimmerman and many others, that Douglas County political organization gave birth to the Simply Equal campaign. The campaign convinced the Lawrence City Commission to provide protection from discrimination for lesbians and gays.

Later Kathy worked on an early attempt to form a Kansas LGBT rights organization. That group was called Equality Kansas, but it didn't last.

In 2004, her kitchen served as the focal point for progressive efforts to stop the Kansas Legislature from passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. We always met early in the morning at the request of Kathy and her former partner. I hated the timing, but appreciated their willingness to bring people together.

We later learned that a group of moderate Republicans was meeting on the other side of town to coordinate their work against the amendment. In 2004, we did defeat the amendment, but lost horribly the next year.

I've been very critical of President Obama lately. I've been more than a bit angry in this blog and my column. I even made it onto the front page of the KC Star with my unhappiness today.

But I had a chance to talk to Kathy a few weeks ago, and I was impressed by what she reported about her experience with the White House. Her sexual orientation was never an issue, Kathy told me, and she was out and open with the administration from the first moment she applied.

Her ho-hum, unanimous confirmation makes this a good day for Kathy and a good day for LGBT Americans. Much more importantly for all of us, though, this makes it a very good day for elderly Americans. Kathy is smart and effective. I suspect that she will do a great job, and isn't that what matters?


Thomas Witt said...

Hooray for Kathy!

Mike Silverman said...

Great blog post! Kathy is awesome...I remember fondly working with her on the political committee for the old Freedom was my first taste of activism after I came out in the mid-90s and she was really cool to work with. Best of luck in Washington Kathy!