The Obama White House broke decades of tradition Friday, naming the first man to ever serve as social secretary.
Jeremy Bernard, a senior adviser to the U.S. ambassador to France, will soon trade Paris for Washington and take on the high-profile assignment, the White House announced Friday. That means he’ll be responsible for planning numerous social functions and events and pulling them off without a hitch, including opulent state dinners, the annual Easter Egg Roll and dozens upon dozens of receptions.
President Barack Obama said Bernard shares his and first lady Michelle Obama‘s vision of the White House as a place that “celebrates our history and culture in dynamic and inclusive ways.”
Bernard, who is gay, said he was deeply humbled to be joining the White House staff.
“I have long admired the arts and education programs that have become hallmarks of the Obama White House and I am eager to continue these efforts in the years ahead,” he said through the White House.
The Obamas celebrated Black History Month on Thursday night with a tribute to the Motown sound. It was the latest installment in a White House music series that Mrs. Obama launched after becoming first lady. She also includes students in many White House events, from helping plant her vegetable garden on the South Lawn to getting lessons from the professionals who participate in the music series.
Bernard will become the first male social secretary in White House history, but he will not be the first man based in the East Wing of the White House, where the first lady’s mostly female staff is located.
Both deputy social secretaries are male, as are Mrs. Obama’s deputy policy director and her trip director.
And there’s some precedent for having a male social secretary. Vice President Joe Biden‘s is a man, Carlos Elizondo.
Letitia Baldrige, who was social secretary for the Kennedys, said women for years have been breaking the glass ceiling and filling positions long held by men and that there’s no reason why this key White House position shouldn’t be filled by a man.
“Husbands and wives have been co-hosting since the beginning of time,” she said. “I think it’s terribly smart to give men a chance.”
Bernard will be the Obamas’ third social secretary.
The San Antonio native succeeds Julianna Smoot, who stepped down last month to help get Obama’s re-election campaign up and running.
Desiree Rogers, the Obamas’ first social secretary, departed in February 2010, a few months after Obama’s first state dinner — honoring India — was marred when a Virginia couple managed to get in without an invitation and shake hands with the president.
Before moving to Paris, Bernard was the White House liaison to the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2008-2010. He also had been a finance consultant in California for Obama’s presidential campaign.
He has been active in several gay and lesbian organizations, including the National Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Access Now for Gay & Lesbian Equality and several advisory committees in Los Angeles, according to the White House.
His appointment was the second nod by the White House in recent days to gays and lesbians, an important constituency for Obama.
In a policy reversal earlier this week, Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of a federal law that bans recognition of gay marriage. That decision was immediately welcomed by gay rights organizations, as was Bernard’s appointment.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said these are “historic times” for gays and lesbians.
Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is fighting California’s voter-approved gay marriage ban, said Bernard’s appointment “underscores the president’s commitment to diversity and should be celebrated by all Americans.”
Bernard is expected to start at the White House soon, after he completes the trans-Atlantic move from Paris.
His appointment was first reported by The Washington Post.
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