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Biden nominates first out lesbian to ambassador-level post

Appointed U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank, Chantale Wong says she will “serve with humility and purpose” if confirmed.

President Joe Biden has nominated the first out lesbian to an ambassador-level position in U.S. history.

Chantale Wong has been appointed U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank, which works to foster economic growth in the Asia-Pacific Region. If approved by the Senate, she will be the first LGBTQ person of color as well as the first gay woman with the rank of ambassador.

Wong was previously appointed to the bank’s board of directors by President Bill Clinton and has also served as CFO of the Millennium Challenge Corp., budget director at NASA and acting budget director at the Treasury Department.

Chantale Wong
Chantale Wong has been appointed U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank. U.S. Govt.

On Facebook, Wong wrote she was “truly humbled" and honored to be nominated.

“If I am confirmed by the US Senate, I will serve with humility and with [the] purpose of advancing US interest at the Asian Development Bank and the region on behalf of my fellow Americans,” she continued. 

Wong also thanked her mother, sister, daughter and friends for their “endless support,” as well as her mentor, the economist Alice Rivlin, the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, “who has taught me about doing good and doing it right.”

She also mentioned being inspired by the civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, “who taught me about making good trouble but necessary trouble.”

An avid videographer, Wong chronicled the annual congressional civil rights pilgrimages in Alabama with Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who died last year.

In a July 2 release announcing several nominations, the White House described Wong as “a leading authority in international development policy with over 30 years of experience in the multi-disciplinary field that includes finance, technology, and the environment.”

“She has been recognized throughout her career for transforming critical processes affecting the whole of government,” the statement said.  

Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which works to advance LGBTQ elected and appointed government officials, praised Wong for raising the bar for representation, but said her nomination “is about more than making history.”  

“Chantale will represent the most powerful nation in the Asian Development Bank at a time when many of its member states criminalize LGBTQ people and deny them the right to marry,” Parker said in a statement. “Her presence and leadership can change perceptions of LGBTQ people among representatives from other nations — potentially inching countries toward more acceptance of LGBTQ citizens.”

In addition to a bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Hawaii, Wong holds a master’s in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a master’s in environmental engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.  

She is just the latest in a long list of out LGBTQ nominees the White House has put forward: The Victory Institute reported that, as of late April, Biden has appointed at least 200 LGBTQ officials, “exponentially more than any other president at this point in their administration.” 

Among them are former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, now transportation secretary, and Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel Levine, the first transgender appointee confirmed by the Senate.  

On June 22, the Senate Armed Services Committee advanced the nomination of Gina Ortiz Jones as undersecretary of the Air Force, Air Force magazine reported, paving the way for a confirmation vote on the Senate floor in the coming weeks. Jones, an out lesbian and former Air Force intelligence officer, ran last year to represent Texas’ 23rd Congressional District as a Democrat.

Shawn Skelly, a Navy veteran and transgender woman, also awaits confirmation to become assistant secretary of defense for readiness. If confirmed, she will be the highest-ranking out transgender defense official ever.

Brenda Sue Fulton, a former Army platoon leader, has been put forward as assistant secretary of defense for manpower and readiness. Fulton, whose 2012 wedding to Penelope Gnesin was the first same-sex marriage ceremony at West Point, has not had a hearing scheduled with the Senate Armed Services Committee yet, The Washington Blade reported.

The Victory Institute indicated that the White House is well on its way to achieving parity between LGBTQ representation in appointments and the community’s presence in the general public — about 5.6 percent, according to a Gallup poll in February.  

“President Biden’s administration is already the most LGBTQ-inclusive in history and his appointees have shattered long-standing political barriers thought unthinkable not long ago,” Parker said in a statement in April. “With the thousands of appointments yet to be made, we will continue to work with the administration to not only ensure our community is equitably represented, but that trans and non-binary people, LGBTQ people of color and LGBTQ women are fully represented as well.”

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