Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Meet Shin Inouye

Meet Shin Inouye, the man who holds the title of director of specialty media in President Obama's administration. An openly gay Japanese American, he was appointed in February to be the White House's official spokesperson to LGBT media.

Inouye (pronounced IN-oo-way) comes to the position from the 2008 campaign trail, where he worked as communications coordinator for a variety of constituencies, including veterans and military families and gay Americans. After Obama's win, Inouye served as a spokesperson for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Previously, he was a communications director for Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and senior legislative communications associate at the D.C. legislative office for the American Civil Liberties Union. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, Inouye earned a bachelor's degree with departmental honors in political science. He is also a former board member for the D.C. chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

More after the jump.

As director of specialty media, Inouye works with "all the specialty press that is not African-American or Hispanic," he said during a recent telephone interview. In other words, his beat includes Asian American, Native American, some faith-based media and "our" media.

Over this past month, Inouye worked closely "on a fairly regular basis" with LGBT media. His contact with reporters, correspondents and editors stemmed partly from increasing pressure the White House encountered from LGBT Americans - and heat from gay Democrats - because of, in their view, a lack of substantive policy and LGBT civil-rights progress.

"Personally, my goal is always to get back to people," he said. "I may not be able to get back immediately. Sometimes it does take time to get answers to the questions, and I may not be able to answer the question."

Still, he said, "Depending on the publication or question, we will try to find an appropriate person to respond to inquiries for comment or for background," he said. "My goal is making sure people get right information."

Sure enough, a recent White House LGBT policy put Inouye and other media staffers to a getting-it-right test. On June 17, Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination. Accordingly, the administration identified a few benefits that the president could, under existing law, offer to partners of federal gay and lesbian civil service employees, including long-term care insurance and the use of sick leave to care for a domestic partner and a non-biological, non-adopted child. According to a White House statement, a separate set of benefits was also offered to same-sex partners of U.S. Foreign Service workers, including use of medical facilities at overseas posts, medical evacuation privileges from such posts and inclusion of same-sex families in overseas housing allocations.

The White House communications staff, including Inouye, worked with all media to ensure that writers "correctly" understood the memo's content and scope, he said. If LGBT [Americans] want to "criticize" the president - and criticism is "totally fine," Inouye said - "Then we [in the White House communications operation] have to make sure [reporters and the public] have the right information."

Inouye pointed to the memorandum as a "classic example" of getting correct information out to reporters. "A lot of people were saying a presidential memo expires at the end of an administration." Not correct, Inouye said, "There are published legal opinions on that."

And yet, Inouye readily acknowledges the impatience and frustration within the LGBT community, locally and nationwide. "I understand people want things to happen overnight," he said. "For better or worse," Congress - not the president - must act to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act. "The president made a commitment" to work for repeal of both those federal laws, he said.

At the same time, the June 17 signing ceremony in the Oval Office and the president's handing off his pen to veteran gay-rights activist Frank Kameny "says something" and is a "strong symbol," according to Inouye. But nobody has argued the new policy is "the end-all and be-all," he said.

Altogether, not one 24-hour period is routine in Inouye's long, hard workdays into night. "That every day is a new challenge is the only way to describe a typical day," he said. "I know it sounds like a cliché," Inouye said, but, "It's a privilege to be here. I am over in the Eisenhower building. Looking out the window in our suite, I can see the West Wing. It's an amazing feeling."

by Chuck Colbert for Press Pass Q

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