I recently had the privilege of representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development at the Eugene/Springfield Pride Festival in southwestern Oregon. We stood side-by-side with our counterparts at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Forest Service. When this festival began 25 years ago, the idea of a government agency participating was unthinkable. At that time, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals had no assurance of equal treatment when requesting government services or financial assistance. In fact, it was not so long ago that federal employees suspected of being gay were fired from their jobs. This sad chapter in our history saw careers destroyed and lives irreparably damaged.
I am deeply proud of the tremendous progress we have made nationally and at home here in Oregon to correct those past mistakes. USDA has been among the first federal departments to participate in Pride festivals across Oregon, and we have been leading the way nationally in the arena of LGBT civil rights. We were one of the first federal departments to enact protections specifically on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. USDA has instituted training for our employees, and we have been making a concerted effort to reach out to our LGBT customers, partners, and potential future employees. As I handed out information on the financial programs in Rural Development and the career opportunities available with USDA in a park festooned with rainbows, I experienced first-hand the incredible strides we have made in recent years toward a new era of civil rights.