Roberta Achtenberg

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Roberta Achtenberg
Assistant Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development
In office
Succeeded bySusan Leal
Commissioner for the United States Commission on Civil Rights
Assumed office
Personal details
Born (1950-07-20) July 20, 1950 (age 69)
Los Angeles, California[1]
Political partyDemocratic
Domestic partnerMary Morgan[1]
ChildrenBenjamin Alexander Morgan Achtenberg[1]
OccupationCivil rights Commissioner, US Commission on Civil Rights, attorney, nonprofit director, and legal educator

Roberta Achtenberg (born July 20, 1950) is an American politician. She served as a Commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. She was previously Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, becoming the first openly lesbian or gay public official in the United States whose appointment to a federal position was confirmed by the United States Senate.


Before becoming a public official, Achtenberg worked for more than 15 years as a civil rights attorney, nonprofit director, and legal educator. Achtenberg supported the LGBTQ community early in her political career. Her activity included co-founding the National Center for Lesbian Rights.[2] Between 1975 and 1976, she served as a teaching fellow at Stanford University.[3][4] In 1976, Achtenberg became the Dean of New College California Law School.[5][4] Additionally, in 1978 Achtenberg represented LGBTQ rights while in the Anti-Sexism Committee for the National Lawyers Guild.[6][1] While working for the organization, she edited Sexual Orientation and the Law (1985).[7]

Achtenberg unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the California State Assembly in 1988. She was elected as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1989, becoming the first 'out' lesbian to serve on the Board, which gave her national attention.[citation needed]

While still serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in 1992, Achtenberg was appointed to the committee drafting the National Democratic Party's platform. In introducing herself to the delegates, she proudly identified herself as a lesbian, a mother, and a Jew.[1]

In 1993, she was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by President Bill Clinton, becoming the first 'out,' LGBTQ person to be appointed and confirmed to a position within a cabinet office. Later, she was appointed as the senior advisor to the Secretary of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.[8]

Achtenberg left the post in 1995 to run for mayor of San Francisco, but lost the election. From 1998 to 2004, Achtenberg helped develop the policies for both the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the San Francisco Center for Economic Development.[8][9] In 2000, she became the Director of the Bank of San Francisco and Andrew J. Wong, Inc.[6][1] She served as Senior Vice President for Public Policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce until January 2005. In 2000, she was appointed to the Board of Trustees of California State University by Governor Gray Davis, becoming chair of the Board in May 2006, serving on the CSU Board of Trustees until 2015.

Achtenberg was in charge of the Housing and Urban Development Department's Agency Review Team that assisted the Obama administration during its transition to office.[9] On January 26, 2011, President Barack Obama named Achtenberg to the United States Commission on Civil Rights


Achtenberg advocated for anti-discriminatory policies and practices while working for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. While in her role as the Assistant Secretary, she promoted policies to assess credit evaluation practices and loan management for minority groups in America. She re-evaluated the process from which the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs conducts investigations into fair-housing. Achtenberg also helped to restructure the various funding programs through the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs from several small funds to a select group of larger funds to promote local jurisdiction over how to develop housing in cities.[10]

While at the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, Achtenberg advocated for the creation of an investigative unit to examine insurance lending and mortgage lending practices to insure that were not discriminatory. Additionally, she advocated for similar units for discriminatory housing investigations and developmental housing project funding.[11]

While working for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Achtenberg created and developed one of the most successful welfare-to-work programs in the United States. Additionally, she developed the San Francisco School to Career Partnership, which is a program designed to help students gain experience from work to encourage them to attend school and later obtain jobs in the workforce.[12]

As the U.S. Commissioner for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Achtenberg conducted various hearings at the federal level to promote introduction of inclusive policies for LGBTQ Americans. Specifically, Achtenberg examined anti-bullying program development for United States schools and anti-discriminatory policies for the workplace. Achtenberg advocated for a federal standard to end workplace discrimination and for the Bureau of Labor and Statistics to conduct better LGBTQ data collection. She also pushed for workplace discrimination against LGBTQ employees to be investigated and for the difference between religious defense and discriminatory behavior to be examined in the context of workplace LGBTQ harassment.[13][14]

Personal life and education[edit]

Achtenberg's father was an ethnic German who immigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union, while her mother came from Quebec, Canada. Both parents were not educated, neither attending high school.[1][12][6][7] They owned a grocery store in Los Angeles, and raised three other children along with Roberta.[15]

After graduating from Morningside High School in Inglewood, California, Achtenberg went to UCLA, then transferred to and graduated from University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley, she met her husband David Chavkin.[6][1] She began law school in San Francisco at University of California, Hastings College of the Law, before transferring to and receiving her Juris Doctor from the University of Utah. In 1976, her brother, Jack, had a car accident, went into a coma, and died. Her mother died soon after from heart disease.[5] Amidst this family turmoil, at law school, Achtenberg began exploring her identity and had relations with women, which led to her divorce from her husband in 1979.[6][1]

Achtenberg met her partner, Mary Morgan, a lesbian attorney who would eventually be appointed to San Francisco Municipal Court in 1981.[1] In 1979, Achtenberg adopted Morgan's child, Benjamin.[6][1]


  • 2003, awarded the first ever Public Administration Program Award for Public Service by San Francisco State University in recognition of Achtenberg's outstanding career in public service
  • 1997, one of the "50 Most Influential Businesswomen in the Bay Area"
  • 1994, GLAAD Media Awards, Visibility Award
  • Founders Award from the National Center for Lesbian Rights
  • In 2012, she was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of the LGBT History Month.[6]
  • Award of Excellence by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition
  • Awarded "Woman of the Year" by the California State Senate for the Third District[9]
  • Management Volunteer of the Year by the United Way, Bay Area
  • Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Achievement Award
  • Southern California Women for Understanding Achievement Award
  • National Organization for Women, Women of Achievement Award[11]


  • "Behavior Modification: Legal Limitations on Methods and Goals", 50 Notre Dame Lawyer 230 (1975)[11]
  • Sexual Orientation and the Law, by Roberta Achtenberg (editor) (1985) ISBN 978-0-87632-454-7
  • "Partner Benefits Litigation: Expanding Definitions of the Family", Matthew bender Family Law Monthly (May 1987)[11]
  • The Adoptive and Foster Gay and Lesbian Parent, in Gay and Lesbian Parents, Bozett, Ed., Praeger Press (1987)[11]
  • Nicaragua's New Constitution: Report of August 1986 National Lawyers Guild Delegation to Nicaragua (May 1987)
  • Aids and Child Custody: A Guide to Advocacy, National Center for Lesbian Rights (1989)[11]
  • The Lesbian and Gay Book of Love and Marriage: Creating the Stories of Our Lives, by Paula Martinac, Roberta Achtenberg (contributor) (1998) ISBN 978-0-7679-0162-8
  • Preserving and Protecting the Families of Lesbians and Gay Men, National Center for Lesbian Rights (1986, 1990)[11]
  • Lesbian Mother Litigation Manual, Second Edition, national Center for Lesbian Rights, with Donna Hitchens (1990)[11]
  • Protecting the Lesbian Family in Our Right to Love, Vida, Ed, (1990) [11]
  • Helping Gay and Lesbian Youth: New Policies, New Programs, New Practice, by Teresa Decrescenzo (editor), Roberta Achtenberg (contributor) (1994) ISBN 978-1-56023-057-1


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rapp, Linda (2015). "Roberta Achtenberg" (PDF). GLBTQ Archive.
  2. ^ Newton, David E. (2009). Gay and lesbian rights: a reference handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 229. ISBN 9781598843071.
  3. ^ Mixner, David; Bailey, Dennis (20 April 2011). Brave Journeys: Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307788696 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ a b "Roberta Achtenberg".
  5. ^ a b Mixner, David; Bailey, Dennis (20 April 2011). Brave Journeys: Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307788696 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Roberta Achtenberg". Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  7. ^ a b "Roberta Actenberg (from Famous Lesbian & Gay Birthdays) on iCalShare". iCalShare. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  8. ^ a b "Roberta Achtenberg Board of Trustees". CalState. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  9. ^ a b c "Roberta Achtenberg". USCCR. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  10. ^ Achtenberg, R. (1995). Symposium: Keynote Address. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 143(5), 1191-1201. Retrieved from
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Banking, Housing (1993). Nominations of Kenneth D. Brody, Roberta Achtenberg, and Nicolas P. Retsinas : hearing before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, United States Senate, One Hundred Third Congress, first session, on Kenneth D. Brody to be President and Chairman of the Export-Import Bank, Roberta Achtenberg to be Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Nicolas P. Retsinas to be Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development as Federal Housing Commissioner, April 29, 1993. Boston Public Library. Washington : U.S. G.P.O. : For sale by the U.S. G.P.O., Supt. of Docs., Congressional Sales Office.
  12. ^ a b "Roberta Achtenberg, California, 1990". Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  13. ^ "Bullying Sexual Orientation Gender, May 13 2011". Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  14. ^ "LGBT Employees Workplace Discrimination Forum, Mar 16 2015". Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  15. ^ Mixner, David; Bailey, Dennis (20 April 2011). Brave Journeys: Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307788696 – via Google Books.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Election was not district specific
Member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors
Succeeded by
Susan Leal