Roberta Achtenburg



Roberta Achtenberg (born July 20, 1950) is an American politician. She served as 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. Achtenberg's father immigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union, while her mother came from Quebec. After graduating from Morningside High School in Inglewood, California, Achtenberg went to UCLA, then transferred to and graduated from University of California, Berkeley. She began law school in San Francisco at University of California, Hastings College of the Law, before transferring to and receiving her Juris Doctorate from the University of Utah.


Achtenberg joined the National Lawyers Guild in 1978 and began working on its Anti-Sexism Committee which was creating a manual to help attorneys represent their gay and lesbian clients. The project eventually resulted in a wide-ranging treatise, Sexual Orientation and the Law (1985), which she edited. Through her work with groups such as the Lesbian Rights Project and the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, Achtenberg gained a reputation as an activist for gay rights.
After being married and then divorced, Roberta met Mary Morgan in 1979, a prominent lesbian attorney known in particular for her expertise in representing lesbian mothers in custody cases. In 1981, Morgan was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to a judgeship in the San Francisco Municipal Court. The two became committed partners in 1982 and four years later Morgan gave birth to their son, who Achtenbery legally adopted.


Before becoming a public official, Achtenberg worked for more than 15 years as a civil rights attorney, nonprofit director and legal educator.


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 1990 and resigned in 1993 when she was appointed Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by President Bill Clinton. Her confirmation was famously held up by Senator Jesse Helms who refused to vote for her "because she's a damn lesbian." Achtenberg left the post in 1995 to run for mayor of San Francisco. 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.