Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Coverage of Secretary-designate Clinton's comments

The Advocate ran a piece today about Secretary-designate Clinton's comments:

Clinton Pledges Review of LGBT Policies at State Department

Senator Hillary Clinton said Tuesday during her confirmation hearing for Secretary of State that she intended to review the department's policy of not extending benefits to partners of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender foreign service officers. But Clinton stopped short of giving a specific commitment to make partner benefits available, saying she needed more information on the existing policies.

Beyond being deprived of health care benefits, same-sex partners of foreign service personnel are currently unable to access other services available to heterosexual spouses, such as subsidized relocation, language training, employment opportunities, on-site medical treatment, and evacuation aid in emergency situations.

Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin posed the question to Sen. Clinton after he noted that addressing these inequities was a natural outgrowth of the need to build a more robust diplomatic corps.

"Will you support changes to existing personnel policy in order to ensure that LGBT staff at State and [the U.S. Agency for International Development] receive equal benefits and support?" he asked.

Sen. Clinton responded: "Senator, this issue was brought to my attention during the transition. I've asked to have more briefing on it because I think that we should take a hard look at the existing policy. As I understand it, but don't hold me to it because I don't have the full briefing material, but my understanding is other nations have moved to extend that partnership benefit. And we will come back to you to inform you of decisions we make going forward."

LGBT diplomats who work for the State Department welcomed the comments from Senator Clinton, who is expected to be confirmed next week.

"Secretary-designate Clinton has been a good friend to the LGBT community, and I am delighted that she recognizes that fairer policies make good business sense," said Michelle Schohn, president of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Service Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA). "LGBT diplomats and aid workers serve overseas in some of the most dangerous locations, but current State Department policies continue to be deny equal treatment for our families. I am hopeful that Secretary Clinton will work quickly to implement overdue reforms so that we can continue to serve our country at a time when it needs us most without having to choose our job over our family."

Schohn has personal experience with the inequities faced by LGBT couples. She was a "member of household" when her partner, who has been in the service seven years, was stationed in Baku, Azerbaijan. Schohn ultimately decided to become a U.S. diplomat herself when she realized it would be too difficult to accompany her partner for the duration of her career without having the benefits afforded to heterosexual spouses.

"I left a career I loved," said Schohn, who has now been a foreign service officer for five years. "I am proud of my service but joining the State Department is not a choice everyone can or should have to make." (Kerry Eleveld,

The issue was also covered at Towleroad:

Issues of inequality and unfair treatment at the State Department were highlighted last year when departing Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest criticized the agency's failure to deal with them. Guest took a parting shot at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at his retirement ceremony for failing to answer his calls to address LGBT issues. Said Guest: "This was my last chance. I never got a response. I don't know that I expected a response. What I wanted was attention to the issue....One word from the secretary [would have spurred action]. That's what I was hoping, that I would somehow get to her heart."

Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) was pleased with the Feingold-Clinton exchange, and released the following statement:

"GLIFAA plans to present to the incoming Secretary of State a letter signed by over 2,000 current and former employees of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies, requesting fairness for LBGT employees. GLIFAA board members also met with members of President-elect Obama's transition team at the Department of State in December. GLIFAA President Michelle Schohn welcomed Senator Clinton's acknowledgement that fairer policies serve as good business sense. Schohn noted that LGBT U.S. diplomats and aid workers serve overseas in some of the most dangerous locations, but continue to be denied equal treatment for their families. She expressed hope that the incoming Administration would work quickly to implement overdue reforms...Among many other obstacles, LGBT partners lack access to affordable health insurance coverage and resources for moving abroad. During overseas tours, employees' partners do not receive assistance in obtaining a visa and lack access to employment opportunities, emergency evacuation, and embassy medical units, all afforded to married, heterosexual couples."

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