Tuesday, January 27, 2009

GLIFAA letter covered all over the place!

There is a story in today's Advocate on the GLIFAA letter.

LGBT Group Lobbies Clinton For Fair Treatment At State

About 2,200 government employees working in foreign affairs signed a letter supporting the rights of the LGBT employees that was hand-delivered to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's office Monday afternoon.

The letter (full text below) from Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies congratulated Secretary Clinton on her confirmation and then proceeded to outline a number of inequities faced by same-sex partners of employees at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, among others.

"We are concerned that access to the federal health care insurance program is denied to same-sex partners of employees serving in Third World countries with substandard medical care," read the letter. "We question the logic of leaving same-sex partners to fend for themselves during an emergency evacuation of a high danger post. We are embarrassed when the Department will reimburse a variety of moving expenses, including the cost of transporting a pet, when an employee is assigned overseas, but will not do the same for a same-sex partner."

The document's delivery came on the heels of Clinton's confirmation testimony earlier this month in which she promised to review the policy regarding same-sex partners of civil and foreign service agents. "This issue was brought to my attention during the transition," Clinton noted. "I've asked to have more briefing on it because I think that we should take a hard look at the existing policy."

Same-sex partners of foreign service personnel are currently deprived of health care benefits and are 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. According to Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), an order from Clinton to designate gay partners as eligible family members could remedy a number of these inequalities.

J. Michelle Schohn, president of GLIFAA, said the group has not yet received a response from Secretary Clinton but anticipated the issue would be addressed.

"We feel really confident that she will end up seeing the letter and that she is interested in hearing our issues," said Schohn, who has spent five years as a foreign service officer and whose partner has served for seven. "The mood here is overwhelmingly optimistic -- as optimistic as I have seen it."

Schohn said the majority of the signatories were heterosexual, and she was particularly struck that 92% of the those who signed had no "member of household" -- meaning they have nothing to gain immediately from a policy change because they are either single, in a heterosexual marriage, or their partner is also employed as a foreign service officer and so the department usually assigns the couple in tandem whether they are gay or straight.

"Those people were signing just because it's the right and fair thing to do. I can't tell you how amazing that feels, being a lesbian person in the department, to have that kind of support from your colleagues," said Schohn, who had been working on the message since mid November. "It's just an overwhelmingly positive feeling I've gotten from my colleagues during the course of doing this letter." (Kerry Eleveld, Advocate.com)

The letter was also covered by HRC Backstory, U.K.'s Pink News, Americablog, Towleroad, and AKA William.

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