Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Undiplomatic: The Other Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Undiplomatic also covered the issues facing LGBT foreign service employees yesterday. His is a great piece that I recommend you read in its entirety (the comments are pretty good too).

Charlie writes:
This is what I mean by the other don’t ask don’t tell. It’s not as discriminatory as what happens in the military: gays and lesbians no longer are drummed out of the foreign service as a result of their sexual orientation. But they are asked to pretend that they are not second-class citizens.

To put it another way, they’re being told “don’t tell us we’re not treating you fairly and we won’t ask why that’s a problem.”

That’s ridiculous, and shameful. As the GLIFAA letter notes, there’s a simple solution here: designate partners as Eligible Family Members, which would “give” them the rights and privileges (and protection) enjoyed by all other family members. (Of course the notion that the government has the ability to “give” fundamental human rights to people is, in itself, offensive, but we’ll set that aside for the moment.)

You want to know how ridiculous this is? If a foreign service officer is married to the love of her life, and her spouse brings into the marriage a daughter, and the foreign service officer adopts that daughter, the daughter is an Eligible Family Member, but her own birth mother is not.


some folks at State may nervous about “granting” full rights and privileges to same sex spouses because they’re afraid of how some countries — particularly the Vatican, most African states, and Muslim-majority states — may react. You could call it the Anglican church precedent: rock the boat and you create problems. That’s a fallacy, of course — it hasn’t been the case for other countries that have given same-sex spouses full rights and benefits — and it’s allowing diplomacy to mask discrimination.

Lest you think that these are a minor issues, remember this: until the Clinton Administration, one of the questions on the security clearance questionnaire was whether you had ever engaged in “homosexual activity.” Some very talented people over the years have been excluded from the foreign service or drummed out simply because they were gay. Don’t forget that the red hunts of the 1950s were also used to fire gay foreign service officers because they were viewed as somehow more “susceptible” to recruitment.

Some of his commenters were concerned with "forced outings" and being "too gay" in the Department. As you know, I would be hard pressed to be more out at the Department. I joined because my partner was in the service, and I was out from my first security interview. We are an "unofficial tandem," and have been posted together overseas and domestically. Her picture is on my desk. My name has been in the press over this issue. As I told my security interviewer, everybody knows. My family knows, my friends know, my congressman knows, and people on the street figure it out.

I think it is important that everyone knows for several reasons. First, I am too damned old and have been out for too long to go back into the closet. And I think being out helps the gay rights movement as much as any march, because people who know that someone they care about is gay or lesbian are less likely to want to discriminate against us (many people in my family are conservative Republicans who believe in gay marriage because they believe in MY right to marry). But I also see the point that being in the closet is a security risk. There are places that we serve in the foreign service where they are looking for any vulnerability they can exploit to force us to reveal things we are charged with protecting. I am out because I never what to be vulnerable to blackmail.

Of course, all of this ignores the security risk that the Department CREATES with discriminatory policies. The Department doesn't give diplomatic protections to opposite sex spouses because the folks there are such nice guys. They do it to protect the diplomat. We don't want a foreign government being able to get at a diplomat by picking up and holding their spouse. But that is the danger we put our LGBT employees in by not giving their spouses diplomatic protections. It was a danger I was keenly aware of when I was a member of household while my partner served in a former Soviet country. And that is one of the reasons I did not live there full time during her tour.

I am cautiously optimistic that Secretary Clinton will make things more equitable, and not just because she has been a long-time friend to the LGBT community. She wants to strengthen the Department, and a move that lets us compete against business for the best and brightest, improves morale, and reduces security threats is a big step in that direction.

1 comment:

Jay said...

Great post! My Partner and I are revisiting the idea of my pursuit of a career in the Foreign Service. Domestic Partner benefits would be key to making this a realistic possibility for us. Thanks so much for the insight into your own personal experience. I found your guidance on being Out from "day one" very encouraging.