Friday, April 03, 2009

Washington Blade: Obama asked to appoint gays to ambassador posts

From today's Washington Blade:

Obama asked to appoint gays to ambassador posts
LGBT appointments group says gays are among list of contenders

The Obama administration may be considering as many as three openly gay candidates for nomination as a U.S. ambassador to a foreign country, according to an official with the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute.

George Walker, the institute’s vice president of leadership initiatives, said his organization’s Presidential Appointments Project is calling on the administration to consider appointing qualified, openly LGBT candidates for a wide range of government jobs, including ambassadorial positions.

“I hear there’s a few applicants and they’re all political,” Walker said in discussing possible LGBT ambassadorial appointments. “I can’t disclose any names and I don’t know where they stand.”

Walker was referring to the approximately 30 percent of ambassadorial appointments that traditionally go to people who are not career U.S. Foreign Service officers. Often referred to as “non-career” or “political” appointments, people who fall into this category often are longtime political allies of the president or major party donors.

Only two out gays have served as a U.S. ambassador. President Bill Clinton appointed San Francisco philanthropist and Democratic Party activist James Hormel as ambassador to Luxemburg. President George W. Bush appointed career Foreign Service Officer Michael Guest as ambassador to Romania.

At the time they were nominated, gay activists and independent political observers described Hormel and Guest as highly qualified for the positions. Hormel, an attorney and successful businessman, had served in a United Nations-related position prior to his nomination and was said to be knowledgeable in foreign affairs.

Guest had a distinguished career as a Foreign Service officer in a number of countries in Europe and other locations at the time of his nomination.

Guest, who was an active Obama supporter during last year’s presidential campaign, said this week that he is not interested in an administration position of any kind at this time.

State Department spokesperson Noel Clay said the State Department always defers to the White House about media inquires related to ambassadorial nominations. White House spokesperson Shin Inouye said the White House never comments on administration appointments until they are officially announced.

Records posted on the White House web site and information available from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which approves nominations for ambassador posts, show that Obama has submitted nominations for five ambassadors. Among them are ambassadors to the United Nations, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ireland, plus the Ambassador At-Large for Global Women’s Issues.

None of those appointments went to an LGBT person, according to activists familiar with the appointment process.

Sources familiar with the administration have said a flurry of ambassadorial nominations are expected to be issued by the White House within the next several weeks and one or more LGBT appointees could be picked.

Hormel and Guest were subjected to some criticism because of their sexual orientation. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) denounced Hormel as a representative of homosexual “special interests” and took steps to block his nomination in the Senate. Clinton eventually took the unusual step of using his authority to appoint Hormel as ambassador when Congress was in recess.

The Senate approved Guest’s nomination after his sexual orientation did not surface in his confirmation hearing or at the time the full Senate voted to approve him. However, Guest came under attack from one or two conservative groups in Romania, which made an issue of his sexual orientation.

The Romanian government ignored the attacks and praised his work in advancing U.S. efforts to help the country’s economic development programs. The Washington Times reported in 2003 that Guest’s sexual orientation might have prompted the Bush White House to cut short his tenure as Romanian ambassador. But Guest and the State Department, which praised Guest’s accomplishments, insisted he had completed his scheduled two-year term as ambassador and was slated for a new assignment.

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