Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The bidding deadline has been extended until October 13 because the promotion lists are so late getting out.


Because the torture of waiting is so much fun, we should prolong it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fortress embassies

Is it just me, or is there irony in a Bush political appointee critisizing the "fortress embassies" that were developed by the Bush administration following 9/11?

US diplomat: post-9/11 embassies too fortress-like

WARSAW, Poland – The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Poland criticized the "fortress-like" feel of American embassies built since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, saying Thursday that some are excessively expensive and send an unfriendly message to non-Americans.

Victor Ashe is calling on U.S. authorities to reassess policies put in place after 9/11, which require equally tight security standards in both hot spots and places deemed much safer. He said there should not be a "one size fits all" approach.

"The type of embassy you might build in Pakistan has a different set of security needs — which in that case would be substantial — than an embassy you might build in Reykjavik, Iceland, or in Warsaw, Poland," Ashe told The Associated Press.

Ashe was appointed by former U.S. President George W. Bush in 2004 and is in his final week as ambassador to Poland. He will be succeeded by Lee Feinstein, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's national security adviser during her presidential campaign. Feinstein was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.

Ashe made his argument in a newsletter sent out to more than 7,000 people this week — unusually outspoken statements for a diplomat still in office. He said they were "personal observations which reflect only my own views."

After 9/11, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell launched a massive effort to speed up the construction of new U.S. embassies and ensure they conformed with enhanced security requirements. One example of those requirements is that embassies be set back at least 100 feet (30 meters) from city streets on all four sides.

Ashe said that if those standards are kept for all new embassies, it would make it either very expensive or simply impossible to find real estate in most city centers. That already has pushed many embassies to suburbs, making matters difficult for both visitors and diplomats.

"The cost to the taxpayers if these standards are implemented worldwide will be huge," Ashe wrote. "The design of many of these buildings quite often creates a fortress-like atmosphere and the impression given to host nations can be less than friendly; not the warm, welcoming impression we should offer as Americans."
The situation in Britain's capital is a good example.

Its U.S. Embassy will be moved from the leafy, upmarket Mayfair district of central London to a safer building in a less prestigious neighborhood south of the River Thames. The move, announced in 2008, is part of American efforts to improve the safety of its staff.

It would have cost more than $600 million to renovate and upgrade the embassy's current concrete and glass building in Grosvenor Square, and even then it would not have met security standards without obstructing traffic in surrounding streets.

Residents living near the embassy will be happy to see it go. They have complained in the past about the temporary concrete blast barriers and other security measures introduced around the building after the 9/11 attacks.

Ashe also called for more importance to be put on architectural esthetics, saying he objects to the tiny windows of new embassies that add to their fortress look.

"An embassy should be a handsome building that reflects the best of the United States," he said. "They should reflect our hopes and our aspirations, not our fears."
The U.S. Embassy is Warsaw is widely considered an eyesore.

The American government in the 1960s tore down what Ashe called a "beautiful historic residence" — one of the few to survive World War II — to make room a functional-looking glass and steel structure.

"Our architecture has not set a good example in the historic neighborhood where we are," Ashe said.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Russian Smear Campaign

This is another example of the indignities we face to serve our country.

US Protests Russian 'Sex Tape' Used to Smear American Diplomat

I don't know Kyle, but I do know people who have worked with him. He was described to me as efficient, dependable, hardworking and nice. And very good at his job as the human-rights officer in Moscow. So it doesn't surprise me that he was targetted by them. The Russians are very good at what they do.

All of us have stories of being followed, of having our apartments bugged or searched. Some have stories of attempts to be blackmailed. Most never make the media. The difference here is that Kyle was followed BEFORE he was a diplomat. And when he refused to be blackmailed because the tape was fake, the Russians put in on the internet. To try to ruin his life.

This is he reward for doing a good job serving his country.

I am glad we are standing behind him. It would be painful to be in his place, and we all know how easy it would be to be in his place if we served in the wrong place at the right time, even if, as Ambassador Beyrle said of Kyle, we had done absolutely nothing wrong.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

WAY off topic

I hope you'll forgive me for venturing completely off topic, but I have worked at this site, and the Indians who lived here are the ancestors of my tribe. It is a pretty cool site, and the folks who work on it every year are the best! And kudos to Erika for setting up the exhibit.

Museum to highlight archaeological dig site

HARTSVILLE, SC (WMBF) - The Hartsville Museum has announced plans for an October exhibit that promises visitors a glimpse into the lives of those who once lived and worked at The Johannes Kolb archaeological dig site.

"We Were Here: Archaeology of the Johannes Kolb Site" will open to visitors on Oct. 1 and is expected to run until Nov. 14. The Johannes Kolb site, an archaeological dig located in Mechanicsville, is named for a German immigrant who settled there in 1737. Archaeological excavations have uncovered objects spanning from 12,000 B.C. up to the early 20th century.

Within the upcoming exhibit, visitors will be able to see things like Native American stone tools, some of the oldest pottery in North America, historic pottery and household items such as an engraved silver spoon, scissors, cufflinks, and nails, and other objects that were made/purchased, and eventually lost by people of the past.

There will also be a short looping film featuring primitive technologists demonstrating how some of the Native American tools were used and made.

The exhibit was created and developed by Erika Shofner, a Masters student at the University of South Carolina Anthropology Department as part of her thesis project. Erika's research focus is in archaeological public outreach and using archaeology as a teaching tool in the K-12 classroom.

For more information, visit hartsvillemuseum.org.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

GAO report finds State Department language skills dangerously lacking

Josh Rogin at The Cable discusses an upcoming GAO report on the lack of language skills among State Department personnel: Exclusive: GAO report finds State Department language skills dangerously lacking

The numbers are scary. More than a third of officers in language designated posts to not meet the language requirements for their positions

Rosin reports: "In the warzones, the problem is much more pronounced. Thirty-three of 45 officers in language-designated positions in Afghanistan, or 73 percent, didn't meet the requirement. In Iraq, 8 of 14 officers or 57 percent lacked sufficient language skills. Deficiencies in what GAO calls "supercritical" languages, such as Arabic and Chinese, were 39 percent.

Forty-three percent of officers in Arabic language-designated positions do not meet the requirements of their positions, nor do 66 percent of officers in Dari positions, 50 percent in Urdu (two languages widely spoken in South Asia), or 38 percent in Farsi (which is mostly spoken in Iran)."

And it is easy to see why that is a problem. A telling example was relayed to us during area studies for the Levant. At one point, a diplomat was having a discussion with the then PM of Israel when Sharon comes barrelling into the room yelling in Hebrew. The diplomat did not speak Hebrew...Sharon, seeing him, apologized, and then proceeded, more calmly and in Hebrew, to explain to the Prime Minister that they had just begun an attack. The diplomat was none the wiser.

So I get it. I would not want to go to post without language. and yet, I also get why. We are a small service (remember, there are more musicians in the Army than diplomats in the State Department), and we are generalists. We go all over. Language training generally lasts 1-2 years, and we don't have sufficient numbers for a training float, so it is hard to alot enough time for each person to get the language they need before going to post. The option is to leave positions unfilled (which we also have to do...most posts are staffed at about 70%).

The answer is to do what State is trying to do. They are trying to bring in people with critical languages (and have been for the past 6 years, offering candidates for the service a substantial boost to their oral assessment score if they pass a test in one of those languages). The second part of that equation is that we need more bodies and the number of people we have is controlled by Congress. So while they have recently given us more numbers, we are still trying to recover from the Clinton years, where we hired at below the number of attrition. we made headway in that under Secretary Powell's Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, but that headway was lost with the openning of the massive Embassy in Iraq and now the "civilian surge" in Afghanistan.

I love learning language. Given the time, I am happy to learn any language you want me to. But we have to have the people to allow it, and diplomacy can't wait until we get them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Repeal DOMA Now!

I know this is off the topic of the Foreign Service, but if you have read more than two entries on this blog, you know how much this matters to me.

You can use this link to urge your representative to sign on to the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Please sign it and please pass it on. Because my marriage counts too.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Envoys Hesitate To Report Bad News

My boss told me last night that this was coming out. Since I am one of the only FSOs in our office, he asked me what I thought. I told him that it is certainly sometimes true, particularly under the previous administration. (Like all things Foreign Service, the answer is "it depends.") I think I helped him shape his response.

EXCLUSIVE: Envoys Hesitate To Report Bad News
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Washington Times
By Nicholas Kralev

U.S. embassies are discouraging or suppressing negative reports to Washington about U.S. allies, sometimes depriving officials of information they need to make good policy decisions, current and former diplomats say.

One diplomat told The Washington Times that he has decided to resign in part because of frustration with "rampant self-censorship" by Foreign Service officers and their superiors that has gone so far as to ban "bad news" cables from countries that are friendly with the United States.

The diplomat, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution against himself and colleagues, said that, in one instance under the George W. Bush administration, an embassy in the Middle East did not report local government interference in elections. Senior management censored accounts of low morale at another Middle East mission that had been the target of terrorist attacks, he said.

More than a dozen diplomats serving in Washington and abroad told The Times that they agreed with most of the officer's critique, and that the censorship has continued to a lesser extent in the Obama administration. All asked not to be named to avoid retribution.

Thomas R. Pickering, a career diplomat for more than 40 years who rose to be undersecretary of state for political affairs under the Clinton administration, said the criticism is "well worth paying attention to."

"What worries me - and I have heard it before - is the expectation that reporting has to be tempered to fit the expectations and not the realities. This is dangerous and unprofessional and worse," Mr. Pickering said. "Some of it always existed and it was not confined to the political ambassadors alone, but it was more their expectation than among the pros. That is obviously now changing."

Current and former Foreign Service officers said the censorship reached a peak during the Bush administration. They attributed its continuation to a risk-averse institutional culture.

"Even in highly classified cables, people in the [Foreign Service] are very careful not to speak negatively about their host country," said the diplomat, who is resigning after three overseas assignments.

His ambassador declined to comment for this article. The officer has received consistently good evaluations, including a recent cable praising his work from the assistant secretary of state responsible for the region where he is serving.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that a cable "represents the view of the chief of mission" who signs it, and that he or she therefore has ultimate responsibility for its content. That gives the top diplomat the power to edit a draft written by a lower-ranking officer.

Still, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton "appreciates those in the department who give her their honest assessment, and so does the administration," Mr. Crowley said.

In the Bush administration, he added, "there were various people with shortcuts around the interagency process, and the president didn't always get the best policy advice. This administration values all and different points of view."

"There may be a temptation to put a particular spin on a reporting cable, but the risk for a post is being seen as out of touch, because the department has other sources of information," he said.

Mr. Pickering noted that officers do have another outlet for their critical reporting: e-mails, which do not need clearance.

However, unlike a diplomatic cable, an e-mail is not an official document and is not read by the wide circle of policymakers.

"Unfortunately, the e-mail may get out, but it doesn't get widely seen and is not thus of policy significance and influence in the Washington reading community," he said.

The resigning officer said that, during one of his tours, his ambassador, a political appointee of President Bush, "flat out banned any 'bad-news' cables, and made it known at all levels that we were only to produce 'good-news stories' about our [host] country," a U.S. ally.

The officer said he had written "several cables critical of senior leaders" in his host country and about "interference by the government in the electoral process," but many of them "were either quashed or radically altered."

On the other hand, he said, negative cables are common regarding countries with strained relations with Washington, such as Burma, Zimbabwe and Venezuela.

Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the diplomats union, pointed out that the State Department has a dissent channel, through which officers can express disagreements with policy or other issues. However, there seems to be a widespread perception in the Foreign Service that the channel is almost "moribund," she said.

"People don't seem to believe in it anymore," Ms. Johnson said. "Having a functioning dissent process is vital for the health of the system and our foreign policy, and AFSA strongly supports it."

She said that AFSA has been struggling to find nominees for some of its annual dissent awards in recent years. As her organization's new president, she said, one of her missions will be "revitalizing dissent."

Several officers said that channel has been used few times because of the impression that the Bush administration did not welcome dissent.

Francis J. Ricciardone, deputy chief of mission in Afghanistan and a former ambassador to Egypt and the Philippines, said that his 31-year experience in the Foreign Service "may be unusual, but in any case it has not resembled what" the resigning officer described.

"Self-censorship most often is precisely that - self-imposed, from within oneself, not the larger organization," Mr. Ricciardone said.

"There have been a good many play-it-safe colleagues along the way, but I guess I have been lucky to serve with intellectually restless people of great integrity - and humor - who have known and shown me the art of pushing different thinking through exasperating bureaucracies, the fog of political correctness and, at times, doctrinaire self-delusion," he said.

Patricia Kushlis, a former career diplomat who now writes a blog on foreign affairs, WhirledView (http://whirledview.typepad.com), said that censorship "comes with a stultified bureaucracy and a [State] Department afraid to rock the boat for a variety of reasons - some good, others not."

"There were always legal ways around the system if one looks, and that's the hallmark of a good bureaucrat. Possibilities include e-mail, letters, telephone and simply briefing trusted journalists on deep background," she said.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Draft rule opens long-term care, leave programs to domestic partners

Found this today in Government Executive.

Draft rule opens long-term care, leave programs to domestic partners
By Alyssa Rosenberg

Citing changing demands on families and the need to recognize diversity, the Office of Personnel Management proposed regulations on Monday opening up the long-term care insurance program and certain leave programs to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian federal employees.

"With America's changing demographics and socioeconomic trends, employees have increasing personal needs and family care obligations," Jerome Mikowicz, deputy associate director at OPM's Center for Pay and Leave Administration, wrote in the draft leave regulation. "OPM believes it is important to address the needs of a more diverse workforce. By ensuring consistent policies within the federal government we set an example as the model employer of a diverse workforce."

The draft regulations implement President Obama's June 17 memorandum expanding benefits available to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian federal employees. In that memo, Obama also directed OPM to oversee agency-by-agency reviews of policies that could have disparate impacts on gay and lesbian federal employees. The results of those reviews are due to chief human capital officers on Sept. 15.

The proposed long-term care regulation would add same-sex domestic partners to the list of relatives eligible to enroll in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program. Currently, that list includes spouses of heterosexual federal employees; their parents, step-parents or parents-in-law; and their adult biological, step or adoptive children.

The draft leave regulation would allow gay and lesbian employees to take sick, voluntary or emergency leave to care for domestic partners, and would define domestic partners as "immediate relatives" under the rules for taking leave for funerals.

Neither regulation would provide access to these benefits for heterosexual domestic partners of federal employees.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees union, praised the regulations, but said she still would like to see Congress pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. President Obama has said without that legislation, his administration cannot give the partners of gay and lesbian federal employees access to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Obama has endorsed passage of the bill and supports a repeal of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from treating same-sex relationships the same way as heterosexual marriages.

Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal GLOBE, an affinity group for gay and lesbian federal employees, said OPM was doing the right thing in conducting a detailed agency-by-agency review of other policies affecting gay employees. Such a review is necessary, he said, because authorization and appropriations laws have imposed a patchwork of restrictions on agencies, and OPM needs a clearer picture of existing regulations before it can adopt strong governmentwide policies on issues such as relocation benefits.

"These are big issues that have to be thought through and worked through," Hirsch said. "It's a lot more complicated than it appears in common parlance."

Comments on both regulations are due by Nov. 13, and can be submitted at Regulations.gov. Comments on the long-term care regulation also can be mailed to:

John Cutler, Senior Policy Analyst, Insurance Policy Group
Strategic Human Resources Policy, Office of Personnel Management
1900 E Street, N.W., Room 3415
Washington, D.C. 20415
Comments on the leave regulation can be mailed to:

Jermoe D. Mikowicz, Deputy Associate Director
Center for Pay and Leave Administration
Office of Personnel Management, Room 7H31
900 E Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 02415

Responsibility for the ArmorGroup fiasco

I read in the Washington Post this morning a brief blurb that Under Secretary for Managemant Patrick Kennedy took responsibility for the lack of oversight of the ArmorGroup at Camp Sullivan.

Let me just say that in all my dealings with U/S Kennedy, he has been one of the most competent, professional, efficient, and NICE people I have worked with in the Department. And honest. He has had several opportunities to "blow hot air up my skirt" and never did. He tells you like it is.

So it doesn't surprise me to see him take rresponsibility, because he does manage, on a grand scale, both Diplomatic Security and the use of resources.

But he isn't the one who wasn't paying attention. I sincerely hope this doesn'y hurt him, because the Department needs him. There are some who should lose their jobs, but he isn't one of them.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Another Thing I Hate About Bidding

I don't have children. I don't plan to.

I have animals. Together, my partner and I have two cats, a dog and a bird. These are as close to having children as I plan to come.

Another kink in bidding is whether a country permits you to bring pets. For example, Cairo has positions that would work for both of us. But because of bird flu, they don't allow birds of any kind to be brought into the country.

So my African Grey could not come.

For me, that is a deal breaker. I have had her for 13 years, since she was four months old. I got her one month after my mother died.

She is my baby.

We give up a lot to be in the Foreign Service. We miss our nieces and nephews growing up. We miss precious time with our extended families. Milestones, birth, deaths and marriages, are the stuff of emails, not memories.

We shouldn't give up everything. In fact, I would argue that being willing to give up everything means you have a commitment to nothing. And I think that makes for a worse, not better, FSO.

So I am not bidding on Cairo.

The ArmorGroup Issue

I had not planned to discuss the ArmorGroup issue here. For those who haven't heard (though I think you'd have to be living under a very large rock not to), there are serious allegations of misconduct on the part of ArmorGroup, the contracting firm that handles security at our embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Among other things, they are accused of hazing, being seriously understaffed, and of having language deficiencies among their staff. There are pictures from a party where the men are in various states of undress being pretty vulgar. There are charges that prostitutes were there as well, and even some allegations of human trafficking.

My boss said it made him embarrassed to be male. If I were male, I'd be embarrassed too.

Of course, there are additional charges as well, such as a charge of a lack of oversight on the part of the State Department.

A Sunday Washington Post article was particularly critical on the last point, especially given the issues with Blackwater a few years ago.

I don't defend the action of the folks in ArmorGroup at all. It was disgusting. And the nature of their vulgarity will cause many a wingnut to say that this was about homosexuality. But these guys are all straight. I'm not clear on why straight men feel the need to get drunk, get naked and feign sex with each other.

What I do want to say though, is that they are NOT representative of all contractors. I worked with contractors from two different companies while in Jerusalem. I found them to be very professional and I was happy to have them there. They kept us safe, never mistreated or disrespected any of the local staff or local community, and were never outrageous in their behavior. I was happy to have them there protecting me.

So the incident with ArmorGroup saddens me. We need these contractors because Diplomatic Security is not large enough to provide the kind of protection we need and the military is far too overstretched to do it.

And it makes the really well-trained, professional security folks look bad.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Maybe I Should Bid On Uruguay

...where I would have more rights than I do in the States:

Uruguay passes same-sex adoption law

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (CNN) -- Uruguay became the first Latin American country to allow same-sex couples to adopt children after the Senate voted to approve a bill modifying the country's adoption statute.

"It is a right for the boys and the girls, not a right for the adults," Sen. Margarita Percovich said after the vote on Wednesday. "It streamlines the adoption process and does not discriminate."

The expected Senate approval followed the lower chamber of Congress' passage of the bill last month.

The law will pave the way for gays and lesbians to start a family, Daniel Alonso, a resident of the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, told CNN.

"You have plans to form a family, to adopt. When you have a law that protects you, it makes you want to have a child," he said. "You feel part of society."

The adoption measure would be the most recent of progressive laws passed with the backing of President Tabare Vazquez.

Last year, lawmakers approved a measure allowing children aged 12 or older to change their names, a measure aimed at transgender or transsexual youths.

Uruguay also authorized same-sex civil unions last year, setting the stage for the current adoption law.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Public Diplomacy Front Line Working Group

Mountain Runner has this today:

Public Diplomacy Front Line Working Group, WHITE PAPER, "Public Diplomacy: A View from the Front Line," June 8, 2009. In this online statement, ten mid-level U.S. Foreign Service Officers "with no institutional memory of the U.S. Information Agency," provide recommendations to their senior leadership on ways to empower, integrate, and equip "a new generation of public diplomacy officers." Their white paper values field cooperation with embassy political and economic officers, networks with partners in other governments and civil society, embedding public diplomacy officers in the State Department's regional bureaus and policy process, technological and media savvy, restoration of USIA's Junior Officer training program, mid-level expanded training, and graduate-level education opportunities in public diplomacy and related fields at civilian universities.

The group has a Facebook page outlining their recommendations. I know several of the members of the working group (to say nothing of the number of its "fans" that I know), and they are a solid bunch. That such a working group and white paper should originate with them comes as no surprise to me.

Friday, September 04, 2009

But Is It The Best Place To Finish?

Good news for The State Department on the HR front:

BusinessWeek Ranks Department of State #5 Best Place to Launch a Career: The Department ranked at the top among federal agencies and #5 among all employers as one of the best places to begin a career. With an increase from #12 last year to #5 this year, BusinessWeek ranked the Department in the Top 20 for the fourth consecutive year. The ranking is based on a three-part methodology that includes combined survey data from careers services directors, undergraduate students, and employers.

I wonder if the new benefits for LGBT Foreign Service families helped improve our numbers. They say that offering partner benefits increases morale all around as people view a workplace as one that is fair and cares about its employees.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

As Promised

The new issue of the Foreign Service Journal is now online. Below is Selim's letter and the Journal's response.

Don’t Publish Hate Mail

I am writing to object to your decision to publish the letter from retired FSO Richard Hoover (“Don’t Encourage Them!”) that appeared in your July-August issue.

When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took office in January, 2,200 current and former employees of foreign affairs agencies presented her with a letter asking that they be “treated equally and with the same respect,” regardless of sexual
orientation. What made this document truly historic was the gay-straight alliance formed in the workplace: 92 percent of the signatories did not have a Member of Household, meaning they were either single or married to someone of the opposite gender.

Wherever U.S. diplomats are posted overseas, we showcase to host communities an example of successful integration: different races, different religions, different ages and different sexual orientations working together effectively. The men and women of our Foreign Service truly believe in the very American value of “E Pluribus

Promotion of diversity is not a Republican value or a Democratic value; it is an American value. When President Ronald Reagan selected Edward Perkins as ambassador to South Africa, he did not worry that the appointment of an African-American would be “unacceptable,” as Mr. Hoover puts it, to the apartheid government. When Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama chose their respective Secretaries of State, they did not fear that sending a woman overseas might “project controversial views.” And last November’s results show that when we elected our first
African-American president, most voters did not think that installing a minority
candidate as head of state would “serve to undermine our work abroad.”

Today I woke up to my alarm clock, ate some cereal, drove to work, wrote a report and attended some meetings. On my way home, I will purchase milk and fruit. Later, I will make a phone call to my partner, who is unable to join me at this post. It is unclear which of these are the “habits” that Mr. Hoover claims are “unacceptable
to most American taxpayers.”

The State Department does not respect host-country biases when it assigns lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender staff to overseas posts, any more than it respects host-country biases concerning gender, race or religion. Today’s Foreign Service shows
the diversity of our nation better than ever before. From Khartoum to Kabul, our LGBT staff are proudly volunteering to serve their country. Wherever they are assigned, they — and their straight colleagues — are showing how diverse groups of Americans work side by side to advance freedom and basic human rights for all.

I cannot imagine that any other minority group would have to open the Foreign Service Journal to see letters that call on the department not to hire “greater numbers of those.” I would ask that from this day forward, there should similarly be no room in the Journal for such hurtful words towards LGBT staff.

Selim Ariturk
Economic Officer
Embassy Baku

Editor’s Note: We respectfully disagree with Mr. Ariturk’s assertion thatwe published hate mail. When an AFSA member submits a letter responding to an item in the FSJ — in this case, a May Speaking Out column that strongly advocated fair treatment for LGBT Foreign Service employees and their partners — our normal policy
is to publish it (subject to editing, of course).

Further, as our masthead (p. 4) in each issue states:“Material appearing herein represents the opinions of the writers, and does not necessarily represent
the views of the Journal, the Editorial Board or AFSA.”

Digger comments:
For the record, my feelings on publishing this letter stand. It was the wrong decision. It is one I hope AFSA gives some thought to, as they are the governing board of the journal. I am aware too that this was not the only letter criticizing the Journal's decision to publish Hoover's letter, and I find it interesting that they only published one and didn't mention that it was not the only one. Of course, I also know they initially tried to edit Selim's letter to remove the criticism of the Journal and make it only about Hoover's letter.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Response to the Dinosaur

You might remember back in July, I wrote a post about Richard Hoover's letter to the Foreign Service Journal. In his letter, entitled Don't Encourage Them!, retired FSO Hoover, responding to a May 2009 "Speaking Out" column asking the Secretary to address inequities faced by LGBT Foreign Service families, said that the "sweeping shopping list will produce greater numbers of those whose habits are unacceptable to most American taxpayers, and perhaps more significantly, to the religions and cultures of most of the cultures in which we operate....In my view, the issue is not one of equality and fairness. The issue turns on what is fair for the Foreign Service, what best enables it to accomplish its mission.And that depends, in large part, on building relationships and projecting values."

Selim Ariturk has a response in the current Foreign Service Journal, which is unfortunately not yet available online. I received my copy in the mail yesterday. It is a well written response asking that the FSJ not publish such hate mail in the future. There is an editorial reply that they disagree that it is hate mail and that they routinely publish responses to features in the journal, such as the one Mr. Hoover was responding to. They added that their masthead states that letters do not neccessarily reflect the views of the Journal or its staff.

While I have no doubt that is true (I know members of the staff and am CERTAIN they disagree with Mr. Hoover), I also know they would not publish a similar letter about any other minority. Can you imagine, for example, that someone who had responded to the May 2009 column by saying, "Don't offer more benefits to encourage gays and lesbians to join. We already spend enough on all those Mormons who have joined, and we all know that most of the world objects to Mormonism." That could be true, much like many in the world object to gays and lesbians. We know that there are many places in the world where Mormonism, like homosexuality, is illegal. And even those who argue sexuality is a choice (it isn't) would also have to agree that religion too is a choice.

But that isn't what we are about. Discrimination is not one of OUR values, and part of why we serve overseas is to demonstrate OUR values, not absorb the values of others. So we send Mormons and LGBT folks to places where their very existence is a crime, because WE value diversity and freedom. We send women to places where women cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot be seen. Because WE value equality.

This is why I am proud to serve, and proud to serve as an out lesbian.

But to the point of the FSJ letter, had it been written discouraging more women or Mormons to join, it wouldn't have been printed. Because we know that kind of discrimination is wrong. The FSJ should recognize that this kind of discrimination against gays and lesbians is also wrong, and I don't want my dues to pay to print it. Especially not when I am still actively serving.

I am glad they published Selim's letter, which I hope to get a copy of for you soon. And I am glad dinosaurs like Hoover are part of our past and not our present. I hope the idea that we must publish letters calling for discrimination will soon be part of the Foreign Service Journal's past as well.