Saturday, October 31, 2009

Better answers for Afghanistan

The following letter to the editor in today's Washington post demonstrates a very different attitude than that of Matthew Hoh and is seems to be from the kind of person I would like to have as a fellow Foreign Service Officer.

Better answers for Afghanistan

I agree with many of former Foreign Service officer Matthew Hoh's criticisms of the international effort in Afghanistan ["U.S. official resigns over Afghan war," front page, Oct. 27], particularly our failures to demand that the Afghan government address corruption and, relatedly, to give non-ideological insurgents incentives to stop planting roadside bombs. That said, I don't agree with Mr. Hoh that there is nothing here worth fighting for.

Our divergent conclusions are no doubt the products of our experiences. Mr. Hoh watched close friends die in Iraq and was then assigned to Zabul, a province that can make Kandahar and Helmand look like Disney World. I watched close friends write textbooks in Palo Alto, Calif., and then volunteered for Kabul, a province where I am greeted at work every day by cheerful, 18- to 30-year-old Afghan men and women eager to bring peace, stability and, yes, even democracy to their troubled country.

Is my experience typical? No. But from what I understand, neither is Mr. Hoh's. Most of Afghanistan is still somewhere between the Kabul bubble and the Zabul blunder, skeptical of embracing foreign troops but loath to return to life under the Taliban.

It is this undecided majority that represents our ever-shrinking window of opportunity. If those people can be convinced that a democratic government is their best bet for a brighter future, a more stable Afghanistan and a more secure world seem achievable. If not, we will have wasted billions of dollars and thousands of lives. But we're not at that point yet. As long as the undecided majority remains undecided, there's some hope, some possibility and something here worth fighting for.

Benjamin Joseloff, Kabul
The writer is a fellow at the Afghanistan Legal Education Project.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Seen in "The Building"

Okay, so I thought I'd add a little levity to the blog (actually I have been thinking this for a while, every time I see something (someone) odd in the building. But since I am currently thinking that if I see one more reference to Matthew Hoh as a Foreign Service Officer, or even as a "rising star" or "top diplomat," my head might explode, I think now is a good time to start a semi-regular "Seen in 'The Building'" segment.

The State Department is a not a large agency by, oh, say, DOD standards, but we have a lot of people. I think there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 FSOs, about an equal number of Foreign Service Specialists, and lots and lots of Civil Servants, Foreign Service Nationals and contractors. So you know you are going to get some odd ducks. I know I am not the only person who has shaken her head and thought, "How did THAT person pass the oral assessment?" Like my wife's former boss, who's management style was tasking by post-it note. Speaking to people, not really his strong suit. REALLY not sure how he passed the oral assessment!

Okay, I suppose overseas living can make some normal people nutty. But how do you explain some of the folks that are in "The Building." By "The Building," I refer to the organic entity that most outsides call Main State or the Harry S. Truman Building. Sometimes I imagine that the folks inside are like blood cells navigating through the vessels (cooridors) carrying nutrients (paper) to the brain (the 7th floor). And some of those cells are misshapen!

Like in the elevator not long ago. There was a man, I'd guess by the fact that he was wearing jeans that he was a contractor. He was drinking diet Coke from a 2-liter bottle. But not just drinking. Chugging. For the whole trip.

It went like this: Chug, Chug Chug. Expel air in a hissing sound. BELCH LOUDLY.

Rinse. Repeat.

For the entire trip. Not just one or two floors. Like basement to 6th floor. Over and over. Without taking a break. Like he needed to finish the TWO-LITERS before he got off the elevator.

Lots of burps. Not one "excuse me." No hint of an acknowledgement that there were other people in the elevator.

Yep, some odd ducks in this building.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Protest at Embassy Managua

Apparently about 500 Nicaraguan Army soldiers and supporters are demonstrating in front of the American Embassy in Managua urging a halt in aid to anti- Sandinista guerrillas. Protestors have lobbed some small, improvised mortars and there is some minor damage to the compound from that and vandalism.

So far, there are no reports of any injuries to Embassy staff. I hope it continues to stay that way. This is just another reminder that Foreign Service work is dangerous no matter where you serve.

Stay safe folks. Our thoughts are with you.

Apparently Word Is Getting Out

From Abu Muqawama: Putting Matthew Hoh in Context and Asking Hard Questions of the Washington Post

I particularly like this part:

"Matt Hoh is NOT a Foreign Service Officer. This basic fact, central to the article and its headline, is wrong, despite the wording in his letter.

Matt is a "3161" State Department employee, a special category of temporary appointments brought on for 12 month assignments in certain areas of expertise-- engineering, ag, business, rule of law, etc. Some may sign on for a second 12-month tour.

This is a very different thing than being an FSO-- a commissioned, career diplomat who is a generalist and is appointed not as a result of an online job application and single interview (sometimes over the phone), but after a series of competitive oral, written, and physical exams.

Referring to Matt as a "U.S. Official" is about as accurate as referring to a postal employee as a U.S. official."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Explaining Hoh's Employment

A comment on yesterday's Washington Independent post about the resignation of civilian expert Matthew Hoh, a temporary employee of the State Department serving in Afghanistan, by Steve Donnelly, who served in a PRT in Iraq, explains Hoh's employment far better than I did. I have copied it below:

"For clarity, there is a federal provision, heavily used by OHRA & CPA and their successor agencies to staff Iraq reconstruction, under which certain critically needed people are specially appointed to the government for a limited period of time, not to exceed 3 years. The provision is 5 USC 3161, and the civilian experts and specially skilled appointees are typically referred to as 3161's.

They are neither contractors, because they have no contract, nor foreign service officers, because they are not in the foreign service. They are special federal appointees supposedly appointed based on their unique and critically needed skills.

One important provision of 5 USC 3161 is that the need for that specific appointee must be verified as a condition of the appointment.

Some head scratching may be warranted as to Hoh's special appointment under 3161 as a senior governance adviser in Afghanistan inasmuch as his work history indicates no background in local or provincial government operation that would, theoretically, serve as the basis for a 3161 special appointment as a Senior Governance Adviser.

My understanding is that State announced a few months ago that they would be filling the civilian expert staff positions in Afghanistan with military officers due to the treacherous nature of the operating environment. So, unlike Iraq, it is kind of a non-civilian civilian surge.

This instead of the actual civilian experts with substantive experience in local/provincial politics & governance, community engagement, and essential services who answered Ambassador Crocker's emergency call to Iraq in 2007/2008.

As one of the few dozen of senior civilian expert special appointees who left wife and life to answer Ambassador Crocker's call for a "Civilian Surge" in Iraq, I am proud of my service, and of the work that myself and a small contingent of actual civilian experts accomplished there.

There were plenty of challenges and frustrations, and especially with the US bureaucracy, experienced by city managers from Miami Beach, transportation engineers from Anaheim, and planners from Crofton, during our appointments and service; but the point was to work the problem.

There was no shortage of Iraqis who had lost family members to the US and had every personal reason to hate us, nor, according to SIGIR, were all of our US reconstruction efforts successful. But the civilians of both countries found common ground, begrudgingly or otherwise.

I have trouble with the idea that a special appointee, who volunteered to serve in a very difficult assignment, should quit so easily after four months, and pass up on abundant opportunities to accomplish his primary goals through some other means, whether at the Embassy, State or otherwise.

Just quitting, and tarring the system through the press is no way to get the mission he swore to pursue accomplished.

Moreover, for those relatives with civilians and military serving in harm's way, these kinds of personal opinions of currently serving federal employees, against the context of serious war-fighting, are particularly hard-felt.

I see on your blog references that Foreign Service Officers are distancing themselves from Hoh. For myself and my Iraq "civilian" surge colleagues, I can only make the same point---he was not a civilian expert in governance either.

Plenty of head-scratching to be done.

Steve Donnelly, AICP
Crofton, Maryland
Former Senior Urban Planning Adviser, Iraq (PRT, 2007/8)"

And this from State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly:

"Without minimizing the obvious passion and depth of feeling of Mr. Hoh in terms of his perception of the mission in Afghanistan, yes, I would draw a distinction between his situation and somebody who'd been in the foreign service and had a stake in the foreign service for 20 years or more."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Before The Inevitable Criticism Starts...

There is a story in today's Washington Post about Matthew Hoh, who is called a Foreign Service Officer, resigning in protest over the war in Afghanistan.

As soon as I heard a few days ago that this story was going to break, I had flashbacks to the whole directed assignments to Iraq debacle. The blogsosphere is already full of this story (google listed 164 hits in just the past 24 hours) and I am just waiting for the inevitable criticism to start: "Those Foreign Service Officers are just a bunch of cowards. They don't want to serve in dangerous places while our men and women in uniform are dying."

So for the record, he wasn't a Foreign Service Officer in the terms you think of. He was hired as a non-career, one-year renewable hire. He was one of those folks hired directly for his experience and expertise, the very kind many have said should be hired rather than the Department going through the time-consuming process of selecting generalists via the Foreign Service Officers Test (FSOT) selection process (which can take a year or more to navigate).

I am not saying we shouldn't make such hires. I have not yet served in Afghanistan, so I can't judge what he experienced or his analysis of it. But I can say that he is not someone who took the written and then oral exam, who went through A-100, who did a consular tour whether he was consular coned or not. So whether you agree or disagree with his motives and decisions, don't direct your praise or criticism at us. We are not one-year renewable hires. We are career officers.

Also for the record, the directed assignments debacle was nonsense from the start. The Department never needed to direct a single person to Iraq and Afghanistan because career officers have and continue to step up and serve in those and other dangerous posts. Of the 1,000 needed in Afghanistan, there are only 80 vacancies. The missions in Afghanistan and Iraq are the only missions staffed at close to 100% precisely because even though we are short-staffed, we are stepping up. Within a few years, it will be rare to find anyone in the Foreign Service who hasn't served in one of those places, many more than once.

Just saying.

State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly clarified for the press that Hoh was not a commissioned Foreign Service Officer. He said that while he does not want to diminish all of the personal sacrifices Hoh made both as a marine and during his four months as a non-career employee with the State Department, it was important to recognize the difference between his resignation and the resignations of Foreign Service Officers who had years invested in careers in the Department.

To date, he said, while there have been resignations of FSOs in protest over Iraq and Bosnia, NO Foreign Service Officers have resigned over Afghanistan.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

State Department Statement: They Came in Peace


Anniversary of Attack on U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the October 23, 1983 bombing of the United States Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The United States honors the sacrifices of the 241 American servicemen who lost their lives that day in service of their country while protecting the stability of Lebanon. The Marine barracks memorial on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut reads, “They came in peace.” So too have the troops of the current UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon come in peace. On this somber occasion, the United States also commends the brave men and women of that mission and of all international peacekeeping missions who work to protect civilians and prevent the outbreak of conflict.

GLIFAA Video Transcript

Just in case you can't play the video, here is the transcript that is on the Department's website.

Remarks to the Members of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA)

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC

On behalf of the Department of State and USAID, I want to congratulate the Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies on winning the Employee Resource Group of the Year Award by Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.

GLIFAA’s efforts with this Administration began when I received a letter signed by 2,200 employees, LGBT and straight, asking that they be treated equally and with the same respect. With recommendations from GLIFAA, we were able to quickly change the Department of State’s policy and provide benefits for same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers. And GLIFAA played a significant role in ensuring that other federal agencies followed suit. For more than 17 years, GLIFAA members have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the rights of the global LGBT community.

At the State Department, we are starting to track violence against the LGBT community globally. The United States supports the UN Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity, and condemns human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity wherever they occur.

Human rights abuses are crimes against all of us. And we must recommit ourselves to expanding the full circle of human dignity. And while we have made progress here, and even throughout the world, there is much more to be done. We must condemn violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and not tolerate men and women being persecuted, singled out, or even murdered.

I promise to continue to fight for a world in which all people live free from violence and fear, regardless of who they are or whom they love. Once again, congratulations for this wonderful award. Your advocacy has created a lasting legacy, and I look forward to our mutual efforts toward a more equitable world.

Thank you all very much.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Secretary Clinton Congratulates GLIFAA

Secretary Clinton congratulated GLIFAA in the video below for winning the Out and Equal employee resource group of the year. The video was played at GLIFAA's acceptance of the award in Orlando, Florida.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Letter to My Congressman

I wrote a letter to my congressman today, asking him to support the Respect for Marriage Act. Here is what I wrote:

Representative Price,

I am writing to ask that you support the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

My partner and I are residents of NC. We were married in our church, United Church of Chapel Hill, in 2002. We serve the country in the U.S. Foreign Service and are currently posted to Washington, DC.

Passage of this law would mean that we would not be serving our country as second class citizens. Much like African Americans who served this country during World War II while lacking fundamental rights at home, we are keeping faith with our country in the hopes that one day, it will keep faith with us. But as it stands, states can use DOMA to not only not recognize a marriage legal in other states but to deny us the basic rights of visiting our partners while they are in the hospital or inheriting our own joint property should one of us die. DOMA means we, who are in a 10 year long committed marriage, are not entitled to more than 1,000 rights, priviledges and responsibilities afforded to those who marry on a whim simply because of who we love.

Please keep faith with us as we have with you and the country and support the Respect for Marriage Act.

Thank you

I encourage you to write your Congressman as well. You can find out where they stand here. Write them regardless of whether they are yes, no, or leaning in one direction or the other. Tell them you support fairness and equality. Tell them no American should be a second class citizen.

Madam, Where Are You?

I am a little late to the search, but I am joining in now. Madam le Consul of The Consul Files, where are you?

Diplopundit, one of my favorite FS blogs, first called the attention of the blogosphere that Madam le Consul was missing on October 7. At that point, she had been missing for 5 days.

It has now been 18 days.

Madam le Consul had a great blog, one written by, in her words, a "senior consular-coned officer who has served in 23 countries and Washington." Her words were always wise and her advice sound. And like me, she blogged anonymously. Though like No Double Standards at Calling a Spade a Spade, if you met me and had read this blog, you'd have to be pretty clueless not to know I was the author (that said, I recently learned that many assume I am male...a sexist assumption at best...because I blog and am a diplomat, I must be male? Really?).

There has been a surprising amount of discussion on this missing blog since October 7. Diplopundit has discussed it here and here. No Double Standards has discussed it here. posited that the State Department was responsible for "muzzling" the Madam. And that post has been picked up and spread as only the internet can.

I don't know why, or if, the Madam was forced to stop blogging. There are clearly LOTS of Foreign Service blogs. I list more than 100 (I've been too lazy to recount) on my blogroll alone, and I add new ones regularly. All of these blogs are written by Foreign Service Officers or their spouses. All offer a slice of Foreign Service life, and I hope they, like me, use them to try to convince people to join this profession. I think blogs are a great recruiting tool.

The problem is that the department is of two minds about blogs and can't decide really where to come down. Those of us in Public Diplomacy and HR recognize that blogs are great recruiting tools and should be encouraged, even if there is a bit of risk. But I'd argue the risk is minimal. Most of us steer very clear of discussing foreign policy issues. We all know who we work for and that part of what we signed up for was to publically agree with our foreign policy, regardless of who was in the White House.

Diplomatic Security has a different take. Blogs are outlets for the bad guys to get too much info from naive FSOs. I see their point. After a DS agent discussed my blog with me, I was a bit more cautious about how I blogged. I was a first-tour JO and hadn't thought about some of the issues he brought up. After my DPO later discussed the blog with me (and in this case, on an issue I disagreed with and refused to change), I went anonymous. I had begun my blog mainly as a way to update my family and it had morphed into something more anyway. I split the blog into two, one completely private for my family and one more public (this one, obviously).

I have never again been questioned about my blog, even though I know some very high level officials know it is mine (again, not terribly Assistant Secretary even thanked me for the kind words I said about him here. His wife had googled his name...).

So I don't know why Madam le Consul has disappeared. Because I have had officials "discuss" my blog with me, I can see how someone, talking a rigid approach to Department policy, might have asked her to end it or alter it. But I have also had positive feedback from high ranking officials about my blog specifically and blogging in general. That, combined with the shere number of FS blogs, makes me doubt she was "officially" forced to stop.

Madam le Consul's blog, to my mind, in no way stepped over any boundary. She made me remember the parts of consular work I liked, and I imagine, made the process more comprehendable to those outside the Department trying to navigate through it. She, like me, No Double Standards, and I suspect most other FSO bloggers, blog because we love this life.

I hope we find her. I hope she comes back.

Friday, October 16, 2009

EEO Award Goes to GLIFAA member

Each year, the Department gives and Equal Employment Opportunity award to a State Department employee for outstanding accomplishments in further the goals of the Department's EEO program. The GLIFAA board nominated Bob, who was not on the board at the time (but is the current president) for the work he did with the board as we worked with the Department's transition team and then with the Secretary's office on partner benefits.

This is not the first time a GLIFAA member has been nominated, but it is the first time a GLIFAA member has won.


1. The Department is pleased to announce the selection
of Mr. Robert S. Gilchrist, formerly assigned to the
Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, as the
recipient of the 2009 Equal Employment Opportunity

2. This annual award recognizes the outstanding
accomplishments (by a Foreign Service or a Civil Service
employee) in furthering the goals of the Departments
EEO program through exceptionally effective leadership,
skill, imagination, and innovation in extending and
promoting equal opportunities for all employees. The
award consists of a certificate signed by the Secretary
of State and $10,000.

3. The Selection Committee was chaired by John M.
Robinson, Director, Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) and
Chief Diversity Officer. Its members included Mr. Adam
E. Namm, Deputy Director, OBO; Ms. JoAnn E. Scandola,
Deputy Executive Director, S-ES/EX; and Ms. Jaqueline D.
Hill, Office Director, HR/CSHRM.

4. The Selection Committee chose Mr. Gilchrist for his
outstanding leadership in laying the groundwork for
improved personnel policies for the lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, and for his
commitment to an innovative equal opportunity policy
that is inclusive of sexual orientation, gender
identity, and gender expression at the Department of
State and all foreign affairs agencies.


7. The Department takes this opportunity to emphasize
the importance of the EEO Award, and to encourage
participation in future competitions for this
prestigious honor.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hearing held today on DPBO

The Senate had hearings today on the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. This act would mean a great deal to LGBT Foreign Service families, granting benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees such as health insurance coverage and pension inheritance. In particular, health care coverage for same-sex spouses is critical when the employee spouse is serving overseas and the partner may or may not have a job (this is true of heterosexual spouses as for spouses can be hard to come by).

The Human Rights Campaign's backstory has discussed the hearing here:

Capitol Hill Heads Up: Ryan White CARE & DP Benefits on Tap Today


...the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee chaired by Senator Lieberman will hold a hearing this morning on S. 1102, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. The bill would extend equal employment benefits to domestic partners of federal employees — something the President called for in June when signing his memorandum on federal employee benefits. The hearing begins at 10am in room 342 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building (a live stream will also be available). HRC President Joe Solmonese submitted written testimony [pdf].


Digger continues:

Also today, I got a copy of a letter from Susan Johnson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), our "union." Unlike last year, when all we could pry out of AFSA was a joint letter with GLIFAA supporting the "principles" of the legislation (but not the legislation itself), the newly elected board has given strong support for this bill.

I will get the text of that letter to you soon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Everywhere a Sign

Huffington Post had a great post today on all the signs at the National Equality March. My favorite was "I can't believe we still have to protest this crap."

You can check out the pictures here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Press Release on Out and Equal Award

Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release October 13, 2009

Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies Recognized

The Employee Affinity Group, Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), has been recognized as the 2009 Employee Resource Group of the Year by the non-profit organization Out and Equal Workplace Advocates.

Since 1992, GLIFAA has served as an officially-recognized employee organization representing the concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered personnel at the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign affairs agencies. In 2009, with GLIFAA’s recommendations, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton implemented changes in Department of State policy to extend key benefits to same sex partners of State Department personnel serving abroad.

Additional information about GLIFAA can be found at
# # #

Full National Equality NOW

I am really disappointed that I didn't get to attend the National Equality March on Sunday. It sounds like it was great, the kind of marches I remember from when I first came out in the mid-80s. We were angry and demanded equal treatment. But as tolerance increased, so did many marchers' apathy. "We still aren't equal, but at least most people don't try to kill us any more." Pride marches lately have seemed more like parties than protests. I am not saying there isn't a place for that, just that we need some young blood and good old fashioned activism.

But I had to do to see my grandmother, who is very ill. My wife did march, however, along with a contengient from GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies) that included some newly minted Foreign Service Officers. New blood. Good old fashioned activism. It makes me really happy.

I know the GLIFAA folks took some shots in front of the White House, and I'll try to post them when I can.
The Washington Post had a nice editorial today calling for leadership from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on addressing our issues. There are those who say that those of us calling for full equality now are not as politically aware as those who were present for the President's talk at HRC. But I can assure you, my voice is in there calling for FULL EQUALITY NOW, and I also assure you, as an FSO, I dare say I am at least as politically aware as anyone in the audience.

Leadership on Gay Rights
President Obama isn't the only one falling short.

FULL EQUALITY for gays and lesbians is the civil rights issue of our time. Men and women who want to preserve and protect the ideals of this nation are being booted from the military because of who they are. Same-sex couples who seek the recognition of their relationships that their heterosexual counterparts take for granted are denied the rights and responsibilities that come from civil marriage. Ending these and other forms of institutional discrimination based on sexual orientation requires leadership. Pity there's not enough of it coming from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

President Obama ran as a candidate of change. Perhaps no other community took that to heart more than the gay community. Mr. Obama promised to end "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which prohibits members of the military from serving if they are openly gay. He promised to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between a man and a woman and denies married same-sex couples more than 1,100 federal benefits available to opposite-sex couples. There's been no visible movement on either pledge.

As he has in the past, Mr. Obama said the right things on gay rights at last weekend's fundraising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign. "I'm here with you in that fight" for equality, he said. "For even as we face extraordinary challenges as a nation, we cannot -- and we will not -- put aside issues of basic equality." On gays in the military, Mr. Obama mentioned his discussions with the Pentagon, the legislation pending in Congress and stated plainly, "I will end 'don't ask, don't tell. That's my commitment to you." On repealing DOMA, the president said, "I believe strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away and passing laws that extend equal rights to gay couples."

Frustration with Mr. Obama and the lack of progress in fulfilling his pledges on gay rights were evident at Sunday's National Equality March. But why is he the only target? Overturning "don't ask, don't tell" and DOMA require legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have been content to sit on the sidelines while Mr. Obama takes the hits. This can't continue. Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid must exert the necessary leadership in their respective chambers to pass bills the president has promised to sign. Until then, they deserve as much criticism and blame as Mr. Obama for impeding the long march to equality.

Friday, October 09, 2009

ERG of the Year: GLIFAA!

Great (but not surprising) news:

Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) has been named Out and Equal Workplace Advocates' 2009 Employee Resource Group of the Year!

And of course we were. Can any other group lay claim to accomplishing as much as we did this year?

For those who don't know about GLIFAA, first, welcome to this blog. Since 1992, when President Clinton removed homosexuality as a bar to receiving a security clearance, GLIFAA has served as the officially-recognized employee organization representing the concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered personnel at the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign affairs agencies.

From the very begining, GLIFAA has consistently advocated for policy change. While steps were made along the way (most notably the Member of Household policy, which recognized same-sex partners for the first time and allowed partners to live in Embassy housing overseas, but not much else). In 2009, however, GLIFAA’s patient, persistent consultation with the Secretary of State helped create a major policy change to extend key benefits, such as family preference in employement, diplomatic passports, and access to the medical unit and evacuations while at post, to same-sex partners of Foreign Service personnel. It was a major step towards equality for LGBT Foreign Service families and we hope a move toward equal treatment for all federal employees and ultimately equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation.

Additional information about GLIFAA can be found at; more information on Out and Equal can be found at

Thursday, October 08, 2009

I Don't Want to Seem Ungrateful...

...that the President has selected openly gay appointee David Huebner for the Ambassadorship to New Zealand. It is another step, granted a baby step, but at least a step. (Next stop, repeal DOMA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Just a thought).

Even so, he is still picking yet another political appointee. There are plenty of well qualified LGBT Foreign Service Officers of a rank to be named Ambassador. Despite his campaign promise to recognize that the foreign service is a profession and that the number of political appointee ambassadors should be reduced from the historic average of 30%, he is on track to exceed that number by a significant amount. And as we know, while some of the political appointees are well qualified, lots are qualified only by the amount of their campaign contributions (this is true of the appointees of all administrations).

I am sure there are some non-military folks who are qualified to be Admirals and Generals, but we don't make political appointments to those positions.

At any rate, here is the WH Press release:

Office of the Press Secretary



October 7, 2009

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

WASHINGTON - Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key administration posts:

David Huebner, Ambassador to New Zealand and the Independent State of Samoa
David D. Nelson, Ambassador to the Oriental Republic of Uruguay

President Obama said, "I am confident that these individuals will represent our nation well in these important roles. I am grateful for their service and look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead."

President Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals today:

David Huebner, Nominee for Ambassador to New Zealand and the Independent State of Samoa David Huebner is the head of the China Practice and the International Disputes Practice at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, where he specializes in international arbitration and mediation. Currently based in Shanghai, he has significant experience handling disputes in the Pacific Rim region. Previously, he was a long-time partner and served as chairman at Coudert Brothers. While a resident in California, Mr. Huebner chaired the California Law Revision Commission, served as president of the Los Angeles Quality & Productivity Commission, and taught courses in international business and intellectual property at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law. He has also guest lectured on international topics at several schools in the United States and abroad, and is licensed both as a solicitor in England & Wales and as an attorney in three U.S. jurisdictions. He has been active in non-profits, community organizations, and professional associations such as the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, International Chamber of Commerce Commission on Arbitration, Los Angeles Committee on Foreign Relations, and Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). A native of Pennsylvania, Mr. Huebner is a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University, where he majored at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He is also a graduate of Yale Law School.

David D. Nelson, Nominee for Ambassador to the Oriental Republic of Uruguay David D. Nelson has served as Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Economic, Enmic, Energy and Business Affairs (EEB) since January 2009 and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of EEB, with specific responsibility for International Finance and Development since June 2008. In those functions, Mr. Nelson has been responsible for providing the Secretary of State with advice on a full range of international economic issues. Mr. Nelson is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. He has previously served as Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs, as Director of the Office of Terrorism Finance and Economic Sanctions, Director of the Iraq Reconstruction Task Force, and as Director of the Office of Monetary Affairs. He has also served on the National Security Council as Senior Coordinator for the Sea Island G-8 Summit, and has been posted abroad in Berlin, Madrid, Bonn, Quito, Montevideo and Merida. Mr. Nelson is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, and earned a Masters Degree in Economics at the University of Maryland.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Obama to name gay lawyer as ambassador

This just in from the Associated Press: President Obama is planning to nominate an openly gay man as Ambassador to New Zealand (though really, shouldn't the land of Xena, Warrior Princess be more appropriate for the first lesbian ambassador?).

If confirmed, Huebner will be the third openly gay ambassador to serve. The first was James Hormel, who was appointed by President Clinton to serve in Luxembourg. Michael Guest, whose retirement last year brought national attention to the plight of LGBT foreign service families, was appointed by President Bush to serve in Romania. Amb. Guest was the first out gay man to be appointed...if memory serves, Amb. Hormel was not out at the time of his appointment. As a result, Amb. Guest was treated to a particularly humiliated confirmation process, including demands that the government not pay to ship his husband's underwear. While I have no doubt that the fundies will go appoplectic over this as well, I certainly expect Huebner will be treated more civilly.

Now, we just have to wait for the first openly lesbian ambassador. No clue how long that wait will be...

Obama to name gay lawyer as ambassador
By PHILIP ELLIOTT (AP) – 2 hours ago

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans to nominate an openly gay lawyer as the United States' ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, an administration official said Wednesday.

David Huebner was the lawyer who would be announced for the post, said an official who would speak only on condition of anonymity ahead of an announcement.

If confirmed by the Senate, Huebner would the administration's first openly gay ambassador. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both had openly gay ambassadors during their terms.

Huebner is currently based in Shanghai, where he handles international arbitration and mediation cases. A graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School, he is also the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's general counsel and previously served on the group's board.

The announcement is a gesture just days before Obama speaks to a gay fundraising dinner on Saturday and gay activists march on Washington on Sunday.

Obama's relationship with gay activists has been rocky since his election. Gay and lesbian activists who objected to the invitation to evangelist Rev. Rick Warren's participation in the inauguration despite Warren's support for repealing gay marriage in California. Obama responded by having Episcopalian Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the denomination's first openly gay bishop, participate at another event.

As president, Obama hasn't taken any concrete steps urging Congress to rescind the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they don't disclose their sexual orientation or act on it. Some former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have acknowledged that policy is flawed.

Yet the office of the current chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, signed off on a journal article that called for lifting the ban, arguing that the military is forcing thousands of military members to live dishonest lives.

Obama also pledged during the campaign to work for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which limits how state, local and federal bodies can recognize partnerships and determine benefits. But lawyers in his administration defended the law in a court brief. White House aides said they were only doing their jobs to back a law that was already on the books.

Officials said Obama's slow and incremental approach to the politically charged issues has produced some gains.

"The president made commitments on those issues — not just, quite frankly, in a presidential race but ran on some of those commitments in a Senate race," Gibbs said. "They are commitments that are important to him and he is intent on making progress on those issues and is working with the Pentagon to ensure, at least in 'don't ask, don't tell,' that we make progress on it."

Obama has expanded some federal benefits to same-sex partners, but not health benefits or pension guarantees. He has allowed State Department employees to include their same-sex partners in certain embassy programs already available to opposite-sex spouses.

On Wednesday, spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration was working with the Office of Personnel Management to expand those benefits.

But that remains far short of his campaign rhetoric.

"At its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans," Obama said a 2007 statement on gay issues. "It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."

Friday, October 02, 2009

DNA on bloody clothes matches missing US diplomat

I have been following this story since last week, hoping for a better outcome. It is just another example of how dangerous this work can be. Please keep him and his family in your thoughts.

DNA on bloody clothes matches missing US diplomat


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The weeklong search for an American diplomat has taken a grim turn as investigators on the Dutch island of Curacao said DNA from bloody clothing strewn along a popular beach matched that of missing man.

Police and prosecutors in this palm-fringed corner of the Caribbean said forensic scientists have confirmed that blood-spattered clothes found on Baya Beach "definitely" belonged to James Hogan, a 49-year-old U.S. vice consul who vanished a week ago. Divers also found his cell phone in the sea.

On Friday, authorities used sniffer dogs to search rocky coastal areas and combed the Caribbean floor with a sonar-equipped robotic device for traces of Hogan. The Curacao prosecutor's office said the Royal Dutch Navy and the U.S. Navy were assisting.

Investigators on the island of 137,000 inhabitants are still trying to trace where Hogan went after leaving his home to go for a walk on the night of Sept. 24.
He and his wife live in Toni Kunchi, a quiet district outside the capital, Willemstad, that is home to wealthy business owners and diplomats.

U.S. State Department records show that Hogan, who arrived in the southern Caribbean island in August 2008 for a two-year assignment, had a legal residence in Florida, but no city or town is listed.

He completed junior foreign service officer training in 2005 and spent two years as a consular officer in Gabarone, Botswana.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said at a news briefing Friday in Washington that the agency is "very concerned about the welfare of Mr. Hogan."

"This is obviously upsetting news; it's not conclusive news. But we will continue to stay in close touch with the Netherlands forensic service and with the Curacao police," Kelly said.

Hogan's responsibility includes consular duties for the nearby Dutch island of Aruba, where Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway vanished in May 2005 during a high school graduation trip.

Holloway was last seen leaving a bar in the Aruban capital. No trace of her has been found despite extensive searches involving Aruban soldiers, FBI agents and even Dutch F-16 jets with special equipment.

Some residents in Curacao, a tiny island where the U.S. keeps military planes and personnel, said they were concerned that Hogan's disappearance might put a dark cloud over its vital tourism industry.

"I don't know if it will have a huge impact, but this is definitely not a good thing, obviously," said Angela Vergouwen, a 23-year-old waitress and bartender at the Grand Cafe De Heeren. "Everyone is talking about it."

Curacao, the headquarters of the Netherlands Antilles government, lies just 30 miles off the coast of Venezuela and it is sometimes used as a jumping-off point for drug traffickers.

Associated Press writer Matt Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Too Old for Foreign Service Work?

I read this today in the Washington Post. I have to agree. It is a shame that good people are forced out at what is now a pretty young age. The least we could do is let people finish their tours. What is most astonishing here is that she is clearly willing to go to the really difficult places. And how can you send envoys older than 65 to the very same places but say they are not too old?

Too Old for Foreign Service Work?

By Steve Vogel
Friday, October 2, 2009

On Nov. 3, 2008, Elizabeth Colton, a Foreign Service officer, received an e-mail with good news: She had been offered a two-year posting as chief of the political-economic section at the U.S. Embassy in Algiers.

"Congratulations!" wrote Maggie Nardi, acting director of the Office of Maghreb Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. "On behalf of NEA and Embassy Algiers, it is my pleasure to offer you a handshake to the 02 Political/Economic Counselor position opening in summer of 2009."

A delighted Colton immediately accepted. But eight days later, before the "handshake" offer was made official by an assignment panel, Colton received an e-mail from Jeffrey D. Feltman, then the principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. "Liz, I apologize, but I have an awkward question, but it's one that HR tells me I should ask," he wrote.

Would the tour of duty in Algiers be completed before she turned 65, the mandatory retirement age for Foreign Service officers, Feltman asked.

It would not. Colton will be 65 in August 2010, which would be midway through the tour. The offer was withdrawn.

Last month, Colton filed suit in federal court against Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton alleging age discrimination, and that the age restriction was unconstitutional and based on outdated stereotypes.

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 mandates retirement at 65, having raised it from 60, and the policy based on the rigors of overseas service. But it does not apply to political appointees -- among them, high-profile diplomatic envoys such as Richard C. Holbrooke, 68, or George Mitchell, 76, or, for that matter Clinton, who will be 65 in October 2012.

"Imagine if someone told Hillary Clinton she couldn't be secretary of state because she would turn 65 before her term is up," said Thomas R. Bundy III, a lawyer representing Colton.

Last month, a report from the Government Accounting Office warned that the State Department is understaffed at many hardship posts, such as Algiers. "State's diplomatic readiness remains at risk due to persistent staffing and experience gaps at key hardship posts," the report stated.

"There's the irony that top-qualified people are unable to serve at the same time the State Department is in the horrible situation of being understaffed," said Susan Hutha, a lawyer also representing Colton who is with the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Susan R. Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, which represents 23,000 active and retired Foreign Service employees, primarily from State and the Agency for International Development, said the restriction is unrealistic.

"AFSA thinks that there are a number of sound reasons to consider raising the age of mandatory Foreign Service retirement beyond 65, including but not limited to the expertise many older employees possess that is badly needed, and a general trend towards entry into the Foreign Service somewhat later in life," Johnson said.

"It's important to note that only career Foreign Service officers are affected by the mandatory retirement age -- not political ambassadorial appointees. Why is this?" Johnson added.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment Thursday, saying the department does not discuss pending litigation.

Previous legal challenges to the mandatory retirement age have been thrown out by judges who have deferred to Congress. But Colton's attorneys say this case is different because Colton allegedly suffered discrimination before reaching 65.

Colton came to the Foreign Service relatively late in life, at age 54, having considered it earlier but being unable because of a ban at the time on married women. After years as a journalist, reporting for National Public Radio and other outlets, Colton joined the Foreign Service in 2000 and has served in Algeria, Sudan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, among other locations, and has received three meritorious honor awards, according to the suit.

Colton is serving as a public affairs officer in Karachi, Pakistan, and faces mandatory retirement Aug. 31.