Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reaching People

I think you know I love being a Public Diplomacy officer.

And while a few years back, I'd never have thought I would be saying this, but I really like public speaking. And in this job, I get to do it a good bit.

I often end up talking about study opportunities in the United States, and Tuesday's talk at the Estonian School of Business was one of those a catch. They also wanted me to talk about the elections. do you give one speech about the elections AND study in America? So as I talked about the elections, I said, "So like I was telling you, because we elect the entire house and 1/3 of the Senate every two years and the President every four years, the chances are good that if you go study in America, you will get to witness the craziness that is our electoral process!"

Nice transition, right?

Anyway, the talk went well, and after I was done, a guy walked in late. At the coffee break, he said he wanted to talk to me about the elections.

He told me he was not happy that President Obama was re-elected, and wanted to know what I thought. I told him that I would have served whoever was elected.

And then I asked why he was unhappy about it.

We chatted for a good ten minutes. We talked about differences in the parties, the Affordable Health Care Act, the system of checks and balances, and even Ron Paul. He said he wanted to talk more so I gave him my email address.

Because this is Public Diplomacy.

This is reaching an individual and explaining America, one on one. And he told a member of my staff that he had been surprised I had been so approachable.

This is Public Diplomacy.

I got to do two things by having that conversation with him. I got to reach an individual, explain our country and our values, and make Americans seem less remote to him.

But you know what else? I also sent a message to the other students in that room who watched me talk to him that America is approachable. The Embassy is approachable. That an American diplomat will sit down and talk turkey with a 20-something year old student. Because that is how we reach people.

Because THAT is Public Diplomacy.

Secretary Clinton's Remarks at GLIFAA's 20th anniversary

Remarks Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
November 28, 2012

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all, very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Laughter.) Thank you, all. Thank you. Yeah, that’s good. (Laughter.) Wow. Well, welcome to the Ben Franklin Room. (Laughter.) And congratulations on your 20th anniversary. I am so pleased to be here and to have this chance to join this celebration. Ken, thank you for your kind words and your efforts here to make this day possible. I am extremely pleased that Cheryl Mills, my friend as well as Chief of Staff and Counselor is here, so that those of you who may not have met her or even seen her, given how shy and retiring she is – (laughter) – can express your appreciation to her for her tireless efforts.

I’m delighted that Deputy Secretary Tom Nides is here. Tom, who some of you know, who you’ve had a chance to work with him, has been just an extraordinary deputy. Also let me recognize USAID Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg. He’s been an unyielding advocate for the LGBT community at USAID. We also have a number of ambassadors and deputy chiefs of mission, both past and present, some of whom have literally traveled from the other side of the world to be here. David, I’m talking about you. And we have Michael Guest with us, our country’s first out ambassador to be confirmed by the Senate and someone who’s remained an outspoken champion for LGBT rights, despite having to endure countless attacks and threats. Michael, why don’t you stand up so that you can be recognized? (Applause.)

Also let me thank the GLIFAA board and members. I just had a chance to meet the board and former presidents. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with so many former presidents. (Laughter.) The last count was maybe five. (Laughter.) But it’s really due to their leadership over 20 years that GLIFAA has reached this milestone, and it will be up to all of you and those who come after you to keep the work going for the next 20 and the 20 after that.

Now, it wasn’t really that long ago since this organization was created, but in many ways it was a completely different world. As we heard, in 1992 you could be fired for being gay. Just think about all of the exceptional public servants, the brilliant strategists, the linguists, the experts fired for no reason other than their sexual orientation. Think of what our country lost because we were unable to take advantage of their hard work, expertise, and experience. And the policy forced people to make terrible choices, to hide who they were from friends and colleagues, to lie or mislead, to give up their dreams of serving their country altogether.

That began to change, in part because of the brave employees here at State, who decided that it was time for the bigotry, the ignorance, the lying, and discrimination to end. The LGBT community deserve the same chance as anyone else to serve. And indeed, as we all know, many had for many years, just without acknowledgment of who they were. So enough was enough, and that’s how GLIFAA was formed. And thank goodness it was.

We’ve come a long way since then, and we have seen milestones along that journey over the last 20 years. I remember that I think on my husband’s first day in office back in ’93, he announced that gays and lesbians working in the Federal Government would receive equal treatment under the Civil Service Reform Act. Two years later, Secretary Warren Christopher made clear those rules would be enforced within the halls of the State Department when he issued a statement that explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Now over the past four years, we’ve built on those and other steps to really acknowledge and welcome LGBT people into the State Department family and other agencies. We’ve extended benefits to same-sex domestic partners of State and USAID employees, Foreign Service officers, personal service contractors, third country nationals at missions overseas. We’ve institutionalized these changes by creating a classification for same-sex domestic partners in the Foreign Affairs manual. We’ve also made it clear in our Equal Opportunity Employment statement that the Department doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression.

We’ve helped to make it easier for transgender Americans to change the gender listed on their passports, because our mission is not only to protect the rights and dignity of our colleagues, but also of the American people we serve.

And we’ve taken this message all over the world, including the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where we worked to pass the first ever UN resolution affirming the human rights of LGBT people. Now, together we have worked to make something very simple and right come true. Our people should not have to choose between serving the country they love and sharing a life with the people they love. And I want to say a few words about why this work is so important.

Now, leaders of all kinds will stand in front of audiences like this and tell you that our most important asset is our people. And of course, that’s especially true in diplomacy, where we try to be very diplomatic all the time. But what our success truly depends on is our ability to forge strong relationships and relate to people of all backgrounds. And what that means for me, as your Secretary, is that creating an LGBT-welcoming workplace is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do.

In part, that’s because the nature of diplomacy has changed, and we should and need to keep up. Today we expect our diplomats to build relationships not just with their counterparts in foreign governments, but with people from every continent and every walk of life. And in order to do that, we need a diplomatic corps that is as diverse as the world we work in.

It’s also smart because it makes us better advocates for the values that we hold dear. Because when anyone is persecuted anywhere, and that includes when LGBT people are persecuted or kept from fully participating in their societies, they suffer, but so do we. We’re not only robbed of their talents and ideas, we are diminished, because our commitment to the human rights of all people has to be a continuing obligation and mission of everyone who serves in the Government of the United States. So this is a mission that I gladly assume. We have to set the example and we have to live up to our own values.

And finally, we are simply more effective when we create an environment that encourages people to bring their whole selves to work, when they don’t have to hide a core part of who they are, when we recognize and reward people for the quality of their work instead of dismissing their contributions because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

So really, I’m here today to say thank you to all of you. Thank you for your courage and resolve, for your willingness to keep going despite the obstacles – and for many of you, there were and are many. Thank you for pushing your government to do what you know was right, not just for yourselves but for all who come after you.

I want to mention one person in particular who was a key part of this fight, Tom Gallagher. I met Tom earlier. Where is Tom? There you are, Tom. Tom joined the Foreign Service in 1965 and in the early 1970s he risked his career when he came out and became the first openly gay Foreign Service officer. He served in the face of criticism and threats, but that did not stop him from serving. I wanted to take this moment just to recognize him, but also to put into context what this journey has meant for people of Tom’s and my vintage, because I don’t want any of you who are a lot younger ever to take for granted what it took for people like Tom Gallagher to pave the way for all of you. It’s not a moment for us to be nostalgic. It is a moment for us to remember and to know that all of the employees who sacrificed their right to be who they were were really defending your rights and the rights and freedoms of others at home and abroad.

And I want to say a special word about why we are working so hard to protect the rights of LGBT people around the world. And Dan Baer, who works on this along with Mike Posner and Maria Otero, have been great champions of standing up for the rights of LGBT communities and individuals.

We have come such a long way in the United States. Tom Gallagher is living proof of that. And think about what it now means to be a member of a community in this country that is finally being recognized and accepted far beyond what anyone could have imagined just 20 years ago. And remind yourself, as I do every day, what it must be like for a young boy or a young girl in some other part of the world who could literally be killed, and often has been and still will be, who will be shunned, who will be put in danger every day of his or her life.

And so when I gave that speech in Geneva and said that we were going to make this a priority of American foreign policy, I didn’t see it as something special, something that was added on to everything else we do, but something that was integral to who we are and what we stand for. And so those who serve today in the State Department have a new challenge to do everything you can at State and AID and the other foreign affairs agencies to help keep widening that circle of opportunity and acceptance for all those millions of men and women who may never know your name or mine, but who because of our work together will live lives of not only greater safety but integrity.

So this is not the end of the story. There’s always more we can do to live our values and tap the talents of our people. It’s going to be an ongoing task for future Secretaries of State and Administrators at AID and for people at every level of our government. So even as we celebrate 20 years with Ben Franklin looking down at us, I want you to leave this celebration thinking about what more each and every one of you can do – those who are currently serving in our government, those who have served in the past, and those who I hope will decide to serve – to make not only the agencies of our government but our world more just and free for all people.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Secretary Clinton To Deliver Remarks at GLIFAA's 20th Anniversary Celebration

Wish I could be there...all of the past GLIFAA presidents will be in a picture with the Secretary....except me...

Secretary Clinton To Deliver Remarks at the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies 20th Anniversary Celebration

Notice to the Press
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
November 27, 2012

On Wednesday, November 28, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will deliver remarks at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), the State Department’s officially recognized employee affinity group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees.

Today, under the leadership of Secretary Clinton, LGBT employees at the State Department and their families have a level of benefits and recognition never before seen in foreign affairs agencies of the U.S. government. Most notably, Secretary Clinton is responsible for the extension of the full range of legally available benefits and allowances to same-sex domestic partners of Foreign Service members serving overseas. She also instituted the 2010 revision of the Department’s equal employment opportunity policy to prohibit discriminatory treatment of employees and job applicants based on gender identity.

Advocating for employees of the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps, the Foreign Agricultural Service, the Foreign Commercial Service, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and all foreign affairs units of the U.S. government, GLIFAA works to ensure full parity for LGBT personnel and their families in U.S. foreign affairs agencies serving both domestically and abroad. GLIFAA began in 1992 to challenge a security clearance process that at the time discriminated against LGBT employees. GLIFAA has grown since that time to include hundreds of members and associates and become the officially recognized voice of LGBT personnel in U.S. foreign affairs agencies.

Members of the GLIFAA Board meet regularly with the management of the State Department, USAID, and other agencies to discuss ideas and solutions to address the continued concerns of LGBT personnel and their families. The issuance of a non-discriminatory policy by then Secretary of State Warren Christopher in 1994 was an early success. In the summer of 2009, GLIFAA was instrumental in encouraging the Department of State to grant Eligible Family Member (EFM) status to domestic partners of Department employees and to their children. This change was followed by a number of other agencies which send employees overseas.

Secretary Clinton, Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, and GLIFAA President Ken Kero-Mentz will deliver remarks. Congressman David Cicilline, GLIFAA co-founder David Buss, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer will also participate in the program. The event will take place in the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin Franklin Dining Room from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The event will be open press for remarks.

Pre set for video cameras:1:00 p.m. from the 23rd Street Entrance Lobby.

Final access time for journalists and still photographers: 1:30 p.m. from the 23rd Street Entrance Lobby.

Media representatives may attend this event upon presentation of one of the following: (1) A U.S. Government-issued identification card (Department of State, White House, Congress, Department of Defense or Foreign Press Center), (2) a media-issued photo identification card, or (3) a letter from their employer on letterhead verifying their employment as a journalist, accompanied by an official photo identification card (driver's license, passport).

For further information, please contact Cory Andrews at, or visit

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tallinn Christmas Market

Sometimes living in the place seems a little like living in a fairy tale land.

Christmas is one of those times.

Tallinn is well known for its Old City, and their Christmas market in the Old City is listed among the top ten Christmas markets in Europe. It is definitely one reason (of many) that I love living here.

The market opened today and will be open through January 8 (because folks here celebrate traditional and Orthodox Christmas).

We went over today with some friends to check it out...I took some pictures, but of course it is more fairy tale like when there is snow. However, next Sunday, we are going to the advent lighting in the old Town Hall, so I will be able to get some better shots from up there...and maybe there will even be some snow to make it look like the winter wonderland it is!

The last shot is from inside Kehrwieder, because although there is no snow, we still needed to warm up with some hot chocolate!

Friday, November 23, 2012


Unless you live under a rock, you know yesterday was Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday for me.

On the one hand, I love the food. And more than that, I love the time with family.

So that makes being overseas in the Foreign Service at Thanksgiving particularly difficult, because it is a very American holiday, one where we expect to be with family. And one where there is generally no overseas equivalent. So we make our own amongst the embassy community.

For us, that meant dinner at the Ambassador's house with about 30 people. The food was awesome and the company excellent.

But as an Indian person, I recognize the one-sidedness of the Thanksgiving story we are taught in schools. I know that the line "the Indians had never seen such a feast" could not be more wrong, since not only were the foods at that feast indigenous to the Americas, but fall harvest celebrations were common to many tribes in the area (and in the Southeast as well, where I am from). So it was actually the colonists who had never seen such a feast.

I also know that the colonists could not have survived had Indians not been decimated by plagues brought by that first contact, and had the remaining Indians not been willing to share their knowledge and their bounty with the colonists.

I know too that one of the first celebrated Thanksgivings was actually a celebration of the massacre of an Indian village, the occupants of which were killed in their sleep after their festive fall harvest celebration. And I know that throughout our country's history, the chapters involving Indian people have been mostly painful tales of slavery, war, and annihilation.

I am clearly part dad is white and my mother was mixed Indian and white. And mixed as well are my feelings...I know I wouldn't be here without immigrants, but as an Indian, as well as my tribe's historian, I also know the devastation that brought. I personally am the descendant of one man who died on the trail of tears and another who was sold into slavery and then freed for his service in the Revolutionary War.

And so I am hyper aware of my Indianness when I am at a Thanksgiving meal, especially when that meal is away from my family and so it is harder to remove it from the reality of that first contact. But this year, though far from home, there were two other Indians at the table. I wore my medicine bag just inside my shirt, and I noticed my friend, an enrolled member of the Eastern Cherokee Nation, wore her bone chocker-type bracelet just inside her shirt sleeve.

From across the table, I discreetly showed her the bone "chain" that holds my bag, and pointed to her wrist.

She smiled and nodded, and we both understood.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012 National Transgender Day of Remembrance

From the State Department:

Office of Origin: S/OCR
Announcement Number: 2012_11_115
Date of Announcement: November 19, 2012


2012 National Transgender Day of Remembrance

National Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed on November 20th each year to memorialize those who suffered or died as a result of anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. Such persons were victimized simply because they failed to meet someone else’s expectation of how they should identify or present themselves. Globally, the transgender community is among the most vulnerable and most misunderstood of communities, often facing lives of persecution, humiliation, poverty, exclusion, and rejection – even from their own families.

On this day, we reflect on the international transgender community's historic and ongoing struggle for equal social treatment, civil protections, opportunities and rights.

The Department is committed to treating all of its employees with dignity and respect and providing a work environment free of discrimination.


The Department of State and GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies), are proud to recognize this day and hope that all State employees will take the opportunity to mark this important day. GLIFAA is the officially recognized employee resource group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and ally employees in U.S. foreign affairs agencies serving in the U.S. and abroad. GLIFAA works to achieve full equality (in policy, treatment, benefits, etc.) for its members.

For further information on Transgender Day of Remembrance please visit:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marine Corps Ball

I don't really like Balls.

Or dressing up generally.

But I love our Marines (especially since the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell). So I go.

Happy 237th birthday, Marines!.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thank You

I am really enjoying our (much needed) three-day weekend after a jam-packed few weeks that included a trip to Narva, an early morning election event, and then Friday, a trip to Tartu.

I am thankful for the chance to catch up on sleep, finally get a haircut, and for the chance to get out twice to the St. Martin's Day Fair, where I finished my Christmas shopping (don't be a are just jealous!)

But I mostly really thankful for the reason behind that three-day weekend: our veterans.

I believe in our country and I believe in service to it. Had I not been a lesbian, I likely would have joined the military. And my service in the Foreign Service is my way of serving since Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed after I was a little too long in the tooth to join.

I appreciate those who have answered that call, people such as my grandfather as well as both my father- and mother-in-law. But of course, there are many other people in my life who have also answered that call, such as Sez, one of my favorite people on the planet, and James, a good friend since high school.

We are free because of people like you.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Turning A Corner

You won't hear me talk much about partisan politics. As Foreign Service Officers, we serve whoever is the President. And that would not have changed for me had the election gone the other way.

I have my opinions, and my friends know them. But what I will tell you publically a few things I am celebrating. One, I am celebrating that we as Americans, though we may differ on the way to get there, all want what is best for our country, and we demonstrate it with our vote. I am proud that we have a country where we can vote and where we can disagree without fear.

But this election, I am especially proud to see us turning a corner on equality.

For the first time, voters chose equality. In Maryland, Maine and Washington, voters chose full marriage equality. And in Minnesota, voters chose not to enshrine hate into the constitution (though same-sex marriage is still illegal there).

And for the first time ever, an open lesbian has been elected to the U.S. Senate.

This all gives me great hope.

Of course, the caveat is that I don't think my rights should be up for a vote. When the Supreme Court overturned misegenation laws in 1967, 75% of the population was opposed to interracial marriage. But the Court did the right thing anyway, because rights should not be up to the tryanny of the majority. That said, I am still happy the voters did the right thing. We are moving in the right direction. No sane person on either side of the political aisle now questions whether people of color should be considered fully equal and have equal rights. Because of course they should. And it is my hope, and my belief, that we will one day reach that point with full equality for LGBT persons.

Until then, I will revel in this corner turned, knowing that at least there are a few more places that I can add to my potential retirement list. Seattle seems nice...

And I will hold onto the hope that one day, my beloved South Carolina will also be added to that list. Because really I want to retire to Folly Beach, but only if my family is fully protected by full marriage equality.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Feeling Disenfranchised

I have never been ambivalent about voting.

I remember when I was very little, my parents would take me into the voting booth with them. I couldn't wait to be old enough to share in this important responsibility.

And then when I was 13, there was Mrs. Wiggs, my teacher at St. Peter's Catholic School (who remains one of my favorite teachers of all times...remember how I told you that I will kill myself to please someone who has high standards and expectations but trusts me to fulfill them? She was one of those teachers). Mrs. Wiggs told us that if we didn't vote, we didn't have a right to complain. And I think she was right.

So since I really want the right to complain, I vote.

I have voted in every major election and most of the minor ones since I turned 18.

And I voted in this one. About 6 weeks ago. I even blogged about it.

And I sent my ballot back via the diplomatic pouch because our DPO mail was taking two months. I wanted to make sure it got there.

Well as of last night, it hadn't.

I checked the website, and then I called the voting office to verify.

Nope, they never got it.

So I am feeling a little disenfranchised.

I suppose there is always a chance that they will receive it today. Or that they counted it and just didn't note it.

But the thought that I didn't get to vote in the election for the President of the country I love and serve makes me more than a little sad.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Pumpkin Diplomacy

Who doesn't love Halloween, right?

Basically, aside from of a few of a particular religious persuasion, the only people who don't like Halloween are the ones who have never experienced Halloween.

Public Diplomacy can fix that!

This week, the Embassy, together with the government of the city of Narva, hosted America Days in Estonia's third largest city. As I think I have mentioned before, Narva is in northeast Estonia, right on the Russian border. You could probably throw a stone across the Narva River and hit the castle in Ivangorod that flies the Russian flag.

The population there is approximately 97% Russian speaking (not all Russian speakers in Estonia are ethnically Russian...there are also Ukrainians, Belorussians, etc). We like to do outreach there, but because of the distance (about 3 hours), we don't get there as often as I'd like. But I think I told you before about our Soap Box Derby that we have there each year which is wildly successful and attracts people from across Estonia.

America Days is something we have done in several other places across Estonia. We have had them in Tartu, last year in Parnu, and just a few weeks ago, in Tallinn at Tallinn University of Technology, where we opened a new American Space (a smaller version of an American Corner). And the mayor of Narva wanted us to do something similar there. This week was the culmination of that.

We had three solid days of events that involved some thirty of us from the embassy, Americans and Estonians alike. We spoke to classes about American autumn traditions (including of course the elections!), held contests and treasure hunts, basketball games, and a jazz concert. We even had the Ambassador make his first trip outside of Tallinn for the occasion!

And of course, we carved pumpkins.

One of the things that I love about pumpkin carving is that it is truly an example of the melding of European and American traditions. Because while carving pumpkins originated in Europe as part of the pagan celebration of Samhain, they used gourds here that are really thick and hard to carve. But in America, we use the pumpkin that was domesticated by American Indians and is thinner and much easier to carve.

Bringing Europe and America together in a pumpkin! What's not to love!

So I had folks from the embassy all over Narva teaching pumpkin carving. Unfortunately, we had to use the thick green gourds they have here, but they still got the idea. And we had a blast! I personally taught two classes, one at a school and one at the mall.

The one at the mall was especially cool. There was a 10-year old little girl who came and watched. She was a Russian speaker but her English was excellent! I let her help me with my pumpkin, the one big orange American style one we of my staff, who had organized the entire event (and who is really impressive!) had located one for me. I had printed off a bunch of patterns the kids good look at to know what pumpkins should look like, and she spotted one of an owl and asked me to please carve that. And since she did it so sweetly and with such good English, how could I refuse!

The whole event was a lot of fun, and I think a great success. We got lots of media coverage, got lots of Americans to Narva for the first time, and I even got to use my Estonian professionally a good bit (lots of the officials who are native Russian speakers speak Estonian fluently but not English). The concert, which honored murdered journalist Daniel Pearl and was organized by Fulbrighter Dr. Anthony Braker and using students from the Estonian Music Academy who are incredibly gifted, was amazing. Let me just tell you, those musicians were having a blast, and I have never seen a voice harmonize with an alto sax like that! And the room was PACKED! Of course, the people of Estonian are known for their love of music.

I am exhausted after the event, but of course there is no time for rest. Tuesday is the presidential election...