Sunday, June 30, 2013

What the SCOTUS Ruling on DOMA Means to Me

The Government Accountability Office estimated there were 1,138 rights, privileges and responsibilities that went along with federally recognized marriage. The Supreme Court ruling that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as it pertained to those rights being denied to legally married same-sex couples, means that those rights are no longer denied to me and my wife simply by virtue of our being a same-sex couple.

We were on vacation in Norway when the ruling was first announced. I had been waiting for it for what seemed like an eternity. I expected it to come at 10 am Washington time on Wednesday, and it did, but I had not told my wife that this was when we would hear. She had already chastised me for watching SCOTUSblog over the past few weeks for fear I would jinx it. So I watched the clock anxiously that day and never told her I was watching the clock.

We got back into our hotel room around 4:20, or 10:20 DC time, and I immediately jumped on Facebook to see what had happened. She sat on the bed, and did the same thing, only she wasn't looking for the results. She thought we would hear the next day, because she thought the rulings were issued at the end of the day. As tears welled up in my eyes, I heard her say, "Wait, what? Did they? No..."

I said, "Honey, we are full citizens."

I didn't get up...I didn't want her to see me crying...and then she came over to me, tears streaming down her face. Neither of us had expected to cry. She had expected them to rule against us...and I had figured they would do what they did but was at the same time afraid to hope for it. I expected I would scream or dance or both.

But we both cried together. Together, apparently, with thousands of other LGBT people who felt finally accepted by their country. Who felt they were finally full citizens. Within minutes, I saw several proposals online, including one from one of my closest friends to her partner of more than 20 years. They had always considered themselves married, and she asked if her partner if she would now marry her legally. Of course she said yes. And I cried again.

What this means for us is that we no longer have to worry about being allowed to make medical decisions for each other. We never have to worry about being able to claim the other's body for burial should the unthinkable happen. We can inherit each other's property and pensions without paying inheritance taxes. We are no longer legal strangers.

We are house hunting in Maryland now, because although we now have a federally-recognized marriage, Virginia still does not have marriage equality. And they could still go things like charge us inheritance taxes on our own home. And force us to continue to file separately at tax time. And it is unclear whether the federal government will use the place of residence or place of ceremony to determine our marital status (the President is pushing for place of ceremony), so it is even possible that as Virginia residents, we would not have our marriage fully recognized by the federal government. So we move north. Besides, as much as I love Northern Virginia, I don't want my taxes subsidizing a state still intent of keeping me as a second-class citizen.

When I head to work tomorrow, it will be with a copy of our marriage license in hand so I can start the process of having the Department recognize us as a married couple and not as "domestic partners" (which we never were). Because we are both employees, this will mean less for us than for some of our friends. Friends who, like many of our straight colleagues, fell in love overseas with non-Americans. They can now petition for green cards and expeditious naturalization for their spouses. I am over the moon happy for them. To say nothing of our friends in the military, who will now get housing appropriate for their families and will have their spouse and not possibly estranged parents and siblings receive notification if they are killed in war. The world has just become fundamentally more fair.

The fight is of course not over. We still can't retire to my beloved South Carolina because they don't recognize our marriage and I won't leave our family unprotected again. And even in my own family, there are still hearts and minds to change. One of my aunts, who I always felt was more like a sister, commented on Facebook that she was sick of hearing about gay marriage and she hoped they all knew they were going to hell anyway. I was devastated...I never knew she felt that way and I have no idea what to say to her. She has always been one of the more supportive of my family members, so I felt really blind-sided by it.

Regardless, for now, I celebrate. For now, I feel like my service to my country, my keeping faith with it when it didn't keep faith with me, was worth it. I am ready to fight the next battles, because they are skirmishes at the end of a war that has already been won.

And those who "lost," lost nothing. This is not the end of freedom in the U.S. It is the beginning of freedom. No state has been forced to recognize marriage equality (though I think they should...76% of the country "wasn't ready" for interracial marriage when the court ruled on that issue in Loving v Virginia, and the court did the right thing anyway. And the sky did not fall). No minister will be forced to perform a same-sex marriage. No person will be forced to marry a person of the same sex. But people who do choose to marry someone of the same sex, as I and thousands of others have, in states that have chosen to make those unions legal, will finally be able to protect their families.

And that means everything.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Guidance on the Extension of Benefits to Married Gay and Lesbian Federal Employees, Annuitants, and Their Families


FROM: Elaine Kaplan
Acting Director

SUBJECT: Guidance on the Extension of Benefits to Married Gay and Lesbian Federal Employees, Annuitants, and Their Families

As you already know, on June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. As a result of this decision, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will now be able to extend benefits to Federal employees and annuitants who have legally married a spouse of the same sex.

There are numerous benefits that are affected by the Supreme Court’s decision, and it is impossible to answer today every question that you may have. Nevertheless, I want to assure you that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is committed to working with the Department of Justice to ensure swift and seamless implementation of the Court’s ruling.

OPM will be issuing additional information covering a broader range of issues, but at this time, OPM can offer the following guidance regarding specific employee benefits that may be of particular interest:

Health Insurance (FEHB): All legally married same-sex spouses will now be eligible family members under a Self and Family enrollment. In addition, the children of same-sex marriages will be treated just as those of opposite-sex marriages and will be eligible family members according to the same eligibility guidelines. This includes coverage for children of same-sex spouses as stepchildren. Employees and annuitants will have 60 days from June 26, 2013 until August 26, 2013, to make immediate changes to their FEHB enrollment. Enrollees will continue to be eligible to make changes to their coverage options during Open Season later this year. For those employees and annuitants who already have a Self and Family insurance plan, coverage for their same-sex spouse will begin immediately upon their notifying their FEHB carrier that there is a newly eligible family member. For those employees and annuitants electing Self and Family for the first time, benefits will be effective on the first day of the first pay period after the enrollment request is received. While online enrollment systems are updated, it may be necessary for employees and annuitants to update their elections using the paper (rather than electronic) version of the SF2809 form.

Life Insurance (FEGLI): All legally married same-sex spouses and children of legal same-sex marriages are now eligible family members under the FEGLI Program, which means that employees may add coverage for a same-sex spouse and any newly eligible children under Option C. Employees will have 60 days from June 26, 2013 until August 26, 2013, to make changes to their FEGLI enrollment.

Dental and Vision Insurance (FEDVIP): As with FEHB, all legally married same-sex spouses will now be eligible family members under a Self and Family enrollment or a Self Plus One enrollment. Current FEDVIP enrollees may now call BENEFEDS (877-888-FEDS (3337)) directly to make the necessary enrollment changes. Employees will have 60 days from June 26, 2013 until August 26, 2013, to make changes to their FEDVIP enrollment. Current enrollees will also be able to make changes to their coverage options during Open Season later this year, and individuals wishing to enroll in FEDVIP for the first time may also do so at that time.

Long-Term Care Insurance (FLTCIP): All legally married same-sex spouses can now apply for long-term care insurance under FLTCIP. Same-sex spouses of employees will have 60 days from June 26, 2013, to apply for FLTCIP coverage with abbreviated underwriting.

Retirement: All retirees who are in legal same-sex marriages will have two years from the date of the Supreme Court’s decision (i.e., June 26, 2015) to inform OPM that they have a legal marriage that now qualifies for recognition and elect any changes to their retirement benefits based on their recognized marital status. In the coming days, OPM will be developing guidance to help retirees determine whether they wish to change their pension benefits in a way that will provide benefits for their surviving spouse. Retirees will need to determine whether this option makes sense for them, as making this election will likely result in a deduction to the monthly annuity that the retiree currently receives. Going forward, the same-sex spouses of retiring employees will be eligible for survivor annuities.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA): All employees who are in legal same-sex marriages will now be able to submit claims for medical expenses for their same-sex spouse and any newly qualifying (step)children to their flexible spending program.

* * * Additional guidance regarding these and other benefits will be coming soon. In the meantime, questions regarding the effect of the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision on Federal employee and annuitant benefits should be directed to OPM through your agency Chief Human Capital Officer.

We appreciate your cooperation in our effort to implement the Supreme Court’s decision, and provide greater equality to Federal employees and annuitants regardless of their sexual orientation.

cc: Chief Human Capital Officers

Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act

Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, D.C.
June 26, 2013

The U.S. Department of State applauds the Supreme Court’s decision striking down an unjust and discriminatory law and increasing freedom and equality for LGBT Americans.

As a Senator, I voted against DOMA in 1996 and argued that it was unconstitutional. As Secretary of State, I look forward to the work that now can and must be done to adjust rules and regulations that affect the many married Americans who were hurt by this law. While I am incredibly proud of the job that the State Department has done in ensuring equal benefits for our employees, there’s more to be done. To fully implement the requirements and implications of the Court’s decision, we will work with the Department of Justice and other agencies to review all relevant federal statutes as well as the benefits administered by this agency. We will work to swiftly administer these changes to ensure that every employee and their spouse have access to their due benefits regardless of sexual orientation both at home and abroad.

I am proud of the progress we’re making in this arena, and particularly proud that I work for a President who has helped to lead the way forward. From Stonewall to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ despite setbacks along the way, the arc of our history on this issue has bent towards inclusion and equality, perhaps never more so than today.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

We Are All More Free

Blogging on ipad is hard, but you might think I had dropped off the earth if I didn't share this.

 DOMA is dead! No more skim milk marriage for me and my wife! I am crying tears of joy!

Office of the Press Secretary

June 26, 2013

 Statement by the President on the Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act

 I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.

So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.

The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Training My Replacement

I haven't written much lately.

A big reason for that is that I am a bundle of nerves waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Their ruling on DOMA and Prop 8 is due this month.

I now know that the Supreme Court issues opinions on Mondays and sometimes Thursdays, at 10 am eastern (5 pm here). I also know that SCOTUSblog has a live chat when they are releasing opinions that is run by their law clerks. AND, I now know that watching that chat ticker gives me heart palpiations. One of the Facebook groups I follow has started using the hashtags #tiredofwaiting and #mightvomit.

Yeah, that.

So as a respite from that, since there won't be any rulings over the weekend, I thought I would tell you about today at work.

It was Take Your Child (And Pet) to work day. Lots of the embassy parents brought in their kids, and at least five of us, including the Ambassador, brought in our dogs. Sorry cat one brought in kitties.

For PA's part, we did interviews with the kids, asking them things like what they liked about Tallinn. We are going to hopefully have some footage to use for a post video project we are going to have our two summer interns working on together with the CLO.

The CLO also told people to take pictures of their pets at work for a photo contest, and I am totally going to win (and not just because I have the cutest dog on the planet).

Extra bonus: She can now serve as embassy spokesperson in case I need to go on vacation!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Remarks at the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) Pride Event

Remarks at the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) Pride Event

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
June 19, 2013

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Please, please, please, please. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very, very much. Ken, thank you for a generous welcome. Thank you all. Secretary Pat Kennedy and Director General Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you for being here, and others. We appreciate it. Tara, everybody, thank you for being here.

And Ken, when I heard you say you could talk forever about my efforts on behalf of LGBT, I was sitting there, like any formerly elected person for 29 years, and I said, “Go ahead, keep talking, keep talking.” (Laughter.) But no such luck today.

I appreciate the opportunity to be here with all of you, and very, very special to welcome just some super special guests here, and I want them to stand up and I want everybody to say thank you to them and recognize them. Judy and Dennis Shepard are here, and we’re so grateful for you being here. Thank you very, very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

I remind everybody that it is amazing to think, but it has been nearly 15 years since we mourned the tragic murder of their son, Matthew. And I can remember very clearly meeting them previously and speaking to the crowd gathered on the National Mall in front of the Capitol building at a vigil that was held two nights after he was killed. Thousands of people came together to share their grief, but also to share their sense of outrage that such an act could be carried out, such a senseless, violent, terrible heartbreak. And we were all standing with Judy and Dennis on that dark night, and frankly, since then, they have helped to lead the way through darkness and into the light, and they’ve turned their pain and their loss into a remarkable global message of hope and of tolerance. So, Judy and Dennis, make no mistake: You really do inspire us and we are very honored to have you here with us today. Thank you.

I also want – I know Congressman John Lewis was here a little bit ago, I think, and he had to leave to go vote. There are few members, few people I’ve met in life who I admire as much as John Lewis. He was almost killed on that day down in Selma, and he led, at the side of Martin Luther King and others, to break the back of Jim Crow in this country. John is just without doubt one of the most self-effacing, beautiful human beings I have ever met and an amazing person of courage who demonstrates what you can do against, as Bobby Kennedy said, the enormous array of the world’s ills. So we thank him for being here today, and most importantly, we thank him for standing up on the front lines of fighting for people’s rights for all of these years.

I also want to thank Mara Keisling from the National Center for Transgender Equality. Thanks for being here and for your contributions. And I want to thank Acting Assistant Secretary Uzra Zeya from our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. We’re very, very grateful also to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington for that wonderful rendition of our national anthem, and thank you for their performance.

As Ken said, I have had the privilege of being involved in the struggle for rights, for LGBT rights, for a long period of time. And it is a privilege. Coming from Massachusetts, maybe we inherently know something about fighting for rights from the inception. But it wasn’t that long ago, as I recall, and many of you, I’m sure, do too, when things looked very different from the way they look today. If you want an amusing read before you go to sleep, go get the transcript of my testimony before Strom Thurmond on the Armed Services Committee 20 years ago, when we first pushed for an end on the ban on gays in the military. If you want to read a Senate hearing that is actually literally like a Saturday night skit – Saturday Night Live skit, that is it. And I won’t go into all the questions that Strom and his inimitable accent posed to me – (laughter) – but I walked out of there thinking that I was truly on a different planet, or he was; one or the other. (Laughter.)

But we ran into a wall of misunderstanding and of misperception. But as we are learning even today, as we look at various places in the world where homophobia raises its ugly and frightened head, we see that there is fear and that a lot is driven by fear – always has been – not always with respect to LGBT issues, but with respect to people generally, with respect to race and religion. And this is an ongoing battle for all of us, and believe me, not just for us; it is an ongoing battle in hidden parts of this planet, in dark corners where there is no light, where people are thrown into jail, or worse, beaten brutally, tortured and even murdered because of who they are or what they believe.

So we have an enormous challenge ahead of us, and all of you, every single person here, because you have the privilege of being here in this building, in this freedom, able to talk about this; it is because of that that you actually bear also a larger responsibility. When I voted, as Ken said, in 1996, I don’t claim any great act of courage. Maybe it was because I did represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but nevertheless I was proud to be the only person running for reelection that year in those 14 who actually voted against DOMA. And I am confident that if the Supreme Court adheres to the law and to precedent, that it must be found unconstitutional.

Now, we also know that we’ve made progress where – (applause) – now, if it isn’t, you can take that applause back in your home someday. (Laughter.)

Obviously, the landscape has changed remarkably fast. And every one of you here deserves credit for that. You all know your individual journeys in this effort, whether you are a member of the LGBT community or whether you are a supporter and a friend and here in solidarity with it. But everybody understands that things are changing because people have dared to stand up and show solidarity and speak common sense and talk truth to sometimes ugly power.

And the fact is that we have an Administration today that I am proud to say no longer defends the constitutionality of DOMA. That’s an enormous step forward. We also have a Senate that recently welcomed its first openly gay member, and we have a record number in the House of Representatives. I can remember when the first person came out in the House of Representatives within the service – time of my service in the Senate. We also have seen how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is now a part of history, and that no American who wants to wear the uniform of their country that they love will be denied the chance to serve the country they love because of whom they love.

So we’re making progress. And that is the sort of change that we are seeing spread across the country, as state after state breaks down the barrier – the real barriers – to honest equality, not only in the workplace but throughout life.

But we have to say, as we gather here today, that we still do have a distance to travel. Far too many women and men and families are still denied equality under our laws. Two of my former constituents, just to give you an example – I got to meet them – a fellow named Junior and Tim, who were married in Massachusetts, but because of DOMA the Federal Government didn’t recognize their marriage. And so the law treated them differently than if they had been man and woman, married. And time after time, when I met with them – and I did frequently and learn how hard it was that they couldn’t choose the path that they wanted to for themselves – but they also reminded me in the course of their life history what, in fact, marriage is supposed to be all about, which is an enduring love, a love that actually keeps you together even when you’ve been separated and it’s as if you hadn’t been. And I’ll tell you why, because one of them was out of the country and couldn’t come back in and we had to go through hoops to be able to actually ultimately reunite them here in our country because of our immigration laws.

They’re not alone. A few weeks ago, I was standing right here in this room at my first town hall when a young FSO named Selim Ariturk stood up and told a similar story about his life and his partner, whom he’d met overseas during his first tour. And he had to jump through hoops to be treated fairly. I know that many of you have probably experienced very similar stories, or even experienced them individually.

So the reality is, even as we celebrate, we have to come here today and commit ourselves to the ultimate task of fulfilling equality under the law here in our own country, and we have to be clear-eyed about the challenges that remain. I believe that we are on an irreversible course, and I believe happily that the United States of America is helping to set a global example for how people ought to be treated in life. I think that – I make this commitment to you that as Secretary of State, I will continue to stand right where I have stood throughout my years of elected service, and that begins with how we treat our LGBT colleagues right here in the State Department.

And I think under Pat and Linda’s and other people’s stewardship, we are already doing an outstanding job. Same-sex partners and spouses at overseas missions enjoy the same benefits allowed by law as all of our employees’ families. And we’ve included a category for same-sex partners in our personnel system. It’s now easier for transgender Americans to change the gender on their passport. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s a big deal. And we’ve stated unequivocally that this Department does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

I’m happy to say that these steps reflect not just the Department view, but President Obama’s view, and President Obama’s commitment to full equality, no matter who you are or who you love. And as Americans send us out to show our face to the world in this Department, we will set an example through our respect for the rights of people everywhere. Having GLIFAA members as part of that American face, frankly, helps us demonstrate our leadership.

Our work, though, is more than just setting an example. We got to be out there showing up in places where progress on LGBT rights has been slower and harder to achieve, and where using our tools of development and diplomacy actually leverage our efforts forward in this endeavor. And we remain focused on this and will, because American leadership requires promoting universal values. That’s what this represents. This isn’t an aberration. This isn’t some step out of the mainstream. It’s actually the mainstream is out of step with what ought to be the mainstream. The mainstream represents the recognition of universal rights that have been true since humankind began writing about them and defining them, and as we have moved through the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries to this place in the 21st century, where we understand that dignity and equality and the rights of all people are at the center of what we ought to be espousing in our public and our private life.

When we see the abuse of those values that are directed at the LGBT community, we have a moral obligation to stand in pride with LGBT individuals and advocates. We have a moral obligation to decry the marginalization and persecution of LGBT persons. And we have a moral obligation to promote societies that are more just, more fair, and tolerant.

It is the right thing to do. It’s also in our country’s strategic interest. Greater inclusion and protection of human rights, including those for LGBT people and for their communities, leads to greater stability, greater prosperity, and greater protection for the rights of human beings. Stronger partners on the world stage are built out of this endeavor, and the truth is that in the end, it can actually help project peace and security across the whole region.

And that is why, in 2011, President Obama issued the first-ever Presidential Memorandum on the human rights of LGBT persons globally, directing that all agencies abroad must ensure that our diplomacy and our foreign assistance promotes and protects these rights. And I think we have accomplished a great deal on this issue.

With our support, the UN Human Rights Council passed its first-ever resolution affirming the rights of LGBT persons. Through PEPFAR’s blueprint for an AIDS-free generation, we are working to scale up HIV services for LGBT individuals, who are often at higher risk. Our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is expanding our effort to help LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. And we are providing LGBT travelers with information about countries where they may face prosecution or arrest – persecution.

Overseas, we’re encouraging our missions to think about how do you best support these goals. And here at home, we’ve set up a Department-wide task force that will develop new approaches in order to try to better integrate LGBT policy into our foreign policy.

And through our Global Partnerships Initiative – I just met with members of it a few minutes ago – we have set up the Global Equality Fund, and that will support LGBT human rights defenders on the front lines. We’re working with likeminded governments, including Norway, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Iceland, and Finland. And we have partnered with private sector leaders, including the MAC AIDS Fund and the John D. Evans Foundation. I think they both are here. And we are especially grateful to the Arcus Foundation, which will match any corporate contribution that we receive up to $1 million. And we hope that additional partners are going to join us in this critical effort.

So all of this that I’ve talked about is a good start, my friends, but it’s just that. It’s a start. Last week, the President appointed three openly gay ambassadors to Denmark, Spain, and to the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe. And they will build on the tremendous record and work by Ambassador Huebner and former Ambassadors Hormel and Guest. In fact, I remember the confirmation hearing for former Ambassador Hormel, which in itself was a kind of groundbreaking, difficult process which we ultimately succeeded in winning.

So we are committed to seeing more LGBT persons in senior positions in this Department. And I ask for your input and all of your ideas, so that in the coming days I can sit down and work with our team here to ensure that the Department is properly resourcing and prioritizing our international efforts for the next generation of LGBT progress.

I think everybody here knows this isn’t automatic, not always an easy path. There is fear, and from the fear, the hate that sometimes comes with it that translates too often into violence. We still see anti-propaganda laws in Eastern Europe that are targeting LGBT demonstrators. We still hear reports of violence amongst – against transgender persons in Latin America and Asia. We still see the enforcement of archaic sodomy laws in the Caribbean, and we see abuse and incarceration of LGBT activists in Africa.

But I believe, as I think you do, that today we come here in pride, with pride, to celebrate the fact that the winds of freedom are blowing in the right direction. We know that the intolerance towards LGBT brothers and sisters fades with each passing generation. And it is with a belief in our common humanity, in the fundamental worth of every human being, that we have to keep moving forward towards our goal of shared justice and equality here in our country and around the world.

So I especially join here today in saying to our GLIFAA members and to all of you, Happy Pride every day the world over. Thank you for the privilege of being with you. Thank you. (Applause.)

Please sit down. I gather we’re going to do a couple questions, so we’ll – I’ll do that.

MR. KERO-MENTZ: Great, great. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I loved what you said about where homophobia rears its ugly and frightened head, we’ll be there. I thought that was a really powerful statement, and demonstrates your long-held and heartfelt belief in equality and human rights for everyone. So thank you very much. Thank you as well for your mention of GLIFAA, and it’s great to know that we have your back – or you have our back, and you’ve got our back, and we’ve got your back.

SECRETARY KERRY: You’ve got to have mine too, folks, or I’m in trouble. (Laughter.) I’m counting on you.

MR. KERO-MENTZ: So – and thank you for answering a couple of questions. We asked our GLIFAA post representatives overseas – we’ve got about 100 serving in our embassies and consulates – to send us some questions that maybe we could pose to you. And you’ve got probably time for about two of them, if that’s okay.


MR. KERO-MENTZ: The first question from our GLIFAA post rep in Kyiv, Ukraine, Doug Morrow. He asks, “I’ve noticed a marked increase in anti-gay legislation and homophobic statements made by host country government officials and religious leaders in many countries around the world, including Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia, Uganda, and elsewhere. There seems to be a relationship between this sort of state-sponsored homophobia and increases in hate crimes against LGBT activists and individuals. Many of us have seen it firsthand. I know that the Department in our missions overseas are promoting human rights for everyone, including LGBT persons, but what more could we reasonably do to combat state-sponsored homophobia?”

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s a great question. What we need to do is do things like we’re doing here today, where you speak out and where you show people what is appropriate as well as permissible. In a lot of places – I’ve seen it for years. I used to – when I was in the DA’s office, I used to be a prosecutor. I remember going and meeting with kids, young kids, because I wanted to find out why kids were falling into the criminal justice system at age – whatever, 14, 15, 16. And almost invariably, almost ninety-whatever percent it was, I found kids who came from very troubled families, from places where they didn’t have adult input. And like everybody in life, we all learn from people ahead of us.

And so this is going through a huge generational transformation where, in fact, today, we’re kind of learning from a younger generation where the kinds of things that older folks who lived in a different norm are not as in touch with, but where the younger folks coming up are realizing none of this really matters. They’re just growing up with a different sense of what’s important. And as kids have come out in high school or in college or whatever, and their friends are their friends, they realize this person isn’t any different, and it breaks down the barriers. So what you had is a whole transformation taking place that hasn’t taken place in many of these other countries.

I’ve never met any child – two and half, three years old – who hates anybody. They hate their broccoli maybe, or they hate – but they don’t hate people. They haven’t learned it yet. And so the issue is really one of teaching people, of setting up rule of law, of establishing a different norm where people begin to break down the fear and they recognize that they’re not, in fact, threatened. And I think – it doesn’t mean you’re going to change everybody’s minds overnight. There are people who hold a strongly held religious belief or cultural belief, and they may go to their grave believing that, but that doesn’t mean they have to be intolerant.

And that’s the key thing that I think America has so much more than almost any other place that I know. We’re not without fault. We’re not without ability to be criticized. But by and large, we are capable of showing more tolerance than almost any other people. Not exclusive; there are people in Europe and people in some other countries who also share that.

But I think what we have to do is help people to feel they are protected in their ability to be able to stand up, as they have in France recently, against very bitter opposition, very divisive, but they won. And it changed things, and it will change things, and the next generation that comes along will see that. And over time – and I mean time, real time – we will break down in some of these more difficult places this notion that you have to actually hate people and punish them for who they are. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them; it doesn’t mean you have to adopt that – or whatever, that you can give people space to live and live their life.

Now, interestingly, in a lot of these places where that challenge is particularly difficult, we also face the challenge of just getting them to accept democracy, or getting them to accept reasonable standards of rule of law and the ability of people to speak their mind and a whole bunch of other things that we value enormously as the defining assets of our nationhood and of our citizenship. Those things have to be able to be promoted elsewhere. So I think doing what we’re doing, going out and advocating, standing up against that injustice, speaking out in various countries about human rights as we will continue to everywhere we go, will over time allow the same evolutionary process to take place in some of these places of resistance as it has here and in other parts of the world, in other countries in Europe and elsewhere. And I think ultimately we just have to keep standing up for tolerance and for diversity, and I guarantee you under this Administration we certainly will continue to do that and, I hope, for the long-term future.

MR. KERO-MENTZ: Great. Thank you. Mr. Secretary, this next question comes from our GLIFAA post rep in Tijuana, Mexico, Victor Garcia-Rivera, who asks, "What preparations has the Department of State made for when DOMA is struck down, particularly with regards to expedited naturalization for our foreign national same-sex spouses? Should the court strike down DOMA, as hoped, can we all – can we expect all things to be equal, including immigration rights?"

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I should probably let Pat Kennedy and Linda tackle this question, because they’re the ones who are working this through, but we’ve talked about it in our meetings. We are planning for the expectation that DOMA will be struck down in some form, and we’re laying the groundwork for all the things that we need to adjust. And I will just tell you, frankly, we are looking forward to the opportunity of doing that, because it will define the road ahead for us much more easily, it’ll be far less complicated, and I think everybody here will breathe a sigh of relief if that ruling comes through the way we hope it will.

So we’re laying all the groundwork necessary so that every law or every practice or every – whatever process is in place by history and precedent here will be evaluated against the notion that that law is no longer the law of the land, and therefore that everybody is indeed fully equal and we have to apply policies accordingly. And you can count on the fact that that will happen. And I think we’ll probably get a decision before too long here. So Pat Kennedy is anxiously awaiting that decision, folks. He’s crunching down further in his seat right now. (Laughter.)

Thank you. Anyway, Happy Pride to all. Thank you for the privilege of being here, and I wish you well. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why Public Diplomacy Matters

Bottom Line Diplomacy: Why Public Diplomacy Matters

Tara Sonenshine Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington, DC
June 18, 2013

Thank you, Andrew, and congratulations to CSIS, on 50 years of strategic insights and bipartisan policy solutions.

As spring is about to turn, formally, to summer, in just a few days, we all should turn now to books, beaches, and blue skies. Now you might be wondering what those wonderful images have to do with public diplomacy and the start of a speech. Well--if you happen to go down to Ocean City, Maryland, or Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, or many resort towns, you’ll run into young people working summer jobs and speaking English with accents from Belfast to Belgrade.

They are here through one of the State Department’s cultural exchange programs known as Summer Work Travel. But they are actually part of a larger community – tens of thousands of students, teachers, researchers and business professionals – that comes to the United States at all times of the year to experience American culture. And they are one example of what I want to focus on today—the major dividend that we, as a nation, get, from engaging with people around the world and the often overlooked impact on our society of having international citizens spend time in our country and our citizens going abroad.

Take, for example, the dividend that comes from the hundreds of thousands of international students who study each year on U.S. college campuses – undergraduate and graduate. Those nearly 765,000 foreign students contribute $22.7 billion to the U.S. economy, making higher education among our top service sector exports. Now that is not the only reason we bring students to America. There is a value much greater and much deeper than just financial. But at a time of measurement and evaluation, metrics, and quantitative proof of concept, this economic contribution is worth noting.

I mention this because – as I take leave as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs – I want to make Americans more aware of what the State Department does, --specifically public diplomacy- how much real value it brings to jobs overseas, jobs here, education, entrepreneurship, travel, tourism, and a healthy and robust trade and investment climate in both directions.

I have come to think of the work I do as “bottom line diplomacy” because the allocation of resources is an important part of any equation – not only because of our continuing economic recovery but because we need to justify public expenditure to our only governing board – the American people. And we have clear results that demonstrate value.

But let me make something clear: Bottom line diplomacy isn’t about reducing everything to how much it costs. It’s the opposite. It’s about expanding our perspective so we see – and reap – the long term benefits for our own citizens. In other words, bottom line diplomacy is the fusion of economic statecraft and public diplomacy.

It understands that – for example – when our educational advisors in 170 countries provide millions of aspiring foreign students with accurate, comprehensive information about our colleges and universities, they’re not just helping people build their own prosperous futures. They’re bringing economic benefit to the U.S. economy.

Standing up for workers’ rights and high labor standards, more broadly shared economic opportunity, and human rights is both right and moral, but it is also smart and strategic. Studies show that when we build inclusive economies, safeguard freedoms, invest in education, and encourage opportunity, people become more healthy, productive, democratic, empowered, and prosperous. They are more likely to become viable economic, trade, social, political and strategic partners, enhancing security and prosperity for all.

That equation draws a direct line between our foreign policy, economic priorities and our public diplomacy as a way of building prosperity and protecting our national interests. When Sen. Lindsay Graham referred to public diplomacy as “national security insurance,” I know exactly what he meant.

Through economic statecraft, for example, we work with international institutions—including the G8, ILO, IFI, and OECD – to forge open, free, transparent, and fair markets. But as we do that, our public diplomacy is working to create the conditions for economic growth by reaching out to and supporting people as they build better futures.

Bottom line diplomacy, then, is about building and strengthening the hyphen between the flow of money and the productive index of people.

We know, for example, that when we make engaging women an integral part of our foreign policy, the economic benefits are enormous. Again, studies have long confirmed this. Unlocking the economic potential of 50 percent of the world’s population through engagement with women and girls is a hallmark of this Administration and this State Department and it pays dividends. Through programs such as Tech Women, economic partnerships such as The Middle East Respond Fund, through our U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, economic assistance programs, Partners for a New Beginning, WeAmerica, and other programs, our support extends to aspiring businesswomen and civil society leaders.

Global engagement opens doors that open minds – especially young minds. And some of our most effective outreach to young people comes from our own American young diplomats. Let me pause for a moment and reflect on Anne Smedinghoff, a young State Department colleague who became the first diplomat to die in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in April. On her final day, Anne was opening very big doors. She was working to support an educational program to promote literacy in Afghanistan. She was delivering books to young Afghans when she was killed. In her memory, today, I would like to announce the Anne Smedinghoff Award for Public Diplomacy Excellence for first and second tour Department of State officers. This award keeps Anne’s spirit alive by recognizing outstanding officers who open the doors of engagement, understanding, and opportunity.

To open doors in today’s globalized economy, you have to use social media, which is why we spend so much time building up our social media capabilities at State from virtual exchanges to an active online presence to online English language teaching.

Through social media and traditional public diplomacy we build skills for entrepreneurism. As we learned from the Arab Spring, the lack of economic opportunity for young people can lead to frustrated and disenfranchised youth who lack optimism in the prospects of their future. And so we engage online, both to create positive alternative scenarios and to use online media to counter negative scenarios like violent extremism which costs lives and treasure.

Public diplomacy today is about the movement of ideas. Through our Global Entrepreneurship Program, we identify promising entrepreneurs, train them, and link them with mentors and potential investors. And because support of their host governments is crucial to their future success, we advocate robustly for supportive economic policies and regulations.

We also engage citizens through our cornerstone American Spaces program. American Spaces offer each Embassy gathering places to connect with young people, foster new ideas, help foreign students pursue studies in the U.S. and promote English language learning—giving our contacts overseas the medium to engage in trade internationally—with the U.S. and other countries.

In October 2012, we joined the Youth Livelihoods Alliance, a multi-sector global initiative that aims to address the challenges of youth unemployment and increase opportunities for young people’s economic participation. The United States is also investing up to $2 billion in the creation of open online educational and job training resources.

Through our own Economic Public Diplomacy Innovation Fund, we are encouraging embassies to intersect with entrepreneurs and economic stakeholders, so we can advance investment, training, and economic engagement.

One last area of work I want to tell you about. The State Department team has pulled out all stops to support President Obama’s Travel and Tourism strategy, to encourage more travel to the United States, with brings with it clear benefit to the U.S and the American people -- more American jobs, expanded engagement with foreign publics, and strengthened economic statecraft. The Department of Commerce just released some very encouraging figures: Due at least in part to our efforts, travel and tourism to the United States rose by seven percent over the last year. Part of that effort came from public diplomacy.

I will miss my work at the State Department where, on any given day, the breadth and depth of our capabilities are palpable.

Secretary Kerry emerging from a bilateral meeting with a world leader. Students from Libya, Tunisia, or Egypt, or religious scholars from Chad visiting my office Community leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean meeting with Department officials to look for ways to improve the safety of all citizens in our hemisphere. Translators delivering our messages to Arab, Chinese, Urdu, Russian and other audiences. Regional bureaus communicating with embassies around the world. Experts communicating with critical audiences around the world via video feeds and CO.NX links. The message is clear: We are proactive and responsive in the fast-breaking, constantly evolving global conversation of the 21st century – and we are not stopping. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Statement on LGBT Pride Month by Secretary Kerry

Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
June 4, 2013

The Department of State joins people around the world in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. Forty-four years after Stonewall, we see incredible progress in the fight to advance the human rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBT people, both here in the United States and globally. Protecting universal human rights is at the very heart of our diplomacy, and we remain committed to advancing human rights for all, including LGBT individuals.

Unfortunately, recent events underscore that we can’t be content with the progress we’ve made. We still have a long way to go. All over the world, people continue to be killed, arrested, and harassed simply because of who they are, or who they love. There are LGBT people of all ages, all races and all faiths, citizens of every country on Earth. In too many places, LGBT people and their supporters are still attacked if they just attempt to stand up for their rights and participate in peaceful rallies or marches, or simply for being who they are.

The United States condemns this violence and harassment. LGBT persons must be free to exercise their human rights—including freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly and association—without fear of reprisal. Human rights and fundamental freedoms belong to all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The United States will continue to stand up for the human rights of all people, during this month and every month throughout the year, and we are proud to do so.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Presidential Proclamation -- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, 2013

Presidential Proclamation -- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, 2013


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For more than two centuries, our Nation has struggled to transform the ideals of liberty and equality from founding promise into lasting reality. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans and their allies have been hard at work on the next great chapter of that history -- from the patrons of The Stonewall Inn who sparked a movement to service members who can finally be honest about who they love to brave young people who come out and speak out every day.

This year, we celebrate LGBT Pride Month at a moment of great hope and progress, recognizing that more needs to be done. Support for LGBT equality is growing, led by a generation which understands that, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." In the past year, for the first time, voters in multiple States affirmed marriage equality for same-sex couples. State and local governments have taken important steps to provide much-needed protections for transgender Americans.

My Administration is a proud partner in the journey toward LGBT equality. We extended hate crimes protections to include attacks based on sexual orientation or gender identity and repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." We lifted the HIV entry ban and ensured hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients. Together, we have investigated and addressed pervasive bullying faced by LGBT students, prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Federal housing, and extended benefits for same-sex domestic partners. Earlier this year, I signed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the implementation of any VAWA-funded program. And because LGBT rights are human rights, my Administration is implementing the first-ever Federal strategy to advance equality for LGBT people around the world.

We have witnessed real and lasting change, but our work is not complete. I continue to support a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as well as the Respect for Marriage Act. My Administration continues to implement the Affordable Care Act, which beginning in 2014, prohibits insurers from denying coverage to consumers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which addresses the disparate impact of the HIV epidemic among certain LGBT sub-communities. We have a long way to go, but if we continue on this path together, I am confident that one day soon, from coast to coast, all of our young people will look to the future with the same sense of promise and possibility. I am confident because I have seen the talent, passion, and commitment of LGBT advocates and their allies, and I know that when voices are joined in common purpose, they cannot be stopped.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2013 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.


Monday, June 03, 2013

The Replacements

When you join the Foreign Service, before you go overseas for the first time, you are required to take a course called Security Overseas Seminar, or as I have referred to it before, "Scaring Officers (and others) Silly."

Like everyone else in that class, and every SOS class, when I heard that 85% of Foreign Service officers and specialists will be the victim of crime over the course of their career, I vowed to be in the 15% who weren't. And I made it a year and a month after joining...or just two months after taking the class and making that vow...

Eight years ago in April, back when we were in Jerusalem, our apartment was robbed. The computer and cell phone were a pain to replace, but they were replaceable.

Not exactly replaceable were the ring I inherited from my mother and my and my wife's class rings.

My wife gave her class ring to me before we got married. I had stopped wearing it because we had gotten married and exchanged wedding rings, and so it was at home and there for the taking (insert expletives here about those who did it...I am STILL pissed).

I was particularly devastated by the loss of my mother's ring. She had loved that ring and wore it every day. She had always said she wanted me to have it when she died, but neither of us expected it to be while she was still so young.

The second most devastating loss was my wife's ring. I just felt like I had let her down by not having it with me (since she at the time was still stateside in language training).

Fast forward to January or February. My alumni association sends an announcement that it is time to order class rings. And reminds alumni that they too can order that ring they never got around to buying (or couldn't afford) back when they graduated.

And I thought, I wonder if they have my wife's school too. And they did! So I ordered replacements for both our rings...I remember it taking forever when I was in school, and I needed in time for my wife's birthday in May. And they got here in fact, too early. Like March.

And I had to wait to wear my ring so I wouldn't spoil the surprise.

She was surprised. I didn't realize just how badly I continued to feel over it until I saw how much she liked it (and that she has worn it every day since!)

But I was surprised too, because she didn't tell me until she got it just how much it meant to her. Turns out she had worn it every day since graduating until she gave it to me. She gave it to me because it meant something, because I meant something. She was devastated, but didn't say anything because she knew how I felt about my mother's ring. she didn't want to add insult to injury.

She says I can never say she isn't romantic and sensitive ever again. Fair point.

And so basically everything that was taken has been replaced, except for my mother's ring. But I still have her memory. They can't take that.