Saturday, August 31, 2013


So long, Virginia.

Yesterday, a day before our eleven year wedding anniversary (and two and a half months before our 14 year anniversary together and four year anniversary of our legal marriage), we closed on a house in Maryland.

Isn't equality cute?
Don't get me wrong Virginia. I really like you. We both do. We especially love Northern close to work. So close to FSI. So many cool restaurants and dog parks and jogging trails. Your power company that isn't Pepco.

But it has felt like a one-way street.

Oh you were content enough to take our taxes. But you didn't like the money enough to make us full citizens. You didn't like us enough to let us file our taxes jointly. Or inherit from each other like spouses instead of like strangers. Or make burial arrangements for each other.

So we decided that we would become residents of Maryland instead.

Because it just seems like they want us more. Heck, they even offered to recognize our marriage as legal before same-sex couples could get married there.

I know things are changing. I hope that soon, you too will be on the right side of history. I just don't want to keep giving you money for discriminating against my family. We work hard and we serve our country, for pete's sake! We just want to be treated like everyone else.

And I know there are those who say that nothing will change if people leave instead of fighting. And I will keep fighting, just like I have since I first came out in 1986. That's right, I have been out and fighting for nearly 30 years. It is just that now, I can do it from a place of safety for my family. And I think I have earned that. And I support the fight of those who stay and fight, whether because they can't move or don't want to. I recognize that I am fortunate to have the choice.

So, see ya later Virginia. We are taking our tax dollars, our housing dollars, our retail dollars, elsewhere.

To Maryland, where we are equal.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Keeping Secrets, or, My Manning Rant

Up to now, with the exception of one shared Facebook status, I have kept my opinions on the Bradley/Chelsea Manning affair in my own head or my own home. And even as I type this, I have no idea whether I will publish it.

When the news first broke that PFC Bradley Manning, who had allegedly leaked reams of classified documents, was gay, I groaned. Just what we need, the person accused of treasonous acts being gay. And worse, saying that he did it because he was gay.

Because as a gay person, I find that personally offensive. Being gay is not an illness, and it does not force you to violate the oath you took to defend your country.

And I felt the same way when he later announced that he was actually transgender.Because being transgender also is not an illness and does not force you to violate the oath you took.

So I was dismayed when I saw so many of my friends defending her actions, first on the grounds that the U.S. Government is some big, evil thing that is out to do horrible things. And "ha ha ha, we caught you and now you are pissed about it." And second on the grounds of Manning being transgender.

I'll address the second first because it is simpler.

In the words of Kristin Beck, the transgender former Navy Seal, "What you wear, what color you are, your religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity has no basis on whether you are a CRIMINAL or NOT."

I feel no more sympathy for her actions because she is transgender than I would if she were simply Bradley Manning, standard issue straight white guy. Because there are good and bad people of every race, every religion, every sex, every sexual orientation, and every gender identity. Did you feel bad for Jeffrey Dahmer because he was gay? Or did you feel bad for all of the young men he killed and consumed?

The second is about the work of the government.

I am an American Indian, so I don't see our government through rose-colored glasses. I have an ancestor who died on the Trail of Tears. I know our government is capable of and had done some horrible things.

And so I believe, whole-heartedly, in whistle-blowing. Absolutely, if you are inside the government and learn of wrong-doing, expose it. There are hoards of journalists (among whose ranks I used to work) who are eager to help you publicize it if the channels within your organization fail. And I believe in those journalists. I believe that they are a guardian of our freedom by helping to keep the government honest.

But that isn't what Manning did. Manning was convicted of releasing classified documents without regard to content. Without believing that any particular action needed to be brought to public scrutiny. (You want an example? Take the alleged documents Manning released on Estonia. You know what the Estonians said? They said, well, if these are real then the Americans are telling Washington exactly what they told us they were.) And that isn't whistle-blowing. That is treason.

Now maybe you believe the U.S. government should have no secrets from its people. And the government saying it needs to keep secrets is unacceptable. Certainly, it seems a lot of my friends feel that way. But if you do, you are wrong, and let me give you an example of why.

Each year, in every country where we have a diplomatic mission, we write a human rights report. This is what it sounds like, a report on the human rights situation in a particular country. And to get that information, we spend the year talking to human rights activists in those countries. And reporting back to Washington what we are learning in the hopes that the U.S. government can use some of its influence to help protect people's rights world wide.

The secrets we as government employees keep are not based on making sure you don't know but on making sure that only those who need to know something actually know it. Now do you feel you have a need to know  the names of those human rights activists? Probably not.

But say you did feel you had a right to know. So say we just wrote all about everything those activists told us in unclassified, unprotected reports back to Washington.

Great! Now you know a secret. And you know who else does? The leaders in those countries that are violating people's human rights. And now not only did you get the name of the activist telling us something, but so did those leaders. And while your level of knowledge went up, those activists' life expectancy went down. Also going down? The chances that future activists will talk to us, and the chances that we can try to do anything to help.

So when they say Manning's actions put people's lives at risk, this is the kind of thing they meant. But all that is worth it to keep the government from having secrets, right?

You know who else's lives are at risk? The American diplomats who are reporting on those issues. Because there are certainly people in the world who would like it better if we stopped looking into how they treat their own people.

(And there is a certain irony that a lot of the folks who are celebrating Manning as a hero also want us to do something to help in places like Syria.)

So the consequence of all Americans getting to know everything is that everyone everywhere gets to know everything. Even the people who are killing their own people.

And that is just one reason why we might need to keep secrets. That is just one reason why I keep the oath I made to protect my country and keep her secrets.

And that is why Manning is a traitor, without regard to her gender identity.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Trekking to Trakai after Fourteen Years

I first saw a picture of Trakai, a castle in Lithuania, nearly 14 years ago. And since then, I have looked at that picture almost every day.

You see, my wife's grandmother was an artist, and my wife used to live in Vilnius. So she sometimes took pictures of places she had visited and her grandmother would paint them.

The painting of Trakai is one of my favorites of all of her work. It hangs in our bedroom.

Yesterday, I finally got to see it in person.

The castle is beautiful. It sits on an island in the middle of Lake Galvė. It was started in the 14th century by Kęstutis, and completed around 1409 by his son Vytautas the Great, who died in the castle in 1430. But over the years, it fell into ruin.

It was the Soviets who finally restored the castle, but work on the restoration actually started in the 1880s, when its original frescoes were preserved and copied and the Imperial Archaeological Commission initiated the documentation of ruins. The Imperial Russian authorities decided in 1905 to partially restore the castle, and during World War I, Germans brought in their specialists, who also tried to restore it. Period work took place on the ruins before World War II, but obviously stopped during the war. A major reconstruction project was started in 1946, and the major portion of the reconstruction was finished in 1961. The Soviets finally finished it in 1987, and the wooden statue below, was erected in honor of to Vytautas the Great there in 1994 while my wife was there.

The trip was part of a whirlwind trip to Lithuania for the long weekend. I say whirlwind because we saw most of what was in a brochure my wife found at the tourist center called "Vilnius in 3 Days," and we saw much of it in an afternoon.

No wonder my feet hurt!!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And This Is Why We Are Moving To Maryland...

After the Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, certain benefits were extended to married same-sex couples regardless of their state of residence. President Obama said at the time that there were two possible standards for determining marital status, place of residence and place of ceremony. he hoped that the latter definition would be used, extending marital protections to legally married couples regardless of where they currently reside.

And this is in fact the standard many agencies have been using. For example, the State Department recently began issuing visas to married same-sex couples, and DHS stopped deportation proceedings against legal spouses regardless of their state of residence.

But an article in the Washington Blade demonstrates that this is not what is happening for every agency.

For example, the Social Security Administration is putting a hold on applications where the applicants do not live in a state with marriage equality. Likewise, married couples will still have to pay state inheritance taxes should one spouse die if they live in a state without marriage equality. And the family medical leave act may not apply to couples who don't live in marriage equality states.

All of these issues can be dealt with by a simple policy change, and hopefully it will happen soon. But it isn't there yet. This affects us directly. We are currently residents of Virginia, which has a constitutional ban on our marriage. So if I died, my wife couldn't claim my body and make burial decisions for me. She would have to pay inheritance taxes on our home, and she would not be able to claim my social security.

And this is why we are moving to Maryland. With any luck, we will close on our new home in a couple weeks and soon thereafter be able to establish Maryland residency. And Virginia will have lost two taxpayers.

And we are the lucky ones. Because we work for an agency based in D.C., it is easy for us to say fine, we will just move across the border. Others aren't so lucky. Their jobs tie them to place, whether by virtue of being unable to work at the same job in another location or unable to afford to move.

We need to fix this for them. For the country. So we can all be full citizens.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

It Just Never Gets Easier

Of course, I am talking about bidding.

What, you think I forgot about it? Or forgot to write about it?

Nope, neither. In fact, there are times when it threatens to be all consuming.

The bid list came out on August 1, and I was really excited to see that a number of the positions that were listed on the projected vacancies and had looked promising were still there.

You see, those projected vacancies may or may not have any connection to reality. A person in a position at a post with 15% or great differential (hardship and/or danger) can extend if they choose. Poof...that job that was expected to be available is off the market until next year.

And the other issue is that bidders agreeing to go to what we are now referring to as PSP, or Priority Staffing Posts (aka Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya), get to link to their next assignment. Meaning they just to the head of the bidding queue and pick the nicest jobs, competing only with any other PSP bidder who might want that position.

And there is no guarantee that just because you are interested in something you think would not be interesting to someone coming out of a place where things blow up, that it won't get linked to. Some people really like the excitement. Some like the extra money. Some think that every place in Europe is easier than any PSP place. There may be some truth to that.

So yeah, that job you have an eye on at a 25% differential post could still get snapped up by someone who just served at a place with a 70% differential (look, over here...wouldn't you really rather take this nice Paris job?).

The linking part of things is now over, so the jobs on the current list should be there, provided people don't extend. There is at least one job I am looking at where the "incumbent" arrives this week (because it is a two year tour and you get one year of language before going to post, the people I would replace in some of these jobs are only just arriving), and he has until after the bids are due to decide if he will stay for a third year. Hopefully he will decide sooner than that, and hopefully he will decide not to extend, because that is the place I would really like to go.

But here is the rub: it isn't the place my wife really wants to go.

If you think bidding is a pain, bidding tandem is even a bigger pain.

Not only are you now hunting for two jobs instead of one, but you are also looking for two jobs at the same post or at least at posts within commuting distance of each other. That really limits the number of jobs you can bid on that.

Add to that each of our own career wants and needs. For example, we are both currently section heads. We'd like to be section heads in our next assignment too, but in many cases, there simply aren't enough section head positions open. Or there is a section head position that will be open at just the right time but it doesn't require language so it won't be on the bid list until next year. Does she take a deputy position or do I? How do we decide? Or do we just do like many tandems and go back to DC, where it is easier to find another position overseas next time around?

So many of our spare time conversations for the past week have revolved around what to do next. No option is perfect. There will be compromises either way.

And there is no guarantee we will get any of what we want (though I did have a phone interview yesterday that felt really positive. It was essentially for any position in Europe because the bureau has a new system for Public Diplomacy jobs that involves a new web-based reference center....lucky me, my experiences with it are helping them work out the bugs, sigh. A couple quick notes about the 360 Reference Center for you if you are bidding PD jobs in Europe. That "save" button? Don't use it. It submits your application without you getting to finish it. Also, don't start unless you have time to finish...the application times out if you are away too long - or take too long. The description of why you are qualified - have it in a word document or something you can use to cut and paste from in case you lose it. And if you put in a email address for a reference, it will automatically populate the rest of the fields for that reference from the GAL, even if that person is on home leave, and you won't be able to add a correct phone number or change the person's position).

And of course, all of this is before we move on to the asking your bid to the prom phase. Do I wait for the girl I like like, or do I just settle for the girl I kind of like?

Nope, it never gets easier. God I hate bidding.

Friday, August 09, 2013

We Don't Get Terrorized

President Obama spoke at Camp Pendleton on Wednesday. He gave a shout out to those of us serving in suits instead of uniforms.

"But, of course, the end of the war in Afghanistan doesn’t mean the end of threats to our nation. As I’ve said before, even as we decimated the al Qaeda leadership that attacked us on 9/11, al Qaeda affiliates and like-minded extremists still threaten our homeland, still threaten our diplomatic facilities, still threaten our businesses abroad. And we've got to take these threats seriously and do all we can to confront them. We’ve been reminded of this again in recent days.

So I want to take a special time out to salute all our brave diplomats and tireless intelligence and military personnel who have been working around the clock to safeguard our embassies and our consulates and our fellow Americans serving overseas, including all those vigilant Marines standing guard at our embassies around the world. They're doing an outstanding job. (Applause.)

As for these extremists, here’s what those who would cowardly attack our civilians don’t get. The United States is never going to retreat from the world. We don't get terrorized. We’re going to keep standing up for our interests. We're going to keep standing up for the security of our citizens. We're going to keep standing up for human rights and dignity for people wherever they live. We’re going to keep working with our allies and our partners. We're going to keep offering a future of hope and progress -- in stark contrast to terrorists who only know how to kill and destroy and maim. And like generations before us, the United States of America is going to remain the greatest force for freedom that the world has ever known.

You are an integral part of that. That's what you do, serving in uniform every single day. But this is not just a job for our military. It takes diplomacy. It takes development. It takes trade. It takes intelligence to stay true to our values as a nation. This is a complicated time. The world is going through big changes, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. And we have to have a military strategy to protect ourselves. But we've also got to lead with our values and our ideals and all elements of our power."

Friday, August 02, 2013

Announcement on Visa Changes for Same-Sex Couples

We will be treated equally. It is all we have ever asked. Thank you, Secretary Kerry (and thank you SCOTUS, and especially, thank you Edie Windsor!)

Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release August 2, 2013


Secretary of State John Kerry
Announcement on Visa Changes for Same-Sex Couples

August 2, 2013
U.S. Embassy London, United Kingdom


Today is one of those days. I’m very pleased to be able to announce that effective immediately, when same-sex spouses apply for a visa, the Department of State will consider that application in the same manner that it will consider the application of opposite-sex spouses. And here is exactly what this rule means: If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, your visa application will be treated equally. If you are the spouse of a non-citizen, your visa application will be treated equally. And if you are in a country that doesn’t recognize your same-sex marriage, then your visa application will still be treated equally at every single one of our 222 visa processing centers around the world.

Now, as long as a marriage has been performed in a jurisdiction that recognizes it so that it is legal, then that marriage is valid under U.S. immigration laws, and every married couple will be treated exactly the same, and that is what we believe is appropriate. Starting next year, that will include same-sex couples from England and Wales, which just this year passed laws permitting same-sex marriage that will take effect in 2014.


So those of you working today in the consular section will make history when you issue some of the first visas to same-sex couples, and you will be some of the first faces to welcome them to the United States in an always – a country that obviously is always trying to tweak and improve and do better by the values around which we were founded. You share in the great responsibility of making our country live its values, and you make possible the journey of those who want to visit our country for that reason and many more.

Reuters: U.S. says visas from gay spouses will get equal treatment

An article by Reuters,U.S. says visas from gay spouses will get equal treatment, brings very welcome news for those who have been waiting for official department guidance.

The article said:

"The United States will immediately begin considering visa applications of gay and lesbian spouses in the same manner as heterosexual couples, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.

Kerry made the announcement at the U.S. Embassy in London.

"When same-sex couples apply for a visa, the Department of State will consider that application in the same manner that it considers the application of opposite sex spouses," Kerry said shortly after his arrival in London.

"If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, your visa application will be treated equally. If you are the spouse of a non-citizen, your visa application will be treated equally. If you are in a country that doesn't recognize your same-sex marriage, then your visa application will still be treated equally at every single one of our 222 visa processing centers around the world," he added."

I checked our Department's official guidance, and yes, in fact: "Beginning immediately, consular officers should review visa applications filed by a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed by an opposite-sex spouse..."

Welcome news indeed!

Where are the Lesbian Ambassadors?

Before today, there had only been three openly gay male Ambassadors, two of whom were political appointees.

Photo courtesy of Owen Hughes

The first, James Hormel, was appointed by President Clinton as Ambassador to Luxembourg just 16 years ago. He was followed by Michael Guest, a career officer appointed by President George W. Bush as Ambassador to Romania, and then David Huebner, appointed by President Obama as Ambassador to New Zealand.

Ambassador Huebner was the first to receive little opposition. The battle to confirm Ambassador Guest included Senate questions about whether the U.S. Government was paying to transport his partner's underwear. Ambassador Hormel was never able to be confirmed, and had to be appointed while the Senate was in recess.

As of yesterday, the number of openly gay ambassadors had more have more than doubled. The Senate confirmed former head of the Office of Personnel and management John Berry to serve as ambassador to Australia (the first out gay ambassador to a G-20 country), Rufus Gifford as ambassador to Denmark, James Costos as ambassador to Spain and Daniel Baer as ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). A fifth, James “Wally” Brewster, has been nominated as ambassador the the Dominican Republic, but that nomination was not acted on last night. All five are political appointees.

This is all really good news.


That is still just one openly gay career diplomat to seven political appointees.

There is an interesting article earlier this week in the Washington Post on why there have been so few openly gay ambassadors.

The article makes some really good points. Like that career officers tend to be appointed to ambassadorships in countries where they have a lot of regional experience. And if gay officers have served most of their time in Western Europe because that area has historically been more friendly to gays, they are likely out of luck. Because while 70% of ambassadorships go to career diplomats, nearly 100% of them in Western Europe go to political appointees.

Other issues the article addresses are the ease with which the Senate can put an appointee on hold and the reluctance on the part of Presidents to expend political capital to get someone through who is not a political ally. And then there is the issue of most ambassadors being expected to have a spouse to assist with representational events. Single, or at least apparently single, men make less attractive candidates.

Did you notice I said men?

The thing this article doesn't address, that no article I have seen addresses, and that these appointments don't address, is why has there never been an out lesbian ambassador? Career or political. There has never been a lesbian even nominated to be ambassador.


Clearly we are willing to address racism. We have had ambassadors of all races and colors. And one of the things I am really proud of this country for is sending a black ambassador to South Africa during apartheid. Because when we are at our best, we stand for equality. Our ambassadors represent our country and our values, not those of the country where they serve.

Likewise, we have taken on sexism. We have sent women ambassadors around the world, including to countries that actively repress half of their population.

And we have addressed homophobia. With this batch, we will even be sending a gay ambassador to a country where religious leaders have protested his appointment.

But addressing sexism and homophobia together, even without addressing racism?

That is apparently the bridge too far.