Friday, August 02, 2013

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.


jc said...

It's a matter of time - and it may happen sooner than you think.

There are certainly non-married women Ambassadors out there. Some of whom are rumored to be lesbian. Anyone who has been a career diplomat long enough to rise in the ranks up to Ambassador remembers when being gay was grounds for losing a security clearance - even if they entered the service after this practise had changed). So as the article points out - discretion often prevailed.

After the Supreme Court ruling, there is less reason for discretion.

Digger said...

I am sure there are or have been lesbian ambassadors, just as there have undoubtedly been more than just the eight gay ambassadors who are openly gay. What I am looking for is the first out lesbian ambassador.

Rev Wes Isley said...

Very good point, and as the other commentor said, it's only a matter of time.

All this has me wondering what sorts of challenges an openly gay or lesbian ambassador faces in some countries? Some in the Dominican Republic have been so opposed to Brewster's appointment, that I can't help but consider the wisdom of choosing him. Of course, it would be discriminatory not to, but it seems like he's being set up for quite a difficult job once he arrives in the D.R.

Digger said...

Of course they are being set up for a hard time, but I am okay with that. Just like the African American we sent as Ambassador to South Africa during apartaid. We are making a statement about our values, and that makes me proud.