Monday, June 30, 2014

178th A-100

Welcome to the 178th A-100, which just started today!

I especially want to welcome bloggers who have joined the Foreign Service this time.

So welcome to:

All Points Forward

If you know of any other bloggers, let me know and I will add them to this post and to the blogroll.

And welcome to the Foreign Service!


Two more bloggers in the class to welcome:

Adventures in the Foreign Service


Collecting Postcards

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Forty-five Years Since Stonewall

This June marks the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

The distance we have come in that time is nothing short of astounding.

Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, spoke on the occasion at the "Stonewall at 45" Commemoration on Thursday.

She said:
"So, as we look back over the 45 years since Stonewall, we can see how far we’ve come, thanks in large part due to the work of brave individuals like [Foreign Service Officer and GLIFAA President] Robyn McCutcheon, and the three advocates you will hear from today.

But we can also see how much further we have left to go. Yes, we have amazing projects like, “It gets better,” which didn’t exist when Bill and Zachary were growing up. But we still need projects like it – and the phones at the Trevor project keep ringing, day and night – because in some parts of our country, in some communities, and in some families, it still can be very, very bad. Because some LGBT kids need to hear that it won’t always hurt as much as it does right now. And they need to hear that before the pain becomes overwhelming for them; so long as those kids are out there – so long as those phones are still ringing – we still have work, real work, to do.

And I’d go one step further – and, full disclosure, it’s big step. Marin Luther King once said famously: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we believe that to be the case, and I think we do; and if we are truly universal champions of LGBT equality, as I know we are; and if we are witnessing such an alarming backlash against LGBT rights, in so many parts of the world, as we unquestionably are; then it is our duty to take the lessons we have learned in our own movement and share them with the people who are waging this struggle beyond our borders. They too need to know that “It gets better.” They need any help that we can offer in making it better.

Who better to help them answer that call, as we look back upon the 45 years since Stonewall, than us?"

You can read her entire speech here. You can read a story about the event here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Friends and Stuff

I said my first goodbye today. One of my staff members is going on vacation and won't be back until after we depart post.

It was hard. It was all I could do not to break down and cry. There are so many awesome people here, especially among my staff. I adore them all.

Leaving Tallinn is going to be hard.

Less emotional was saying goodbye to some of our stuff. Today was the day we packed out our UAB, or Unaccompanied Baggage.

As officers, we each get 250 lbs of UAB, so 500 lbs total. I discovered coming here that a lot of my weight was taken up by clothes, especially work clothes. I knew I wouldn't need much of those since I am going to FSI (the Foreign Service Institute) to study language. Jeans or khakis and polos will do the trick.

So I wasn't packing a lot of suits...and shockingly, after three years in Estonia, I have a limited amount of "summer" clothes in the non-Arctic sense of summer (as I write, I am wearing a fleece and shearling slippers...and our apartment does not have AC).

Still, I was ready. I had lists. I had all of the stuff from the lists carefully piled so we didn't forget anything.
The box-like thing to the right is actually the pads for the dining table.
We used them to surround our clothes so the cats didn't make a bed there.
I highlighted each thing on my list as I put it in the pile.

What I didn't plan for? Needing more stuff to put in it.

So the packers arrived. (Have I mentioned how much I love Estonia? The movers were scheduled to arrive at 9 am. They got here at 8:55. They removed their shoes. They brought actual bubble wrap. And they estimated about 2 hours and left just shy of 2 hours later.)

And they packed up our pile.

The embroidered pillow is the cats'.
The blue and purple thing is a stuffed dog toy. Priorities!

And then they asked where the OTHER HALF was.

I have very little idea what is in the second half. Some more clothes. A carpet from Azerbaijan that the cats will love because it is covered with their hair. A Catawba pot for smudging our new home. My favorite coat (because I use my leather jacket here in June...why wouldn't I need it in DC in July?). Softball gloves. Who knows what else?

There is one thing in there I didn't intend to put camera. I meant to put in my camera BAG but to bring the camera with me in my backpack. Hopefully it arrives before our home leave, or my pictures are going to be with my little point and shoot. Sad, but not devastating.

When it was all said and done, we managed to use most of our weight. I think we each used about 235 of our 250 lbs. And it should soon be on the way to DC.

Goodbye, stuff!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

One Year

One year ago today, while my wife and I were on vacation in Norway, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

The moment we heard is still vivid in my mind.

Here is some of what I wrote at the time:

"I had been waiting for the ruling for what seemed like an eternity. I expected it to come at 10 am Washington time on June 26th, but I had not told my wife that this was when the ruling was expected because she had already chastised me for watching SCOTUSblog the few weeks prior for fear I would jinx it. 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."

Just reading the words I wrote a year ago (okay, a year and four days, because I couldn't post very well from my ipad), brings tears to my eyes again.

Since the decision, every single ruling in the country, some 22 or 24 I think, has gone in favor of marriage equality. Two more state bans were found to be unconstitutional just yesterday. There is now marriage equality in 19 states plus DC, and every single state has either had their ban declared unconstitutional or has a pending lawsuit. EVERY. STATE.

In that time, we have purchased a home in Maryland and established residency there. Next month, we will move into our home there for the first time. Virginia, which continues to not recognize our marriage, has lost thousands of dollars in income taxes just from us. And we know we are not alone. (It also meant filing a bazillion tax returns...okay, six I think, including fake federal ones listing us as single for our Virginia taxes and real joint federal hiring an accountant for the first time).

The changes in society have been dramatic. A majority of Americans now support marriage equality, including 50% in my beloved South. When getting insurance for a property we have in South Carolina, the agent asked if I was married, I said yes and gave her my wife's info, and she said she didn't think they would recognize our marriage...and that she was sorry because that was simply unfair!

Changes I made to our insurance and such at work and with our mortgages were simple. I had only to tell them we were married. I got not one single negative response. And my friends with foreign born spouses are having their lives changed even more dramatically. Several of my friends are newly-minted Americans because their marriages are finally recognized. I can't even describe how happy I am for them, because their struggles were always so much greater than ours.

There are still some changes that need to be made. Some agencies are still bound to recognize marriages based on places of residence rather than of ceremony, meaning that some couples living in non-equality states are still not getting social security and veterans benefits they are entitled to.

But at least now, 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.

And when people ask now if we are married, the answer is a simple yes, without qualifications.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Other Lists

So in addition to my list of items for the UAB, I also have my lists of items to go into my suitcase and my carry on.

These need to be packed and locked away in a room before the movers come for the HHE, or Household Effects, so that they don't get packed along with everything else including the trash...because we all know that happens.

So in case you want to either a) crib from my list, or b) remind me of something I am forgetting, here is what is going on the plane with me (in addition to the animals).

Carry on:
Passport, Driver’s license paperwork (we are new Maryland residents and need to get new licenses...buh bye Virginia and your non-recognition of our marriage!) and orders
Pet passports and paperwork
Car titles and marriage license
Badge and paperwork for new badge

Check book
Phone and charger
iPad and charger
Cameras and chargers
Video camera
Computer and cords

Cat bowls and a little food
Dog bowls and a little food
Noostie’s kong and ziggies (they are her favorites...we can't go a day without them)
Cayenne’s treat cup and food
Towel/wash cloth
One suit
Small litter box and litter
swimsuit (for our home leave trip)
tevas (ditto)

I admit I probably don't need the fleece but I like having it...and I plan to re-acclimate to the wonderfulness that is air conditioning! This is also why, despite a friend saying that a summer blanket is an Estonian concept I won't need in Maryland, I am putting on in my UAB.

You might have noticed, if you read yesterday's post, that I have sheets, pillows and towels in the UAB and in my suitcase. There is a reason for that.

In our storage, we have a double bed for guests. We will be using that until our king bed arrives in in our HHE (new FS folks...embassy bedding is uniformly awful. If you have a bed you love, take it with you). So in the UAB, I will pack some sheets for that bed. We will use two single beds pushed together to sleep on once our HHE is packed, so we will have our king sheets on that. We will out those in our suitcase. Once we get stateside, we can use those on the double bed (lots of tucking under the mattress) until the UAB is delivered. Then we wash them and have them ready when our HHE arrives so we don't have to hunt through the boxes for clean king sheets. Having pillows in both the UAB and suitcase means no time with the embassy's airline pillows from the welcome kit. And having an extra towel is always a good idea.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Preparing to Pack

And so it begins.

The long goodbye to our stuff.

We have the good fortune of two back to back local holidays this Monday and Tuesday, meaning we have a four-day weekend. Yay, Estonia.

Our first day back, Wednesday, is when we have our packout survey. If this were the states, I would tell you that this would be when the moving company would come by and grossly underestimate how much stuff we have and how long it will take to pack our stuff. They would then use that gross underestimation to bring too little of what they need to actually pack our stuff, or at least too little of what they need to pack our stuff the way they tend to pack it (really, how many trees died to wrap my shoes in that much paper?).

But this is not America.

This is Estonia, where people are efficient and generally accurate. So I am cautiously optimistic that I will get a reasonable estimate of the amount and the time involved.

I'll let you know.

And then Friday, they come for our UAB, or Unaccompanied Baggage.

That is the stuff that arrives, or is supposed to arrive, fairly quickly. The stuff you need immediately, like clothes, sheets, towels, some dishes, etc.

I say supposed to, because when my wife was posted to Baku, they forgot to send her UAB until she had been there for FOUR MONTHS. That is a long time to live with the stuff from your suitcase. And coming home from Jerusalem, where we dutifully packed out our UAB two weeks before leaving post so it would get home around when we did, they didn't bother to send it until AFTER they sent our HHE. When I called post to figure out what happened, they asked if there was something in there I really needed immediately.


Of course, these are also the movers that tied down our car, the one going on a ship, with bungie cords. Ships rock, bungie cords stretch, and our car was scraped down to the metal. Thank god for insurance.

So it is that time again. It is all I can do not to put things into a UAB pile, but with the in-laws arriving tomorrow, there is just no good place to do it. So instead, I have a list.

Here is what I have for the UAB so far:

Summer blanket
Shower curtain and rod
PS3 (doubles as a DVD player)
Kitchen - Pots/pans/dishes
Dog’s blanket
Cat food
Cat bed
Litter box
Tool box
*Camera backpack
*Walking stick
*Day packs
*Small cooler
Bose Radio
Shower radio
Laundry hamper

Baby gate
Step stool

Of course, I also have lists for my suitcase and carry on. I really want to pack them too.

* For our home leave hiking trip.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Milestone (To Me)

It isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things.

350,000 visitors. 

That is the number of visitors to this blog since I started tracking the number in 2008 (I started the blog two years earlier, but I am pretty sure my dad was the only one reading it then).

Whoever that 350,000th visitor was just now, thanks!

Lots of bloggers, even lots of Foreign Service bloggers, have had more visitors and certain in a shorter time than it took me to reach that number.

Still. I am proud of it.

Secretary Kerry Speaks at GLIFAA Pride Event

Secretary Kerry spoke yesterday at GLIFAA's annual Pride Event. Wish I could have been there.

Remarks at GLIFAA Pride Event

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room

Washington, DC

June 19, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Robyn, thank you very, very much. Thank you to all of you. Welcome to this celebration of pride here at State, and I’m very, very honored to have a chance to be able to talk with everybody. And thank you especially for putting up with my tardiness, which is not my fault. Blame Iraq and – (laughter) – a few other places. But I’m really delighted to be here. Robyn’s leadership is terrific, and Robyn works very, very closely with all of us on the 7th floor. I could list any number of her accomplishments during her tenure, but let me just share two very quickly.

Her advocacy and partnership with OPM and with Under Secretary Kennedy – where is he? Somewhere here. Right in front of me. (Laughter.) Well, Pat, thank you very much. That advocacy made an enormous difference, and through it, she helped to lift the exclusionary ban that prevented insurance companies from providing coverage for medical needs to gender transition. And she’s also made it her mission to ensure that our employees overseas can be accompanied by their families, and I think very few people have cared more, done more, or fought more to make that happen. So Robyn, thank you for your leadership. I really appreciate it. (Applause.)

I have to add something else. Robyn is the first transgender Foreign Service officer to come out on the job, and believe me it wasn’t easy. I think everybody here knows that. When she was posted in Bucharest, she faced a lot of prejudice, she had to deal with completely inappropriate judgments that people were making, questions about her abilities, but she didn’t just persevere. In the end, she won the hearts of the Ambassador, her career Foreign Service colleagues, Civil Service colleagues, and the local staff, and she actually made Embassy Bucharest a model of acceptance. She even authored the first State Department report on transgender issues, and she didn’t just get through a difficult period, she was determined to turn it into a precedent-setting event, and as a result she made it a lot easier for those – or at least a little easier for those who follow. And I can’t begin to tell you and I think everybody here knows what a difference that has made.

I also want to thank our guest of honor, Masha Gessen, for her own special perseverance and advocacy. When all the repressive anti-LGBT laws in Russia threatened literally to break apart her family, she put up a fight. Fearlessly, she spoke out on Russia’s only independent television channel, and her Pink Triangle Campaign, which everybody became familiar with, unleashed a wave of grassroots activism. And the government in Moscow may look at Masha as a troublemaker to contend with, but here in the United States, we know that she is a wonderful person – a mother, a journalist, an extraordinary human rights defender – and we are honored by her presence here. Thank you for being here. (Applause.)

Now I know that all of us right now are more than aware of – we can palpably feel the wave of new, growing – the trend if you will, in some places for anti-LGBT laws that are metastasizing in various places. And for some it’s, obviously, easy to get alarmed by that. But let me just share this with you: I don’t think it’s time to get alarmed. I think it’s time to get active. Because your activism and your energy and your pushback – it won’t be the first time you’ve pushed back – can make all the difference in the world for a lot of people. And if anybody doesn’t believe that, just take a look at the recent history that we’ve all lived through here.

I came to the Senate in 1985. It was a time when AIDS was pilloried as a “gay disease.” And somehow that may have been deemed to give some people the permission to ignore it. I remember just a few years later, I testified before Strom Thurmond’s Armed Services Committee at an open hearing to speak out as a combat veteran about why gays ought to be allowed to serve openly in the military, and I ran into a world of misperceptions. Three years after that, I was the only United States Senator, as Robyn mentioned, to vote against DOMA.

Now – the only one who was running for reelection – there were 14 of us. Only 14 who voted against it. Today, that would never pass. That is an amazing journey. That’s a statement about how far we have come. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed. LGBT[1] Americans who are willing to die for their country are today allowed to fight for their country. And we’ve gone from a Senate that passed DOMA over my objections to one that recently welcomed its first openly lesbian United States Senator.

We’ve gone from a Senate where AIDS was a forbidden topic, to one where we were able to finally get Jesse Helms to join us in unanimously passing the first anti–AIDS legislation. And subsequently now, PEPFAR is in its 11th year and we stand on the brink of an AIDS-free generation. And I am proud to be the first sitting Secretary of State to support same-sex marriage working for the first President of the United States to support same-sex marriage.

So all of us in this room are pretty well aware of the debt that we owe to those who came before us, and whether it is those who stood up after Stonewall or incredible, inspiring visionaries like Harvey Milk. And I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of an extraordinary advocate for the cause. When Hillary Clinton gave that speech in front of the Human Rights Council in Geneva and said five simple words, “Gay rights are human rights,” she transformed the debate. And standing here with Robyn, I want to build on that legacy, because LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights.

The State Department, I’m proud to say, has always been at the forefront of equality in the federal government. And that’s why I was proud to announce during my visit to London last year that we were tearing down an unjust and unfair barrier that for far too long stood in the way of same-sex families traveling together to the United States. And I was personally honored to hand over the first visa within two months of the Supreme Court’s historic Windsor decision.

I am proud that we worked with GLIFAA and Pat Kennedy to press OPM to remove its exclusionary language from health insurance plans so that employees who have undergone a gender transition can get the health care that they need. And that’s what it means to fight and that’s what it means to win in a battle that we all know matters enormously, not as a matter of making these things a privilege, but to make sure that they are, in fact, a right.

So I am very proud of the progress that we are now making even in appointing LGBT ambassadors. I worked with the committee here at the State Department – with the D Committee, and I worked with the White House. And as a result, Ted Osius, sitting here, whom I’ve known a long time, and his family I know, will be the first openly LGBT officer nominated to serve as an ambassador in Asia. And on confirmation, he’s going to join five openly gay ambassadors who are now serving their country. I’m working hard to ensure that by the end of my tenure, we will have lesbian, bisexual, and transgender ambassadors in our ranks as well.

Now, I see the possibilities for the simple reason that we now have hundreds of LGBT individuals in our bureaus at State, USAID, and at posts all around the world. Foreign Service Officers like Lucia Piazza – where is Lucia? Somewhere – is she here? Not here right now. But she’s here in Washington. Kerri Hannan in Buenos Aires. Michelle Schohn and her wife, Mary Glantz, in Tallinn. And the wonderful thing about this is nobody looks at these folks when they’re out there and says, “Wow. That’s a great LGBT diplomat.” They look at them and say, “Those are great diplomats.” And that’s exactly how we make progress in this fight.

Now, we also know that none of this progress would have been possible without the courage and the creativity and innovation and effort of organizations like GLIFAA. And it’s an amazing journey. I have to tell you, I have very, very good friends in the LGBT/gay community throughout the country, particularly. One of them, David Mixner, who I knew for a long time – I met him way back when we were – you may know him as a strong advocate, but we met years ago in the anti-war movement – well before he came out. And I remember him lamenting to me on the telephone once, years ago, how difficult it was and how he was going to funeral after funeral after funeral during a period when nobody was paying attention to AIDS.

So I know this journey and know it through friends, and I think back then there were a lot of meetings of people in secret rooms. People knew that if they opened up about who they were in GLIFFA, it would be shut down, their careers would be destroyed. But even then there were people who stood up and fought, and people like AFSA, helpers like AFSA, and especially Sharon Papp – who has stood with our LGBT brothers and sisters since the beginning and who is standing with us today.

So we have come a long way at home, but everybody here knows there’s cloud hanging over this journey right now. We have a long, long way to go in the world. I won’t go into the details of a couple of conversations I’ve had with presidents of countries trying to move them on their current laws. From Uganda to Russia to Iran, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack dignity, undermine safety, and violate human rights. And we each have a responsibility to push back against a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons. Maybe all the success we’ve had here, we sort of felt, oh, gosh, it’s got to be happening everywhere else. But it hasn’t been. It’ll come. It’s going to take a while, and it’s going to take courage and patience, stamina in order to continue the fight. Because we need to make certain that we make it clear to people everywhere that there is a fundamental truth: Anti-LGBT violence anywhere is a threat to peace and stability and prosperity everywhere.

That’s why across the globe – Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas – our diplomats are supporting local LGBT organizations and human rights advocates. They’re one and the same. And through the Global Equality Fund, the State Department has provided critical emergency and long-term assistance to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons in more than 25 countries. I’m proud that we’ve opened up the fund to corporate donations, and I want to urge our friends in the business community to step up their contributions to this cause. I was especially proud to speak at the first-ever ministerial on LGBT issues at the UN General Assembly last year, and I look forward to continuing to engage on this issue at the UN and other international fora.

So we are leading by example here. We are recognizing marriages for foreign diplomats who are assigned to the United States. Our Consular Affairs Bureau is implementing language on diplomatic passports to make sure we treat all spouses equally. Consular Affairs has also moved swiftly with other federal agencies to update our regulations after DOMA was struck down last year, and we’re now considering all visa applications made by same-sex spouses in the same manner as those made by opposite-sex spouses.

So let me be clear: We oppose any effort by any country to deny visas for spouses of American staff. It’s discriminatory, it’s unacceptable, it has no place in the 21st century. And I understand how challenging this issue is for all of you, which is why I’ve sent instructions to ambassadors at posts worldwide to engage at the highest levels on your behalf. Together we pay a price when these rights are trampled on, but together we win when these rights are protected.

One thing is clear: Making our shared vision a reality will require both the persistent protection of governments, as well as the active participation of citizens. I will never forget standing on the Capitol steps in October of 1998 when thousands gathered on a cool autumn evening, and we were there to remember Matthew Shepard two days after he’d been killed in Laramie, Wyoming. And as we gathered in the city of monuments, I posed a question: Is there a lesson that can become a monument to Matthew Shepard and to so many others who suffer because of the intolerance and prejudice of so few?

Matthew’s mother, Judy, later provided us an answer. As she struggled to make sense of a question that only God can answer, she said loving one another doesn’t mean that we have to compromise our beliefs. It simply means that we choose to be compassionate and respectful of others. In her life and in her work, Judy hasn’t just spoken words about compassion and respect. She has lived them. And I’m proud that she’s partnering with the State Department to speak out on these issues around the world. She is an example that reminds us we each have a responsibility to speak out loudly and clearly, and we each have to choose – and it is a choice – to be compassionate and respectful of others. And as Secretary of State, I am very proud of the choice that our country has been making these past years.

We’re here today to send a message: No matter where you are, no matter who you love, we stand with you. And that’s what pride means, and that’s what drives us today. The journey isn’t complete, the march isn’t over, the promise isn’t perfected. But we will march on together. Thank you all. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Secretary Kerry, thank you for those words. I think I speak for many people in this room that I wanted to interrupt with applause a number of times. (Laughter.) If you can bear with us for just a few more minutes --

SECRETARY KERRY: So what the Hell’s the matter with you? (Laughter.) I’m joking. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: -- I’ve got two questions that were submitted to us by GLIFAA members from around the world, and I’d like to pose them to you. The first question – I’ll just read it out, and reading it, I’m realizing I think you answered much of it already. But let me read it to you, in any case:

“Mr. Secretary, we’ve seen so much progress here at home, but I have to tell you that for us in GLIFAA, in many ways we’re feeling even more squeezed. All of us want to succeed, but the list of countries where we can serve is growing shorter and shorter. Countries that used to quietly give visas to our family members or our friends are now being asked for visas for our spouses, and that term is causing a kneejerk reaction in many countries.” This one member writes, “I personally counted all the jobs on my bid list, and I had to cross of 68 percent of them just because I’m gay and that country will not give a visa to my partner. We need your support, and we need the Department to do something more. So as much as we all want to succeed, this is a serious obstacle that is hurting us in our careers and hurting our families. How does the Department plan to address this?”

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thanks, Robyn. We are addressing it, I think you know. I think I spoke to that fairly – I made it pretty clear during the course of my comments. But look, we are instructing embassies to inform governments locally that this is our policy and that they need to honor our policy. It’s that simple. And a lot of governments will respond positively; obviously, some won’t. And where they don’t, if they don’t extend recognition and immunities, we’re going to instruct them that we’re also going to begin gathering information on the host government policies and practices on accreditation. And we will make this information that is relevant to assignments – make it easier for employees and all of you to sort of pick and choose and know what the lay of the land is.

But at some point in time, we may have to begin to make it clear to them that that can affect one program or another or the choices that we make. It’s not going to be a normal relationship. This is who we are, this what you have to respect, and that’s the way it is. And we’ll see how it goes as we collect this information and what the lay of the land is on that, but that 68 percent is daunting. And for – in one particular case, it doesn’t mean it’s across the board. But we’ve got to take a look at it, and we will push back. That’s the bottom line. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary, I know you’ve given great hope to our members with that statement. Our second question:

“Mr. Secretary, we hear so much about the difficulties faced by transgender persons around the globe. In so many countries, transgender persons are denied documents that reflect the gender in which they live their daily lives. And as a result, they are denied basic services, jobs, access to medicine, and too often they feel forced into sex work because they see no other choice. What is the Department doing to support the human rights of transgender persons?”

SECRETARY KERRY: Well again, this part of what I said. It’s really related to the first question also in many ways. It’s part and parcel of the same response in places. We have instructed our posts to report on and perform outreach to transgender communities in countries. In addition, we have instructed our human rights and health officers to raise transgender issues in their host countries, and we have encouraged our public affairs officers to include the needs of transgender groups in their programming, so that we are showing that this is something that we’re going to engage in. And we’re supporting civil society organizations that increase the protection of transgender persons who face the potential of acute violence.

So we’re taking steps specifically with respect to communities and with respect to the treatment of our folks. Again, it’s going to be clear and it is clear they need to make sure that they’re not discriminated against, and that our people expect – we expect, our nation expects that all of our people will be afforded the full measure of human rights that we afford them here in our country. And as time goes on now, we’ll accrue more and more information. We’ll have a better sense of who’s doing what, where the real trouble spots are and why. And we’ll be able to begin to build a policy of response to that over a period of time as we get a better sense, and hopefully isolate those people for those policies – hopefully, first, actually, break through and get them to simply change without – just as a matter of a reasonable conversation and an understanding.

But if it’s more entrenched and more broadly pervasive and damaging to our functioning in the way that we function, then we’re going to have to consider what the options are with respect to actions that we’ll take. And that’s something that will evolve over the course of the next year or two, and we’ll see where we are. But we’re not going to sit around and permit what we have fought for so hard to be undone. And as I said earlier, LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights, so we will protect them, period. (Applause.)

I was just given my instructions. I was being told I have to go. (Laughter.) I’m sorry. Thank you all, and happy Pride Day. Thanks. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Secretary Kerry, thank you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Happy Pride!

I have totally fallen down on the job. Here it is June, and I haven't even posted the first thing on Pride.

So, first things first, Happy Pride, y'all!

But I haven't totally shirked my LGBT duties. 

Happily for me, it is U.S. foreign policy to support LGBT rights in the world. So starting last month, I got to do just that in a couple ways. 

First, we flew the rainbow flag over the embassy. 

And second, I got to work with the UK embassy to draft a statement of support for the gender neutral partnership law that the Estonian government is considering. If passed, it would offer legal protections to unmarried couples regardless of gender, making Estonia the first formerly Soviet-occupied country to offer protections to same-sex couples. The statement was co-signed by the UK and three other countries. Members of Parliament told us they appreciated the support.

And then of course, there was Baltic Pride. Baltic Pride is an annual celebration that rotates around the three Baltic countries and was held here this year June 2-8. I was able to offer the local community support in a few ways. First, my section provided a grant to support an outdoor advertising campaign for the event. We also helped local NGO Diversity Enriches bring Ty Cobb, Global Director for the Human Rights Campaign, to speak at their conference "Equality: What Role for Civil Society?" Our DCM spoke at the conference as well. We also coordinated again with the UK Embassy to draft another statement of support, this time for Baltic Pride. We got 13 other embassies to sign on. I hope our efforts did earn us an "e-hug" from a fellow blogger.