Friday, April 24, 2015

Well Done, GLIFAA!

I want to congratulate GLIFAA on taking on one of the more serious issues facing LGBT diplomats today, the issue of accreditation.

Basically, when a diplomat is assigned to a country, that country also gives a type of diplomatic immunity to the diplomat's spouse. If the country refuses, as is too often the case if the diplomat has a same-sex spouse, that spouse goes to post at his or her own peril.

GLIFAA President Selim Ariturk was interviewed on the issue for an article called Gay Diplomats Say State Department Is Failing Their Families.

And they are right.

For those diplomats who cannot get their spouses accredited to a country, they must generally either break their assignment or go to post alone. The spouse can visit, as I did when my wife was assigned to Azerbaijan, only for one month at a time, or whatever is allowed by that country's tourist visa, at which time they must leave the country with no guarantee they will be allowed back in.

Now on the one hand, that is fine. Most Foreign Service Officers do what are called "unaccompanied tours," which is where the spouse cannot join the diplomat. But you see, there are a series of boxes we all need to check in order to make Senior Foreign Service, and one of those is to do an unaccompanied tour. But it only "counts" if you do it at places specifically designated "unaccompanied." So if you are an LGBT diplomat forced to be apart from your spouse because a country won't accredit him or her, you still need to do another one to be considered for our senior ranks. And that isn't fair. The Department can and should choose to make these tours "count."

But what is more, in many countries, the Department could use a stronger hand. No, you are not trying to change that culture (though working for LGBT rights worldwide is a foreign policy priority of the administration), we could say fine, for each legal spouse of ours you refuse to accredit, we will not accredit one of yours. Reciprocity, a tried and true method for getting our people treated equally. I can't imagine that we would stand for a country denying accreditation to a spouse based on race, so we shouldn't stand for it here.

As it is, officers are having their careers harmed by an unwillingness by posts, HR or the Department to find a way to make it work. They are unable to accept jobs that would be good for their careers (don't mistake a reference to a "plum" assignment as meaning a cushy one...for example, I consider my onward assignment to Kosovo to be a plum assignment because the work will be interesting, important and good for my career advancement).

For example, the article says "
In one case, a diplomat who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation told BuzzFeed News that since joining the foreign service in 2010 he has twice been all-but-promised a plum post in a country where they needed his specialized language skills only to be reassigned at the last minute because of this country’s policy toward same-sex partners. When this first happened in 2011, the diplomat said that his State Department career development officer told him, 'There aren’t a lot of places that will accredit your same-sex partner, so if you choose to continue in this relationship it will adversely affect your career.'"

Even more senior members of the service have been affected. My wife and I aren't affected by this because we are a tandem, meaning we each get diplomatic accreditation in our own right and not based on our marriage. But the Department can and should do more to help those not as fortunate as we are.

One a side note, poor Selim and GLIFAA got absolutely flamed by GLIFAA members for doing this interview. People said they should apologize to Secretary Kerry and to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Human Resources Phil Lussier because the Department of State is a great place for LGBT people to work.

They are right that is it s a great place to work for LGBT people, but make not mistake. It is a great place too work because GLIFAA pushed for equality and fairness for LGBT employees. Selim was with me when we delivered the document on Secretary Clinton's first day, a petition from our colleagues for equal treatment for LGBT employees and a list of changes Secretary Clinton could make with the stroke of a pen. That document, based on the hard work of GLIFAA, is what led to changes that have continued through the group's efforts.

So BRAVO to Selim and GLIFAA for continuing to demand more from the Department in terms of treating all its employees equally. Well done!

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