Navigating DC's Closed Corridors

Gay Employees Try To Activate Slow Changing State Department

AB: I recently interviewed someone who also lives in Washington. He talked about a culture of homophobia in Washington. Do you get that impression?

AJ: “A culture of homophobia in Washington”… I don’t get that impression. I think it’s hard to have an impression and compare it to reality when you’re part of a community, but to me [DC] seems like a gay place.

AB: Even within the government corridors?

AJ: Yeah. I mean, if the person you were in the military, of course it’s a different story.

AB: No.

AJ: I don’t think there’s a great deal of homophobia in the government. No more than there would be anywhere else in America. And I would say DC probably has less homophobia than your average American city or space. Someone could say, “Well, New York or Chicago,” for instance, but I’m sure it’s probably a more tolerant area than the Chicago population as a whole. And probably the New York population as a whole – if you get out of Manhattan.

AB: Interesting… So, one thing that I’m very intrigued by is the “Member of Household”. Can you explain to the reader what that is…

AJ: I will try. The Member of Household is a category that – you have to refer to another activist to say when it started – but Members of Household include gay and lesbian partners, some elderly parents, some adult children. They are a different category than the official category for a spouse and children, which is “Eligible Family Member” – EFM. So a Member of Household would be a family that doesn’t fit into the EFM category and we are trying to advocate for the inclusion of Members of Household. We want Members of Household to have the same benefits as EFM.

AB: Do you –

AJ: I mean, it’s a bureaucratic concept.

AB: Let’s talk about the parameters of MOH. I’m looking at this article in Foreign Service Journal from June of 2004 by Bob Guldin. He’s talking about some of the things that Members of Household can and cannot do – they’re mostly cannot. They can’t take security overseas seminars, they can’t attend the language training… What is this? What is the state department’s rationale for that?

AJ: Because for many of those – well, language and security overseas seminars? That’s a harder one. They could possibly make some changes and administratively allow those, but the majority of serious benefits come directly from the Foreign Service Act of 1980. That [defined] eligible family members and their benefits. I’d say that 60-80% of what we [want] would probably require some legislative fix. Although, I think that language and security overseas seminars – they could somehow make a administrative change and I don’t know their rationale for not doing that. I actually don’t know.

AB: So there are two levels to your struggle – you have to deal with the administrative red tape, the process and then you also have to worry about Congress.

AJ: Yes.

AB: That must create a sticky situation for you sometimes.

AJ: Yeah, we have to be careful with Congress. We can speak solely on our issues and not on foreign policy. We just have to careful, because administration employees are not to lobby, but we can answer questions and provide information.

AB: So you guys – gay or straight – you can’t lobby. Can you make political donations?

AJ: Yes, but we cannot declare that we work for the U.S. government when doing so, nor during campaign season. If somebody asks me what my job is, I can’t say.

AB: Is that the same for all federal bureaus?

AJ: I believe so, yes.