Navigating DC's Closed Corridors

Gay Employees Try To Activate Slow Changing State Department

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This Michael Guest, in case you didn’t know…
AB: Do the current restrictions compromise America? Both with regard to physical security and the democratic ideals – liberal democratic ideals?

AJ: I can’t say anything on physical security. That would be hard to argue. Democratic ideals? If one of those ideals is equality – same pay for same work, giving all of your employees the same benefits – then absolutely. One could make the argument that you lose some employees who would be good for American security or the government, but they choose not to enter the foreign service because they can’t get any support for their partners.

AB: That’s what we saw with Michael Guest, who I imagine you know because he was the ambassador to Romania and you just answered the phone, “Romania desk”.

AJ: I did answer the phone, yes, but I didn’t know him in that capacity. I know him socially and through GLIFAA.

AB: What was the feeling both within the GLIFAA and within the office after that happened? Was this something that people talked about or was this just another news blip?

AJ: His resignation did capture the attention of folks in GLIFAA, certainly, because he helped us. He really was a benefactor very much for the organization. He encouraged us to be outgoing and forward and pressing. In my office? Nothing. Well, it did make the daily press feed and it was noticed in the Romanian press, but I think that the main place it was noticed was on Capitol Hill.

AB: Among the politicians?

AJ: Yes, congress folk. It definitely caught the interest of the majority in Congress, the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

AB: Do you consider your organization to be effective? I understand you’ve been petitioning against Members of Household for quite some time and to no avail. That’s something that Michael Guest mentioned in his retirement speech: “For the past three years, I’ve urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees. Absolutely nothing has resulted from this.”

AJ: Yeah, okay. It’s a fair question: “What are you guys doing?” And in the current circumstance, I think, as in anything, change doesn’t come overnight. You have to constantly remind people, “We’re here, there’s an issue!” But we can’t make the State Department management make our issues a priority. Clearly they have not treated issues of equality for gays and lesbians as an issue of priority. Unless someone is advocating, they’re not going to bother at all.

AB: Okay.

AJ: I would say in the last few years we have, the last year, our board has tried to be more effective. Having Mike as a benefactor certainly helped. The press of his resignation certainly helped, but I would hope that we wouldn’t have to have a rash of resignations to make continuous press. The fact that he served as an ambassador and was a skilled foreign service officer was noted when he was departing, but this is a conservative organization. As much you might think that the average employee here is not conservative, it –

AB: You mean the State Department?

AJ: Yes. The organization itself is extremely slow to change. They remind you of things like the first time a woman could be married in the foreign service was 1978 or 1980, I don’t remember which – I don’t really care. That’s not my issue. But it shows you how slow it is to change.

AB: Maybe that’s what my previous subject meant when he spoke of “homophobia”. Maybe he meant that Washington is dated in some of its ideals.

AJ: It might be. They’ll ask you questions, “How much will this cost?” I’m like, “I don’t care how much it costs,” but you can’t say that. You can ask, “How do you define a partner?” And you can give suggestions. I mean, it’s all from a bureaucratic standpoint – “How much will this cost? How will it be enforced?

AB: What I found most telling about the Michael Guest story – and stories before that – is that Condoleezza Rice, nor anybody else in the State Department – no one that I know of – has even dignified the criticism with a response. The silence is really deafening.

AJ: Yeah, well… It’s not a priority. That’s the reality.

AB: What’s your organization’s budget?

AJ: I’m not going to publish that – it’s enough for outreach issues, enough to put out a newsletter, have a website and social influence…

AB: When you say “outreach” – what sort of outreach do you mean?

AJ: Communicating with other gay organizations in DC, speakers on international gay and lesbian issues. We’re trying to do more outreach in this next year with more folks in Washington.

AB: Do you work closely with other LGBT organizations in Washington?

AJ: We have not. We probably should. I mean, we worked – we have communicated with the HRC on the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which was introduced by Gordon Smith of Oregon and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. We worked with them to make sure the text contained language that would help the foreign service, because we’re under a different set of laws than most of the federal employees.

AB: Are you hopeful that you guys will be successful?

AJ: Oh, I do think so. I think it’s one of these things that gays and lesbians think that overtime things will happen, but I’m not sure we’re going benefits any faster than anyone else in the government, but a change next term could effect – I personally can’t say I trust any of the candidates to be that much more active in our issues.

AB: So, you would not dissuade a young gay man or gay woman from joining the foreign services?

AJ: No, especially if they’re single. But I would warn them that if they have a partner – whatever that means to any of us – you guys are going to have to work out all your expenses on your own.