A State Department event on Wednesday captured the remarkable changes in how LGBT citizens are winning acceptance and fair treatment in our country – and how American diplomatic muscle is persuading other countries to follow that same path.
On Wednesday, the State Department celebrated the 20th anniversary of GLIFAA, an organization representing the interests of LGBT employees of foreign affairs agencies. As late as the 1970’s, being gay was considered a security risk – reason enough to stop a career. Even after that practice ended and GLIFAA was formed, the life of gay diplomats was hardly “gay.” Gay and lesbian employees sometimes found themselves in less desirable jobs; their day-to-day behavior often drew heightened scrutiny; often they found an uncomfortable fit at starched and formal diplomatic events, including American ones; their family members received none of the benefits that straight families enjoyed.
These issues are part of GLIFAA’s history of course: more to the point, they are history, full stop. At Wednesday’s event, speakers traced the arc of that history in human terms. David Buss, GLIFAA’s founding president, spoke of the loneliness he felt as an out-gay employee in the 80s – how indeed he had been forced to come out to his family, in order to keep his job. Secretary Clinton asked Tom Gallagher, the Department’s first out-gay employee, to stand: he was the Department’s earliest gay pioneer, having the courage to live his life openly in those difficult 1970’s. She asked the same of the Council’s own Michael Guest, our country’s first out-gay, Senate-confirmed ambassador, who left his career over the Department’s unequal treatment of gay families and then worked in the Obama Administration’s Transition Team to chart a path to their resolution.
Time-wise, their stories are bookends to a story of remarkable change at the Department – change that should be credited, in full, to the personal leadership of the Secretary and her Counselor, Cheryl Mills. But the visuals of GLIFAA’s celebration were equally striking, and equally telling. Merely holding the event in the marble-columned Benjamin Franklin Room – State’s top-floor formal reception room, where vice presidential diplomatic dinners are held and new ambassadors traditionally are sworn in – crystallized just how far GLIFAA has come. So, of course, did the unprecedented presence of a sitting Secretary of State, surrounded by a bevy of political appointees from a cross-section of foreign affairs agencies and the Office of Personnel Management. Continue reading ‘Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) at 20’