Long Overdue Milestone Achieved: The Exceptional Nomination of Chantale Wong

July 2, 2021 – The United States of America has finally nominated its first open lesbian for an Ambassador-ranked position, almost 30 years after our first openly gay Ambassador (James Hormel) was considered by President Clinton. Nearly 20 openly gay, white men have served our country as Ambassadors since then – both career foreign service officers and political appointees. It took an exceptionally qualified – dare we say over-qualified—lesbian to finally break this lavender glass ceiling for women.

Chantale Wong has dedicated her life to public service in our federal government and has in fact done this very job as the Alternate Executive Director of the Asian Development Bank during the Clinton Administration. She has worked in senior roles at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, NASA, Environmental Protection Agency, Interior Department, and the Office of Management and Budget. After retiring from government service, she became the late Congressman John Lewis’s personal photographer during his Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimages to Alabama, and she has been mobilizing voters from the Asian-Pacific Islander communities across this country. Her combination of over 30 years of experience and expertise in international development, finance, the environment, and technology make her incalculably qualified for this role.

As a community, having someone in leadership who understands the development needs of LGBTQI+ people at this moment at the Asian Development Bank will be key to helping lift the most marginalized and vulnerable amongst us out of poverty. The World Bank and the other regional development banks are massive forces in international development. The genuine inclusion of an awareness of the specific needs of LGBTQI+ people in the policies and working mechanisms of these international finance institutions—particularly in the rewriting of the safeguards policies—is the leading edge of genuine inclusive development. Having Ambassador-designate Wong at the helm will be an enormous boost to this life-saving work.

Ambassador-designate Wong’s qualifications and expertise are without question. That there are many other highly qualified, openly lesbian persons equally willing and able to serve their country as Ambassador is equally without doubt. Their service and skill – in addition to their unique and diverse perspectives and life experiences – mandate that this appointment not serve as a mere token gesture toward inclusivity. Let it instead be the first of many more nominations and promotions of lesbian persons across the foreign service. And let us soon celebrate the first gender-nonconforming and trans Ambassadors before President Biden’s term is over.

It shouldn’t have to take exceptionalism to break glass ceilings. The full spectrum of American diversity, including diversity along the lines of gender and race, should be celebrated and reflected in the lives of those who are supported to take on senior leadership roles. In nominating Ambassadors who, through their lived experience, possess a deep understanding of the fundamentally-linked harms of sexism, racism, and homophobia, we begin to have a foreign service that is meaningfully able to ensure that the full humanity of all persons is upheld, and reflected in American foreign policy. That this nomination took 30 years to arrive is sure evidence of how very far we have to go. 

As we congratulate and celebrate Ambassador-designate Wong, we also wish her the company of more lesbian, trans, and gender diverse Ambassador peers, and soon.    

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