Saturday, February 07, 2015

Wither Diversity?

There were a number of articles (here and here for example) out this week about the Department's plans to appoint an LGBT envoy with the task of promoting LGBT rights globally. I am really excited and pleased that the Department is doing this, especially given that the anonymous official quoted in the Washington Blade said, "It’s been long in the making because the secretary insisted the envoy be a career Foreign Service officer from inside the institution, someone who is part of the fabric of the institution, a diplomat by training.”

I hoped against hope that unlike every single openly gay Ambassador, that this person would be a lesbian or a person of color.

But before I could even blog about it, buzzfeed announced that the person selected is likely to be Randy Berry.

Another white man.

Don't get me wrong. I am not anti-white men. My dad is a white man and he is one of my favorite people on the planet. And I count among my closest friends in the Department many many gay white men.

And I am certain Berry is extremely qualified and will be an excellent envoy. I don't know him, but several people whose opinions I trust say he is awesome.

But still.

The Department seems unable to find lesbians or gay people of color to select for these appointments and it is disappointing. To suggest that there are no qualified lesbians or gay people of color stretches credibility.

And let's even say, for argument's sake, that there are none at the most senior levels. I will even grant that the highest ranking lesbian I know in the Department is an 01. I think the highest ranking gay person of color I know is my rank. And I get that this appointment needs to be someone high ranking. Someone from the Senior Foreign Service.

But we seem to be in a vicious cycle here where lesbians and gay people of color are not experienced enough or high ranking enough to be considered for these appointments. So they go to white men, which means they never get experienced enough for these appointments. There has to be a better way than waiting YEARS for the possibility of a lesbian or person of color to make it to those ranks. Especially when you consider that the total number of women and people of color in the Senior Foreign Service is depressingly small and nowhere close to representative of even their percentage in the Department, much less in general society.

I don't know what the answer is. I believe in selecting the most qualified person for the job. But as my wife pointed out this morning, it is much easier to win at king of the mountain when you are already on top. That isn't a level playing field.

I think the Department needs to try harder at leveling it, at least for its own employees. Perhaps deliberately selecting some lesbians and people of color as deputies to these positions would give them the experience, and the exposure, to break through that glass ceiling.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Palmer Case and Women in the Foreign Service

There is an interesting piece on the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training that I have been meaning to share with you on The Palmer Case and the Changing Role of Women in the Foreign Service. It reads, in part:

"There have been a number of prominent women who have served in the State Department over the past century: Francis Willis, the first female career Foreign Service Officer to become ambassador; Clare Booth Luce, a political appointee as Ambassador to Italy; Constance Ray Harvey, who was awarded the Medal of Freedom for her work during World War II, not to mention the number of women who served recently as Secretaries of State. But the road to equal opportunity for women has often been a bumpy one. The unprecedented opportunities for women which opened up during WWII closed just as dramatically after the war as the Foreign Service returned to its previous hiring practices. It was very difficult in the postwar years for women to be hired by and promoted within the Foreign Service. From 1961 to 1971, recruitment of women remained at 7% and the rate of promotion was slow.

Several incidents eventually forced the State Department to enact major changes. Several women in the late 1960s formed the Women’s Action Organization (WAO), which worked closely with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), to push for abolishing the regulation that prevented women who married from entering or remaining in the Foreign Service.

More famous was the Alison Palmer case. Palmer had begun her career in the Foreign Service in 1959 specializing in African affairs. Several ambassadors had objected to her assignment to their embassies in Africa in the late 1960s, and during one assignment, she was expected to act as social secretary to the Ambassador’s wife. She then started an internal grievance procedure through the Department’s Equal Employment Office charging sex discrimination. In 1969 Palmer, then stationed in Vietnam, was notified that the EEO had found in her favor but refused to enter the report in her personnel file. In 1971, she then filed a sex discrimination lawsuit which she won three years later. Her victory resulted in an order from management barring all discrimination in assignments. In 1972, the State Department overturned its ban on the marriage of female diplomats. It also took steps to improve inequities in housing allowances and in the recruitment process, and issued the Declaration on Spouses, which removed wives from their husbands’ performance evaluations.

In 1976 after numerous attempts at getting higher ranking positions as a Foreign Service Officer, Palmer then filed a class action lawsuit against the State Department for discrimination in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. After several years of litigation, a 1989 court order found that the Department had discriminated against women in the written portion of the Foreign Service Officer Test. The State Department was then restricted in administering written exams that had adverse impacts on women. In 2010, Palmer (at left) decided to terminate the lawsuit as all parties agreed that the State Department had finally demonstrated compliance of the court orders by making reparations to women who were affected and modifying hiring systems."

 I have blogged previously about Palmer and this issue here. You can read the whole ADST piece here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Supreme Court Decision to Take On Marriage Equality

You probably saw that the Supreme Court has decided to take up again the issue of marriage equality. After some 59 rulings against bans on marriage equality, the ruling of I think the 6th circuit upholding the bans means that it is time for the court to weigh in. They expect to hear the case in April and rule by June (I feel a "cold" coming on that will keep me from going to language training that day...it is possible there will even be a lavender flu that day that takes out all the LGBT language students!)

I admit to being both thrilled and terrified.

There is a nice piece in the Washington Post today talking about the decision to take the case and what the specific questions (whether the 14th amendment requires states to allow same-sex marriage and whether it requires out of state marriages to be recognized) being asked mean for marriage equality. The article, referring to the 1967 Loving v Virginia case, which ruled against bans against interracial marriage, says in part:


"The Supreme Court ruled in that 1967 case that Virginia’s ban on marriages between people of different races violated the equal protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” the majority argued. “To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.” Replace “racial classifications” with “sexual orientation” and the argument rationale still holds.

By the time the Loving case was decided, Virginia was one of 16 states that still outlawed interracial marriage. As for public opinion, well, the American people were overwhelmingly against such unions. A Gallup poll in 1968, a year after the Supreme Court ruling, showed 73 percent disapproval. When the justices hear arguments in late April, the conditions will be more favorable for same-sex marriage."

At the time of the Loving ruling, interracial marriage was legal in 34 states. Today, we have marriage equality in 36 states. More than 50% of the population believes marriage between two people of the same sex should be legal.

So for those who think we should wait for the right time, the time is more right now than it was for interracial marriage in 1967.

But I hope that Supreme Court will heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said "The time is always right to do what is right."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Agree to Disagree with GLIFAA

You may have seen the article today in the Washington Blade regarding the Department's considering phasing out the Same-Sex Domestic Partner Benefits program in response to the Supreme Court's Windsor ruling overturning part of the so-call Defense of Marriage Act. If not, you can read it here. You can read the first of what I fear will be many negative responses to the article here.

I know there may be two of you at this point who don't know who I am, but I will tell you that I was President of GLIFAA (formerly Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and now LGBT+ in Foreign Affairs Agencies) when Secretary Clinton took office. On her first day in office, I, along with my vice president, hand carried the petition signed by our colleagues asking that same-sex partners be given as many of the rights as their married opposite-sex colleagues as the law allowed. My board and I drafted the document outlining the changes she could make with the stroke of a pen to improve the lives of her LGBT employees and their families. Those changes included the creation of the SSDP program that was enacted while I was in office and is what they are considering phasing out now.

And I think they should phase it out.

I am no longer on the GLIFAA board, but I am still friends, in some cases close friends, with those who are currently serving this important organization. And I have to respectfully agree to disagree with them on this issue. In fact, as GLIFAA president, I assured the Under Secretary for Management that when we had equality under U.S. law, that GLIFAA's members would want no more than to be treated the same as their opposite-sex colleagues. And that this would mean the end of the SSPD program.

I think the current board should keep that promise.

Yes, there are challenges for officers who do not wish to marry. They are the same challenges faced by our straight colleagues. There have always been those who did not wish to marry for whatever reason, and the price they paid for not making that legal commitment was that the government did not see reason to pay the many costs associated with spouses, such as plane tickets, medical evacuations, etc. Every single A-100 orientation class has had at least one officer who realized that they weren't going to get those benefits without marrying their opposite-sex partner and so did so usually before their training ended. At the time when we got the benefits of the SSDP program, it was because those benefits were not available to us even if we were legally married in one of the few states that allowed it at the time. Now they are. It was never the intention of the Department to create a "marriage light" program.

And yes, there are Fortune 500 companies that offer such benefits. But we don't work for them. We work for a budget strapped government recently placed in the hands of a fiscally conservative majority. New benefits are simply not going to happen.

And yes, I am certain there are people who are afraid for their relationship status to be know to their families. I am certain that fear is real and justified. But the danger is not in the marriage license but in the relationship itself. Aren't being allowed to live with a Foreign Service Officer, getting airfare paid by the USG,  including for R&R, and getting a diplomatic passport with an endorsement explicitly state the relationship to the diplomat even bigger red flags than a license that some foreign diplomat could decide to request a copy of?

And in fact, there are straight colleagues facing similar dangers. There are in the Department Muslims and Christians dating each other and living in real fear that their families will discover their relationship and disown them or worse. There are certainly families who still do not believe in interracial marriages. And people find a way to make those relationships work or they don't. But it is still the relationship, not the license, that causes the danger. 
And as a friend pointed out to me today, what might Dr. Martin Luther King Jr have done had he been faced with couples looking to marry interracially who were threatened by their families or even the KKK? Do you think he'd have advised them to pursue a separate but equal status in order to get some protections? Certainly the Lovings lives might have been easier had they just moved or opted to live together without marriage. But because of them, bans on interracial marriage were found unconstitutional. And given that the arguments in that case were very similar to those in Windsor, I credit them in no small part for helping us achieve marriage equality.

Gays and lesbians can now get married legally in 36 states. More than 70% of the country now lives in a marriage equality state. And yes, if you meet the man or woman of your dreams overseas, you may not be able to be married there. But that is exactly the type of case a fiancee visa can take care of, with the added bonus that your new husband or wife can become a US citizen.

I have spoken to many, many GLIFAA members on this issue, and with the exception of the members of the board, all but one has agreed it is time to phase out SSDP. (I was told one other person who is a friend and not on the board also wants to keep the policy, but that person has not said so to me). I do think there is a place for a limited-period DP program for LGBT and straight couples at post to allow them time to return to the U.S. and marry. But that isn't what is being argued here.

And frankly, I am concerned that GLIFAA's time, energy and political capital are being used on a losing issue when there are still real, pressing issues facing our members that need to be dealt with. Like continuing to improve things for our transgender colleagues. Like making sure that spouses can serve together at posts, and if the country they are assigned to refuses to accept the spouse as they do all other spouses, making certain that is dealt with reciprocally. Like finding a way for LGBT employees to get credit with promotion panels and for onward assignments for the "unaccompanied tours" they serve where they are forced to be apart from their spouses while straight couples are not because of the laws in that country. These are issues that affect where members of the Foreign Service can serve, which then affects their ability to advance in their careers.

And respectfully, I think it is where GLIFAA should focus its attention.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Making Resolutions

I am notoriously bad at making New Year's Resolutions. Okay, not at making them, but definitely at keeping them.

About the only resolution I ever kept was that one year for Lent, I gave up giving up things for Lent. And I nearly wavered on that!

So this year, I decided on a "To Do" list. All of the things on it need to be completed before we move to Kosovo in July,

* Clear out the garage so I can put the car there if it snows.
* Move the work table from the basement to the garage and make a work space there
* Get the gutters cleaned
* Organize the boxes in the basement into boxes for storage and HHE.
* Buy colored labels for those boxes
* Sort through the books we want to donate to the Friends of the Library.

Turns out, I am way better at "to do" lists than resolutions. In just three days, I have cleared the garage, gotten the gutters cleaned, and organized the boxes.  I am going to try to buy the labels this afternoon. I have a repair guy coming next weekend and I am going to see about getting him to help with the table (read: offer to pay him and his assistant to move it so I don't have to try to get it out of the basement with my crappy knees!)

That will just leave the books. My wife needs to go through them too, so that may take a little longer to get done. But that still means my list is nearly finished!

Are you making any reolutions/"to do" lists? What's on them?

And Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wishing You The Best!

Guilt from the realization that I haven't blogged since November and not wanting to let a New Year role in without one last post prompted me to pry myself from the comfort of my recliner to come upstairs and post.

2014 has been an eventful year, as are they all of late, and I continue to feel extraordinarily lucky for all that I have and all I have been able to experience.

This year brought us to the conclusion of our three years in our beloved Estonia, And after finally getting to move into the house we bought more than a year ago and a wonderful home leave that took us as far north as Maine and as far south as Atlanta, it took us right back to Estonia to help with President Obama's visit to Tallinn. I got to thank him, personally, for supporting Marriage Equality.

Courtesy of Freedom to Marry

And this is a year that will go in the record books for Marriage Equality, The Supreme Court's refusal to hear cases where a number of Appellate Courts had ruled in favor of marriage equality meant that the number of states where you can marry the person you love blossomed to 35. Including South Carolina. SOUTH CAROLINA, y'all!

We can retire someplace warm!

I don't know what 2015 will bring. We all know I am famously bad at keeping New Year's Resolutions regardless of what I call them, so I just hope that life continues on the way it has. I hope all goes according to plan, and that we will finish Albanian language training and head off to Kosovo in July. I hope that my wife, our pets and our families continue to be healthy. I hope our work continues to be meaningful and that we get to continue to serve the country.

I also hope for continued improvement in our country. I hope 2015 brings marriage equality to the remaining 15 states. I hope our economy continues to improve and that the improvement lifts those who are suffering. I hope that lift helps heal some of the divides in our country so that people can once again remember that there are smart, dedicated, patriotic people on both sides of the political divide in this country. We all want what is best for the country. We just don't agree on how to get there. If we can remember that, it would be a huge start.

And for you, I hope that your 2015 is better than your 2014 regardless of how 2014 was for you. If you were loved, I wish you more love, and if you weren't, then I wish you love. If you were happy, I wish you more happiness, and if you were sad, I hope your sadness if finally abated.

I hope you and yours are happy, healthy, and secure in 2015.

Happy New Year! Head Uut Aastat! Gëzuar Vitin e Ri!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

When Will It Be a Lesbian's Turn

The Senate is finally getting around to clearing some of the ambassadorial nominees that have been sitting in limbo for months and months.

I suspect this could be happening because they know that when the Republicans take over in January, Presidential appointments could be more contentious.

I am really happy to see this happening. We need to have ambassadors in our countries. It says a lot about the seriousness with which we take the relations with that country and it affects the work we are able to do.

I am particularly happy to see folks like Donald Lu, who is going out as Ambassador to Albania, get confirmed. I have never met him, but every single person I have spoken to about him said he is a guy to work for. That they would work for him anywhere. That is the highest compliment a Foreign Service Officer can get.

And I am ecstatic to see Ted Osius' confirmation as Ambassador to Vietnam. Up to now, all of the current openly gay Ambassadors have been political appointees. Ted is a career officer, as is his husband Clayton Boyd. I have never met Ted, but Clayton is an awesome guy. I'd love to work with him one day.

But still missing from this lineup are openly gay Ambassadors of color or openly lesbian Ambassadors (career or political). Yes, I have heard speculation that this female Ambassador or that was lesbian (though that is often something speculated about any strong woman regardless of her sexuality), but I am talking about an out lesbian. A role model to the lesbians of the world and to the lesbian diplomats in the Department.

When will we see those appointments?