Discrimination at the State Department
December 4th, 2007
In 2001, Colin Powell was the Secretary of State and George W. Bush was settling into his administration. Those of us looking for signs of progress were encouraged when the President selected Michael Guest, an openly gay career State Department diplomat as ambassador to Romania, a post-communist country seeking to enter NATO. We were even happier to see the Secretary of State acknowledge Guest’s partner, Alex Nevarez, at his swearing in ceremony.
As Guest was the first openly gay ambassador confirmed by the Senate, and as Nevarez was encouraged to move with Guest to Romania, some of us hoped that perhaps the administration might be supportive of equality, at least in employment, and the administration’s lack of response to anti-gay protest seemed promising. That was 2001.
By all accounts, Guest performed his duties admirably during a time of significant change and ended his term in 2003 with Romania sharing a closer friendship with the United States, a member of NATO, and well into establishing European contacts that would eventually lead to inclusion in the European Union.
But much has changed since 2001. The President stopped appointing gay people – or even gay-supportive people – to positions of authority. And after failing to meet expectations on the foreign front, his handlers decided that he reelection message would focus on a greater threat to the nation: committed gay couples.
Ultimately this administration went from cautiously supportive to blatantly hostile to gay persons with the threat of a veto over a non-discrimination policy that is overwhelmingly supported by the populace. There are currently no efforts to lift discrimination against gay citizens that are not vehemently opposed by this President.
Subsequent to his ambassadorship, Guest has served the Department as Dean of the Foreign Service Institute’s Leadership and Management School. But now, after 26 years of service, Guest is calling it quits. And he’s not shy about sharing the reasons why. Per the NY Times,
“Most departing ambassadors use these events to talk about their successes . . . But I want to talk about my signal failure, the failure that in fact is causing me to leave the career that I love,” said Mr. Guest, 50, whose most recent assignment was dean of the leadership and management school at the Foreign Service Institute, the government’s school for diplomats.
“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. And so I’ve felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner — who is my family — and service to my country. That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the Secretary’s leadership and a shame for this institution and our country,” he said.
Among the inequities cited by Mr. Guest and other gay diplomats: unlike heterosexual spouses, gay partners are not entitled to State Department-provided security training, free medical care at overseas posts, guaranteed evacuation in case of a medical emergency, transportation to overseas posts, or special living allowances when foreign service officers are assigned to places like Iraq, where diplomatic families are not permitted.
The Secretary and the administration share the shame of their behavior towards those who, like Michael Guest, make personal sacrifice to serve their nation. And not only gay people but our Nation as a whole is victim to these policies that are hostile to our best and brightest.