Officer Responsible For Anti-Gay Harassment To Retire Early
October 22nd, 2009
The Navy announced yesterday that the chief petty officer responsible for sexually provocative hazings of junior sailors in Bahrain will be forced to retire in January, two years earlier than planned. He will also receive a letter of censure from the Secretary of the Navy, which the Virginia Pilot describes as “the harshest administrative action that can be taken against a sailor.”
Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, opted to cancel Toussaint’s final years of service. Roughead “found that the incidents were not in keeping with Navy values and standards and violated the Navy’s longstanding prohibition against hazing,” according to Smith. “Our sailors are to be treated with dignity and respect in a healthy and positive working environment.”
One victim, former Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha, said he was subjected to repeated slurs about his sexuality after he refused to have sex with female prostitutes.
Petty Officer 1st Class Shaun Hogan submitted detailed notes about Toussaint’s abuse during more than two years under his command. Hogan told the Navy lawyer who originally handled the case that Toussaint routinely made inappropriate comments about and inquiries into sailors’ sex lives, and threatened to revoke sailors’ dog-handling credentials if they crossed him.
Hogan also described Toussaint’s directing the filming of training videos that required some sailors to act out lesbian love scenes, others to simulate gay male sex and one to have rubber balls thrown at his crotch, all in a guise of running the dogs – trained to sniff out explosives – through various “real life” scenarios.
With this move, Toussaint avoids a court martial. Joseph Rocha reacts:
“A lot of us are disappointed in that Toussaint won’t see his day at a military court martial,” Rocha said. “But overall, I commend the CNO and the Secretary of the Navy for a wanting to look further into this, to see how widespread the corruption was.”
An unnamed commanding officer originally decided to handle the situation by issuing Toussaint a nonpunitive letter of reprimand. Rocha, who is gay went on to officer training, but left the Navy with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder over the harassment. Later, he met a reporter with Youth Radio and told his story. Youth Radio broadcast a powerful series of investigative reports into the incidents, many of which were picked up on National Public Radio.
New Investigations Into Navy Abuse
September 24th, 2009
Youth Radio, which first reported the story of the abuse of Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha (who was expelled from the Navy) at the hands of Master-at-Arms Michael Toussaint (who was promoted), has a follow-up on the results of their report.
Since Youth Radio began reporting the story, Rear Admiral David Mercer has ordered a review of the outcomes of the investigation at the Bahrain Kennel. He’s in charge of naval installations in Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia.
A Navy spokesman issued this statement:
“The incidents that occurred within the Military Working Dog Division at Naval Support Activity Bahrain do not reflect who we are as a navy. They are considered an anomaly based on sailors who were inproperly led.”
And yesterday, we learned yet another higher level review of the investigation has been ordered, this time by the Chief of Naval Operations, the Navy’s highest ranking officer and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The deadline for that report is October sixth.
Congressman Calls for Explanation of Navy Abuse
September 22nd, 2009
Earlier this month we told you of Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha who was abused and harassed by his officers because he didn’t visit prostitutes and thus must be gay.
At one point, the documents show, Rocha was hog-tied, fed dog food and tossed into a dog kennel full of feces. Commanders also openly questioned his sexuality and forced him to simulate oral sex on other men.
When Rocha finally did come out, he was tossed out of the military as being unfit and his tormentor was promoted.
While this sort of behavior might fit right in with the attitudes of some of the upper brass in the Pentagon, those who answer to the American people are a bit more inclined to find it abhorrent. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pennsylvania, a former Navy rear admiral and the highest ranking officer ever to serve in Congress, wrote to Navy Secretary Raymond Mabus to inquire about the circumstances.
And it turns out that once the spotlight is shining on particularly egregious behavior, the Navy isn’t quite as proud of its bullies and bigots. (SunNews)
“The incidents that occurred within the Military Working Dog Division at Naval Support Activity Bahrain do not reflect who we are as a Navy,” said Cmdr. Cappy Surette, a Navy spokesman. “The Navy is now looking into the handling of this situation more carefully.”
And indeed care should be taken. Sestak is being specific.
Sestak also is requesting information regarding Chief Petty Officer Michael Toussaint, who was responsible for the unit and was later promoted to senior chief.
“It would astound me if he was promoted if these allegations are true,” Sestak said in an interview. “What kind of a command climate is that?”
Rocha’s circumstances are certainly not unique. But his is but one more story that is reaching the American public and illustrating that gay people are not the problem with the military and its culture.
I suspect that Sestak will get the cooperation he has requested. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Americans Say Gays Face Most Discrimination
September 11th, 2009
The Pew Research Center released a report (PDF: 381KB/24 pages) which discusses Americans’ attitudes toward Muslims, but reveals that Muslims aren’t the ones that Americans see as most discriminated against. According to the report:
Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims with nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals.
The report focuses almost entirely on Americans’ attitudes toward Islam and Muslims. But the interesting thing is how Americans view discrimination against gays and lesbians.
|Is There A Lot of Discrimination Against…||Yes||No|
|Gays and Lesbians||64%||30%|
The poll was conducted in several groups in August 2009. The first five responses of religious groups (Muslims, Jews, Evangelical Christians, Atheists and Mormons) were from a sample size of 2,010 with a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points. The last four responses were from sample sizes of from 999 to 1,011, giving a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Yes and No responses do not add to 100% due to participants either saying they didn’t know or refused to answer.
Military Response to Hazing and Abuse: Promote the Perpetrator and Kick Out the Victim
September 3rd, 2009
One of the most egregious injustices of Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell is that it invites bullies and bigots to wreak havoc on the lives of gay servicemen without allowing any recourse.
We learned last week of how Air Force Lt. Col Victor Fehrenbach’s 18 year career was destroyed by the false accusation of a mentally damaged citizen. Now we learn that Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha was put through hell only to be thrown out like the trash and his tormentor rewarded as a result of investigations. (Stars and Stripes)
According to documents released by Youth Radio this week, Navy investigators found dozens of hazing incidents over a two-year span at the Military Working Dog unit in Naval Support Activity-Bahrain. At one point, the documents show, Rocha was hog-tied, fed dog food and tossed into a dog kennel full of feces. Commanders also openly questioned his sexuality and forced him to simulate oral sex on other men.
Following the investigation, Rocha sought treatment for PTSD and later admitted he is gay, the news outlet reported. Shortly thereafter, he was discharged under the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits homosexual troops from serving openly in the ranks.
However, the commander in charge of the unit at the time of the hazing did not lose his job, and was recently promoted to senior chief, documents show.
This is unconscionable. And if the Commander in Chief has any sense of outrage that a voting block which supported him in huge numbers and whom he courted is so mistreated, this will not be swept under the rug.
President Obama may not be able singlehandedly reverse DADT. But he certainly can see to it that rewards for bigots and bullies are revoked and that punishment is meted out. And failure to act only feeds fuel to the growing suspicion that his promises were hollow and his concern about our community is insincere.
I hope he proves such suspicions false.
None of the alleged abusers was punished, according to the report.
Charges Dropped Against Salt Lake City Kissers
July 29th, 2009
Prosecutors will not pursue charges against Derek Jones and Matt Aune, the gay couple cited for trespassing in a public plaza after being confronted by Mormon Church security guards for giving a kiss on the cheek.
Apparently, the Mormon Church decided that it was not the Christian thing to do to try and use the legal system to punish this couple for a chaste kiss. Oh, wait. That isn’t why. The Mormon Church was all for civil punishment.
It turns out that the prosecutor found that the church had not adequately noted the terms under which people could cross the plaza nor adequately let the public know that this plaza was not really public property. That can happen when you blur the line between church and state. (Salt Lake Tribune)
In addition, Gill said, “there is a reasonable basis to believe the alleged trespassers did not think the LDS staff who confronted them could legally eject them from the property. Under this scenario, the alleged violators wanted law enforcement to be called because they believed they had a right to be there.
“There were no signs clearly indicating the ‘at will’ capacity to eject — for any reason — persons who entered this private property. Under this statute when the property is ‘open to the public’ Utah law provides that even if there is a violation of the statute, there is still the affirmative defense for the defendant that such conduct did not ‘substantially interfere’ with the owner’s use of the property.”
Wouldn’t it all have been better if the Church had simply told Jones and Aune, “We’re sorry we slammed you to the ground, put you in handcuffs, and had you arrested for a kiss on the cheek. Please try to remember that this is our private property and to respect our rules and we will try to remember that you are our neighbors made in God’s image and we must treat you with decency and respect”?
Artist Protests Own Exhibit
July 14th, 2009
When John Paul Blanchette learned that Barnes and Noble in Framingham, MA, would display his artwork he was no doubt elated. It would, after all, be his first solo exhibition.
Then he heard that one of his paintings was “too offensive” and would not be shown.
“It’s so ridiculous that when I met with (the manager) it took a minute before I was like, ‘Oh, she’s actually serious,”‘ Blanchette said. “There are romance book covers in there that are more offensive.”
You see, the picture in question was of two blue women in their underwear. And they weren’t going to be having no lesbians at the Barnes and Noble.
So Blanchette and a few friends protested his own exhibition.
We’ve not heard Barnes and Noble’s side (I’m waiting for a response), but it doesn’t sound like they are denying it.
Margaret Moore, community relations manager at the store, would not say why she declined to display the 11th painting; however, she did say “it is up to the store’s discretion to decide what we show.”
Yup, and it’s up to my discretion where I buy books.
El Paso Police Chief Disavows Prior Statements, Pledges To Enforce Anti-Discrimination Ordinance
July 12th, 2009
El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen has issued a statement “to correct and clarify prior statements” concerning the eviction of five men from an El Paso restaurant after two of them kissed. The new statement calls prior statements an “incorrect recitation of the law” and recognizes the police department’s responsibility to enforce the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. That 2003 ordinance bans discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation.
This statement is in response to public outcry over actions by police officers who were called to Chico’s Tacos restaurant after a security guard threatened to remove five male customers because two of them kissed. The guard told the group to leave, saying that “faggot stuff” wasn’t allowed. The men called police over their pending removal, but instead of enforcing the city’s anti-discrimination law, a responding officer threatened the cite the kissing couple for violating a nonexistent law against “homosexual conduct” — one that presumably would go so far as to ban something as radically “faggotty” as a kiss. Later, an EPPD spokesperson compounded the problem over the non-existent law by saying that the five men at Chico’s Tacos could have been charged with criminal trespass instead.
Chief Allen’s statement now recognizes the police department’s responsibility to ensure “the opportunity of each person to obtain goods and services in all process of public accommodation without fear of discrimination.” The new statement “recognizes the negative impact that discrimination can have on a community”and requires that all police personnel “be courteous and respectful in their official dealings with the public.” Chief Allen requires EPPD personnel to “maintain a level of competence” in enforcing the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, and warns that failure to do so “will result in appropriate discipline.”
El Paso Restaurant Guards Release Statement Calling Kissing “Lewd Behavior”
July 11th, 2009
It looks like a kiss is still a very radical act. The security firm hired by Chico’s Tacos has responded to the uproar over the five men who were kicked out of the El Paso, Texas restaurant after two of them kissed. It turns out that kissing is now lewd behavior:
The security company’s general manager, Robert Gamboa, released a statement Friday that said the guard encountered eight men, not five. The statement said the men were disruptive and caused a disturbance when the guard approached them.
“While at their seats, two members of the group did proceed to engage in kissing and other lewd conduct,” the statement said. “It wasn’t until another member of the group started to dance around in the aisle like a ballerina, that our officer approached them and asked them to settle down or they would be asked to leave.”
Carlos Diaz de Leon, one of the five men kicked out is described at being appalled at the statement. He insisted that there were only five men in the group and that no one was dancing. “That security company is ridiculous,” he said. He led a protest by about a hundred people in front of the restaurant Friday.
El Paso has an anti-discrimination ordinance which prohibits, among other things, restaurants from refusing to serve anyone based on sexual orientation. But that didn’t stop private security guards hired by the restaurant from ordering the men to leave after two of them kissed, saying that “faggot stuff” wasn’t allowed. Both parties called police, but instead of enforcing El Paso’s anti-discrimination law, officers threatened to cite the men with violating a statute prohibiting “homosexual conduct,” saying that kissing was forbidden in public. An EPPD spokesman later compounded the problem by saying that the couple could have been charged with criminal trespass.
The ACLU is calling for an official inquiry into the reported anti-gay discrimination, as well as the response by the El Paso Police Department.
Throw the Book (of Mormon) at Them
July 10th, 2009
It seems that the police in Texas are inspiring the Salt Lake Police Force. The story involves a couple walking along what used to be a public street.
In 1999 the City sold a block of Main Street to the Church. Because all public policy statements and documents emphasized the need for pedestrian traffic on this downtown grid, the City retained an easement for public passage and access. The Church placed restrictions on speech and behavior on the plaza.
Courts struck down these restrictions, so in 2003, the City of Salt Lake transferred the Main Street Plaza easement to the Mormon Church so as to facilitate their desire to eliminate criticism from that public thoroughfare. Now those that use this public thoroughfare are on private property. And gay people had better remember it. (Salt Lake Tribune)
Aune said the incident started when he and Jones were walking back to his Salt Lake City home from a Twilight Concert Series show at the Gallivan Center. The couple live just blocks away from the plaza in the Marmalade district of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
The pair crossed the plaza holding hands, Aune said. About 20 feet from the edge of the plaza, Aune said he stopped, put his arm around Jones and kissed him on the cheek.
This kiss resulted in being thrown to the ground by security guards, hand-cuffed, and being issued trespassing citations when the police arrived. Oh, and they are banned from all church property for six months – including that which had previously been public streets owned by the taxpayers.
Now the Mormon Church will tell you that it doesn’t hate gay people. It loves them, but disapproves of their sin just as they would the sin of an adulterer or fornicator.
I don’t find that argument convincing.
Update on “Chico’s Five”
July 10th, 2009
The story of the five gay men kicked out of Chico’s Tacos in El Paso because they were gay has picked up momentum.
National news outlets, civil-rights lawyers from El Paso to Austin, El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen and City Council representatives all chimed in on the Chico’s five.
Also additional information has been presented.
The phrase the security guards used was, “Si seguian con sus payasadas, los vamos a sacar de aqui, no permitimos que anden haciendo cosas aqui de jotos.” Jotos is a pejorative term perhaps best translated as “faggot”.
Mirroring the situation in Ft. Worth, the police tried to defend their discriminatory actions – only making the situation worse.
But El Paso Police Detective Carlos Carrillo defended the officers actions, telling the paper that every business has “the right to refuse service to whoever they don’t want there.”
Well as it turns out, no the restaurant cannot refuse service due to sexual orientation discrimination. (El Paso Times)
Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case determined that places of public accommodation cannot refuse to serve someone based purely on discrimination and must establish a reasonable basis for turning someone away.
Gay men and women have an additional protection in El Paso, where in 2003 the City Council adopted an ordinance that prohibits restaurants and other businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation, she said.
Local civil rights groups are upset and some gay people are protesting.
Word of the altercation between the gay men and the security guard spread quickly through El Paso. A text-message and e-mail campaign on Thursday urged people in the gay community and others to participate in a peaceful protest at 5 p.m. today in front of the Chico’s on Montwood. Thursday night, about 35 people protested outside the Chico’s Tacos. Several held signs that read, “Equal rights,” and “I want to kiss in public” and “It was only a kiss.”
More Bigotry From Texas Police
July 8th, 2009
Last Sunday night, Carlos Diaz de Leon and some friends stopped to have a bit to eat at Chico’s Tacos. Two of the guys kissed each other, which seemed to annoy the rent-a-cops.
“We went, sat down to eat our food and security guards came and said that if they kept doing that, they were going to throw us all out of the restaurant.”
Carlos said he then asked them why? Their response, according to Carlos: “They said ‘we didn’t allow that gay stuff to go on here.’ “
Carlos mistakenly thought that he and his friends have the right in Texas to be treated the same as straight people. So he called the police. But he didn’t get the response he expected. Rather than come to the support of Carlos and his friends, they were threatened with citation.
“Told us it was against the law for two males and two females to kiss in public, that they could cite us for homosexual activity.”
While there is a homosexual conduct ordinance in the state’s penal code, “We don’t enforce that law, there’s been court decisions about Texas’ law on that. We don’t enforce it and what happened there wouldn’t have even have met the elements of the offense, even if it had been enforceable,” said El Paso Police Department spokesman Chris Mears.
The police department admits the situation was not handled properly by a rookie police officer, but deny it was discrimination.
“Did he make a comment that he shouldn’t have made? Yeah, he did…but that comment I don’t think was discriminatory in nature, I think it was poor understanding of the law,” Mears said.
No, Mr. Mears, it isn’t just “poor understanding of the law.” If was official police harassment of a citizen of El Paso based on that citizen’s sexual orientation. It was discrimination. It was intimidation. It was bigotry.
In 2003 the Supreme Court of the United States told a state that its sodomy laws contrary to the US Constitution. And what state was that? It was Texas. It is simply not credible that there is a police force in the State of Texas that was not fully aware of Lawrence v. Texas and what it means.
Prior to the Court’s decision, it wasn’t as though the state was much in the habit of enforcing the law. They didn’t put folks in jail. That wasn’t its purpose.
The intent of the sodomy laws in Texas were to create a culture of intimidation, to leave gay persons under threat of being criminalized, to allow harassment without recourse, and to make it very clear that the State of Texas “didn’t allow that gay stuff to go on here.”
It seems to me like things haven’t changed much.
In light of the recent police brutality in a gay bar in Ft. Worth, it’s time to ask some questions.
- Why don’t the police in Texas know that they don’t have enforceable sodomy laws?
- Why does Texas still have sodomy laws on the books after they have been told by the Supreme Court that such laws are discriminatory and unconstitutional?
- Why doesn’t El Paso’s Police Department consider the blatantly bigoted response of the officer to be discrimination?
- Why would officers with the Texas Alcohol Beverage Control and with the Ft. Worth Police Department think it was “restrained” to bust heads, break ribs and thumbs, and harass 20 people selected arbitrarily and not associated with any obvious intoxication just because they were patrons of a gay bar?
- And why is it still perfectly legal for Chico’s Tacos in El Paso, Texas, to refuse service to Carlos and his friends based solely on their sexual orientation?
I believe the answers to these questions are all the same.
Research: Anti-Gay Harassment in Childhood Leads To Poor Adult Health
January 28th, 2009
Mark S. Friedman, Michael P. Marshall, Ron Stall, JeeWon Cheong, Eric R Wright. “Gay-related development, early abuse and adult health outcomes among gay males.” AIDS and Behavior 12, no. 6 (November 2008): 891-902. Abstract available at DOI 10.1007/s10461-007-9319-3.
The Urban Men’s Health Survey (UMHS) has revealed a lot of useful information in the decade since it was conducted. Much of it “dismaying,” in the words of Ron Stall, who worked on the survey at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is now at the University of Pittsburgh. Stall was one of four researchers from the University of Pittsburgh (joined by a fifth researcher from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis) who analyzed a subset of that data and concluded that “experience of homophobic attacks against young gay/bisexual male youth helps to explain heightened rates of serious health problems among adult gay men.”
The UMHS was a telephone interview of a probability sample of men who have sex with men (MSMs) living in four cities: San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The survey was conducted between November 1996 and February 1998, with 2,881 UMHS participants being asked a wide-ranging battery of questions resulting in 855 variables. The results of that survey were fed into a database, which scores of researchers have been mining ever since for dozens of studies covering many different topics. Dr, Mark Friedman, who has previously investigated the link between anti-gay hostility and suicide among young gay males, led a team which poured over responses to key questions in that database to see if a link could be established between anti-gay hostility against young gay men and adverse health outcomes as adults.
Among the many questions in that survey, participants were asked about their experiences, if any, with parental physical abuse, gay-related harassment during childhood and adolescence, and forced sex. They were also asked about four gay-related identity milestones: the age at which they became aware of their same-sex attractions, age of first same-sex sexual activity, age of deciding that they were gay, and age of first disclosure that they were gay.
Participants were also asked about current depression, HIV serostatus, sexual risk behavior during childhood, partner abuse during adulthood, anti-gay victimization during adulthood, and suicide attempts during childhood.
Dr. Mark Friedman and associates used the responses from these questions from 1,383 men aged 18 through 40, and divided them into three categories (early bloomers, middle bloomers and late bloomers) according to how participants answered questions based on the four gay-related identity milestones. Then, by looking at the answers to the other questions, they were able to demonstrate three principle findings:
1) Gay males who developed early with respect to their sexual orientation were much more likely to experience anti-gay harassment and sexual abuse during adolescence than middle bloomers and late bloomers. This might be something of a “duh” conclusion since it stands to reason that those who are more visibly gay draw more attention than those who aren’t, and those who are visibly gay earlier have more time in which to experience anti-gay harassment and sexual abuse. Nevertheless, it’s important to establish this finding statistically, because it leads to the next finding.
2) Those early bloomers were also more likely to anti-gay victimization, depression, and become HIV-positive as an adult. Taken alone, this finding might play into the hands of anti-gay activists who contend that gay youth should remain closeted and continue to deny their true experiences for as long as possible. Well, not so fast, because…
3) While early bloomers were more likely to experience adverse health outcomes as adults, it wasn’t just because they were early bloomers. Friedman and associates found that harassment and violence were very common experiences among all young gay and bisexual males. Regardless of “bloomage,” 74% reported experiencing anti-gay harassment and 24% experienced parental physical abuse before the age of 17. And these experiences were capable of statistically predicting specific negative health outcomes as adults:
- Early gay-related harassment was found to be positively associated with gay-related victimization in adulthood;
- early parental abuse was found to be positively associated with partner abuse, gay-related victimization, depression, attempted suicide and becoming HIV-positive;
- and early forced sex was positively associated with adult partner abuse, depression, engagement in high-risk sex, and becoming HIV-positive.
The men in this survey became adults, on average, in the mid 1980′s. We don’t know whether adolescents today experience statistically the same levels of abuse and harassment as adolescents did then. But the authors conclude that regardless of the extent of anti-gay harassment today, that:
“…a compelling case can still be made that the three sets of findings above, as a whole, support the hypothesis that the experience of homophobic attacks against gay youth contribute to health disparities among gay men. … [T]his suggests that their experience of abuse is related to homophobia and that these experiences in part determine the adult health problems that gay men often experience.
“To summarize, some of the health disparities of gay and bisexual men may have their genesis in these individuals’ childhood and adolescent years given that these disparities are already in place by early adulthood. The findings described above support the hypotheses that the disparities appear to be due, in part, to the timing of [gay-related development] and the violence these individuals experience related to being gay during their formative years.”
This week is National No Name Calling Week, sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). According to GLSEN’s non-representative survey of 6,209 middle and high school students, 86% of LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year, 61% felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 33% skipped a day of school in the past month because of they felt unsafe. This survey isn’t statistically representative nationwide, but that’s beside the point. They found an awful lot of harassed and frightened kids out there.
Of course, Focus On the Family is against No Name Calling Week, complaining that it has a hidden agenda. And they’re right; it does. The “hidden agenda” consists of safer youth and healthier adults, which Focus continues to oppose at all costs. After all, they’ve invested a lot of energy in maintaining the image of gay men as depressed, suicidal and unhealthy. Now we know that their own policy solutions will only serve to perpetuate that image.
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.