State Department Falls Short on Gay Rights
Professional life in the national security agencies is much better for gays and lesbians today than it was twenty years ago. The old rule that homosexuality would alone disqualify an individual from receiving a security clearance has been abolished. However, on a range of benefits and equal treatment — including adequate security training for same-sex partners — there is much room for improvement. At a time when talented and experienced diplomats are in demand more than ever, this story, recounted in the NYTimes editorial page blog, is distressing:
Before friends, colleagues and top officials in the State Department Treaty Room, Mr. Guest took Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was not present) to task for failing to treat the partners of gay and lesbian foreign service officers the same as the spouses of heterosexual officers. And he revealed — with eloquent sadness, not anger — that this was the reason for his departure.
“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.
I know many talented gay and lesbian members of the Foreign Service, and have seen how difficult it is for those with life partners (and no hope of a legal marriage protected under federal law) have struggled under the limitations of State Department policies. With the current approach affecting the security of diplomats here and overseas and forcing talented FSOs to leave the service, it is time for State and Congress to work together to change personnel policies. As the Times notes:
Treating gay public servants by different standards than apply to everyone else is unacceptable, especially at a time when all American diplomats and military personnel are being called on to serve — sometimes repeatedly — in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s also foolhardy since the two conflicts have put such strain on American resources that personnel shortages are commonplace. The government should be doing everything in its power to retain its best and brightest, beginning with treating them equally.