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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

JUNE 2015

17

Employee Plus One:

Marriage and the War for Talent

BY M I CHAE L GUEST

SPEAKING OUT

I

n 2001, I was sworn in as our country’s

first Senate-confirmed, openly gay

ambassador. Six years later, I pulled

the plug on my Foreign Service career,

in protest of the State Department’s

refusal to remedy policies that discrimi-

nated against gay and lesbian Foreign

Service families stationed abroad.

Those twin milestones seem like

ancient history now. Today partnered gay

and lesbian employees are covered by

the same transfer, housing, training and

other support policies their straight mar-

ried colleagues have long enjoyed. The

policy changes pioneered at State have

become a template for similar accommo-

dations across the federal foreign affairs

agency community.

In addition, six openly gay ambas-

sadors, one a career officer, have been

tapped by the Obama administration to

serve our country. A new special envoy

position has been created to strengthen

how we integrate lesbian, gay, bisexual

and transgender issues into our broader

human rights policy goals.

Yet these appointments are less

remarkable than the paucity of organized

Michael Guest, a Foreign Ser-

vice officer for 26 years, served

as ambassador to Romania

from 2001 to 2004. After retiring

in 2007, he co-founded and con-

tinues to advise the Council for Global Equal-

ity, a coalition of human rights and LGBT

advocacy organizations that seek a strong and

consistent U.S. voice on LGBT human and

civil rights abroad.

public or congressional opposition to the

notion that LGBT human rights matter,

or that a gay person can represent our

country abroad.

An Easy Write?

When the

Journal

sought my assess-

ment of how matters have changed for

State’s LGBT employees, I expected it

would be a breeze to write. Our country is

changing rapidly on these matters, after

all, and Foreign Service policies have

changed, as well.

But as we enter the Obama adminis-

tration’s home stretch, department man-

agers have proposed an effective end to

the same-sex domestic partner program.

Such a move would adversely affect

LGBT employee families and careers,

blemishing in turn both the administra-

tion’s and Secretary of State John Kerry’s

distinguished record of support for

LGBT-fair policies.

Ending partners’ equal access to ben-

efits would also have negative repercus-

sions for State’s Foreign Service mobility

needs. It would drop State behind many

corporate and multinational employ-

ers, too, and set back innovation in how

the department retains its talent, gay or

straight.

Let me explain.

The Negative LGBT Impact

On its face, the argument for ending

the partner program is simple. Marriage

equality now exists in 37 states, and a

Supreme Court ruling expected soon,

perhaps even by the time this article

is published, may institutionalize that

equality nationwide.

But that optimism ignores the

situation in many of the countries to

which LGBT talent and their families

are assigned. Given that navigating

foreign cultures is bread-and-butter to

the department’s many missions, State

should take greater note of that reality.

Frommy work with the Council for

Global Equality

(www.globalequality

.

org), I naturally see value in having

openly LGBT personnel representing our

country abroad, particularly in countries

where fairness is little understood. Per-

sonally, I also support marriage equality

and believe strongly in the public and

community commitment that marriage

represents. My own marriage is perhaps

the best decision I ever made.

Still, gay, lesbian, bisexual and

transgender friends and colleagues at

State and other foreign affairs agencies

are keenly aware that overseas postings

render decisions on whether to marry

their partners complex. They are entitled

Department managers have proposed an

effective end to the same-sex domestic

partner program.