gay diplomats

At State, a Friendlier Workplace

Things are different at State: In October, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice swore in the openly gay Mark Dybul as the agency's new AIDS coordinator.
Things are different at State: In October, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice swore in the openly gay Mark Dybul as the agency's new AIDS coordinator. (By J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 16, 2007

Mark R. Dybul was sworn in as the new AIDS coordinator by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the ornate Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department in a little-noticed ceremony last October. But that ceremony marked a bit of history itself.

Dybul is openly gay. His partner, Jason Claire, held the Bible as Dybul took the oath. And in acknowledging Dybul's family in her remarks, Rice specifically mentioned his "mother-in-law." "You have a wonderful family to support you, Mark," Rice said. "Welcome."

The fourth person in the official swearing-in photograph -- along with Rice, Dybul and Claire -- was Laura Bush.

In stark contrast to the Pentagon policy of "don't ask, don't tell," the State Department acknowledges its gay employees, allows their partners to live in official residences overseas, helps them obtain foreign residence visas, and has sent out a cable to missions encouraging U.S. ambassadors to include diplomats' partners in social and official functions.

At the Pentagon, anyone declaring homosexuality is subject to dismissal.

Much has changed in the eight years since the Clinton administration tried to appoint James C. Hormel, a philanthropist and former dean at the University of Chicago Law School, as the first openly gay ambassador. His original appointment as envoy to Fiji in 1994 was dropped early on due to opposition.

In 1999, then-Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and three other senators held up Hormel's confirmation as ambassador to Luxembourg. The Clinton administration ended up naming him to the post as a recess appointment, which does not require confirmation but is also short-lived.

Times have changed even more since John Peurifoy, deputy undersecretary of state, revealed in 1950 that 91 State Department employees had been fired for "moral weaknesses." The disclosure triggered White House memos, investigations at other government agencies and intense congressional debate.

Three of President Harry S. Truman's advisers submitted a memo concluding that "the country is more concerned about the charges of homosexuals in government than about Communists," according to "The Lavender Scare," by David K. Johnson.

On the floor of the House of Representatives in 1950, Rep. Arthur L. Miller (R-Neb.) railed against "the fetid, stinking flesh" of homosexuals and warned that "several thousand, according to police records," were still government employees.

"It is a known fact that homosexuality goes back to the Orientals, long before the time of Confucius, that the Russians are strong believers in homosexuality, and that those same people are able to get into the State Department and get somebody in their embrace, and once they are in their embrace, fearing blackmail, will make them go to any extent," Miller said. "Some of these people are dangerous. . . . They should not be employed in government."

Today, the State Department recognizes and meets with the group Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), which represents about 300 employees. Dybul, a physician who previously worked at the National Institutes of Health's AIDS division, is actually the third openly gay U.S. ambassador. Michael Guest, ambassador to Romania, was the second, but the first as a career foreign service officer.

"They serve among us, and it's not an issue," George Staples, director general of the Foreign Service, said recently. "We really don't track or follow these kinds of things at all. I have no way of knowing."

Acceptance, however, does not mean that partners of gay diplomats are eligible for the benefits accorded heterosexual married couples, from health insurance and language training to employment opportunities at diplomatic posts.

One diplomat who resigned last month also charged that security clearances can be more problematic for gay envoys. In an open letter to Rice, Bruce F. Knotts wrote, "At a time when the department is publicly unveiling new initiatives allegedly aimed at further increasing diversity, the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security has once again begun using an open-ended political war, this time the War on Terror, as a similar cover to once again attack gays, lesbians and others it doesn't like."

State Department public affairs officer L. Kendal Smith acknowledged that security concerns can lead to the suspension of a diplomat's clearance, but he said the enforcement officially is "neutral" on gender, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation. Suspensions usually are connected to some other issue, he said.

The American Foreign Service Association, the labor union representing all U.S. diplomats, said there are far more clearance problems for heterosexual diplomats because of off-limits liaisons.

"While we have been dealing with dozens of cases of foreign service members whose security clearances have been suspended, sometimes for years, only a very small number of those cases involve gay State Department employees," said Steve Kashkett, vice president of the union. "There are far more cases that involve allegations of unreported heterosexual contact with foreign nationals."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company