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Former Ambassador Michael Guest's Retirement Remarks

Departing Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest's parting shot at the State Department over its failure to address inequalities in rules and regulations as they apply to the gay and lesbian partners of foreign service officers was written up in the Washington Post this evening.

Michaelguest_2I mentioned it briefly in the news round-up earlier today but I think it's worth mentioning again because of the WaPo piece, and because I have Guest's full farewell speech (which I've posted after the jump).

Officials attending the ceremony talked to the paper. Said John Naland, the president of the American Foreign Service Association: "If everyone is saying we need to do more, then let's do more."

Pat Kennedy, the undersecretary for management, added: "The Secretary and the State Department do not discriminate on hiring or promotions. "These are complex issues. We are committed to giving our personnel the support they need to get their jobs done."

According to the paper, "J. Michelle Schohn, an officer in the intelligence bureau, said she gave up a budding career in archaeology and joined the foreign service simply because of the hassles she encountered when her partner was based in Azerbaijan, shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed. One of her partner's colleagues got married and his spouse immediately got a diplomatic passport, but Schohn was treated no differently than any American tourist. Because of the difficulties, she ended up flying to Azerbaijan a month at a time to stay with her partner, and received no housing allowance for staying home. At one point, during violent protests, 'had there been an evacuation, we would have had to pay to evacuate me,' she said.

The WaPo notes: "The travel costs of family pets, however, are paid for by the State Department."

And Guest added to his comments from his retirement ceremony: "This was my last chance. I never got a response. I don't know that I expected a response. What I wanted was attention to the issue....One word from the secretary [would have spurred action]. That's what I was hoping, that I would somehow get to her heart."

Perhaps she was on the Elliptical.

Former Ambassador Blasts State Dept. for Treatment of Gay Employees [washington post]

Guest's full commentary, AFTER THE JUMP...


"You know, some boys grow up wanting to conquer the world. I grew up wanting to explore it, and eventually I came to want to change it, to make the world a better place. And I remember that when I first heard about the Foreign Service, it was like WOW! - this is the career I was born for, this is what I was always meant to do.

So as you can imagine, today is a bittersweet day for me. I love this profession. I always will. I'll always be proud to have been a part of the Foreign Service. I've had the unique and happy opportunity - well, not so unique, because most of you have had this opportunity too - to work on issues I really care about. And I've had great colleagues, every step of the way, those of you here today among them. Together we've done a lot to change the world for the better, in small ways and in large, and America is safer and more prosperous because of it. And when we're criticized unjustly, as has been the case in recent days, it's regrettable that the Administration hasn't done more to stand up for us.

You know, I invited a number of the newer members of our Service today because I wanted them to see this Foreign Service rite of passage. But this isn't a typical flag ceremony. Most departing ambassadors use these events to talk about their successes, the things they've done. But I want instead to talk about my signal failure, the failure that in fact is causing me to leave the career that I love.

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.

Since I'm leaving over this matter, I ask that you indulge me for a moment. It's irrational that my partner can't be trained in how to recognize a terrorist threat, or an intelligence trap. How is that in our overseas communities' interests, or in those of the Department? It's unfair that, because we're not married and indeed cannot marry, I have to pay his transportation to my assignments. It makes no sense that partners cannot sit in otherwise vacant seats to learn the informal community roles expected of them as Ambassadors' or DCMs' partners. Why serve in dangerous or unhealthful places, if partners' evacuations and medevacs are at issue? And shouldn't gay and lesbian partners have separate maintenance allowances, when employees answer the call to duty in Iraq and elsewhere? Does their service and sacrifice somehow matter less?

I've spoken with many, but not all, of you about this over time. To those who are hearing this for the first time, I want to make clear that this is not about gay rights. Rather, it's about the safety and effectiveness of our communities abroad, of the people who represent America. It's about equal treatment of all employees, all of whom have the same service requirements, the same contractual requirements. It's as much a part of transforming diplomacy as any issue the Secretary has chosen to address. And fundamentally, it's about principles on which our country was founded, principles that you and I are called upon to represent abroad - principles that in fact are symbolized by this flag, which ironically has been offered to my partner.

Nick [Burns] and Harry [Thomas] - and Pat Kennedy, my old friend - congratulations, I just heard yesterday that you've been confirmed as Under Secretary for Management. I have complete confidence in you, and I know you're going to do a great job. I ask all of you to give this issue the priority it deserves. This is discrimination, pure and simple, and it doesn't deserve a place in the institution that this Secretary leads. I mean, come on! We do amazing things overseas, convincing governments to do things they really don't want to do. How is it that we can't convince our own leadership, our own government, to do something that's so clearly right? Secretary Rice has access and influence with this President, and now we have a Democratic Congress - you know that we can do this! Please take this issue up - not for my sake, it's too late for that, but for the sake of those who remain, and for the integrity of this institution and indeed of this flag.

I've often said that leaders are judged not only by the challenges they tackle, but by those they fail to address. Well, this is a question of leadership - and please don't just reach for the low-hanging fruit. That's really not enough. I've heard for a year and a half now that we're going to allow partners into a few FSI courses. Well, even that hasn't happened, but that's not good enough - it's the low-hanging fruit that should have been done years ago. This issue needs a comprehensive approach. We are WAY behind the private sector in this area, and it's time for the Department to catch up.

Enough said. Please work on this. If you need help from the outside, let me know, and I'm sure I can arrange it.

It's been such an honor and privilege to work with each of you. You and others do so much for our country, and I'm grateful for your friendship. I've had a lot of good mentors over my time in the Service. Most have left the service - people like Roz Ridgway, and Ray Seitz, and Avis Bohlen, true icons in the Foreign Service. Others, like Bill Burns, are now overseas and couldn't be here. But I see one of my mentors here. Bruce Burton taught me a lot about our craft early in my career. He also taught me that it was fun to work long hours in the office. Somebody arrest that man! Really, I learned a lot from Bruce about what can be achieved in the Service. Thank you.

I've mentored several of you, to try to keep you from making the same mistakes I've made, and I hope you've found my advice helpful. To the younger and newer members of our service, let me just say that y'all are terrific. You do our country proud. I know you'll play a major role in restoring America's image abroad and in making our world a better place, and I'm sorry I won't be with you, but I'll google you and watch you from afar, so be careful not to do anything that gets you into trouble, or I'll find out. There are also a number of folks with gray hair here today - prematurely gray, of course, like mine. Within a few years, we'll turn the keys of this State Department car entirely over to you. So here's my last piece of advice: don't let this car stand idle. Rev the engines, run it as fast as you can, and enjoy the ride, as we have.

Some of you have asked what I'll be doing next. Well, truthfully, I don't know. For awhile I'll probably enjoy watching re-runs of "Murder She Wrote." Seriously, when else will I have the luxury to stop and think about what's important to me, and what I want to do at this point in life? Wherever I land, and whatever I eventually do, I know I'll work on making a difference on issues that really matter to me. Maybe saving tropical rainforests, or helping instill the rule of law or democracy overseas, or maybe just trying to improve Comcast's customer service. I'm strangely comfortable with not knowing what lies next, as I know this is the right move for me.

Wherever I go, and whatever I do, I'll carry this flag with me. It will remind me of what our country should stand for. But the stars in this flag will remind me of you, of each of you, and of so many other cherished colleagues, far-flung across this globe, who serve America with skill and dedication and pride. Know that as you embark on your journeys, you carry my heart and America's hopes with you.

Thank you again for coming, and may God bless you all.


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  1. Great speech. Unfortunately, appealing to the "heart" (lump of coal?) of lesbian Condi Rice, secret lover of George Dubya Bush, is not likely to get you very far.

    Posted by: So Left I'm Right | Dec 4, 2007 8:43:40 PM

  2. It's sad and goes to the heart of claims for equality, but it is surely obvious that the current administration doesn't give a toss about LGBT equality and does not respect gay families...

    Posted by: SeanR | Dec 4, 2007 8:44:47 PM

  3. thats because women hate gays and they make better closet cases too!!..

    Posted by: alan brickman | Dec 4, 2007 10:26:23 PM

  4. I am saddened to read these words by this obviously articulate and intelligent man. To think that the United States treats its highest ranking employees so badly they have to quit in order to protect their families. That isn't the kind of America I want.

    Slinging mud at a woman (who has a nickname with my Mother I refuse to repeat here) who is doing these things knowingly and willingly only further underscores this Administration's short-sightedness and ultimately their greatest downfall, they define themselves by who they exclude. And they exclude just about everyone in this country.

    Make less than 100 MILLION dollars a year? You don't count. You really don't. You're not important to Bush, or Cheney, or Ms. Rice.

    And what does that say? Are only folks who make lots and lots of money really the only ones who are important? I suppose they can buy influence. they can purchase this administration (and will buy the next one no matter which of the two parties it is). Don't fool yourself.

    Rich folks always get a deal.

    But we need to make it clear to our leadership that this isn't the kind of leadership we want.

    How many of you have called the White House? How many have written to the White House or to your Senators or Representatives (and NO, emails DON'T count -- nearly as much)? Is the long distance charge too much for you?

    A stamp gonna break your finances?

    Honest and truely, they are our legal representatives. They are sworn to respond to us. If, like me, they send you some crud about how much good they've done in regard to Iraq when you sent them a letter asking whet they intend to do about how badly GLBT folks are treated in the new Democratic Iraq (let alone Iran). Then you write them again, and stress that you are not just writing for them to congratulate themselves on the victory in Iraq.

    Keep after them. They may not want to hear it, but YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO TELL THEM WHAT YOU THINK AND WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO DO. This is not Russia (yet anyway). Bark at them (nicely). Tell them (without calling into question their sexual orientation or intelligence) that you are unhappy with the way they're treating folks who do a stand up job for this country.

    Tell them. And tell them again. And again.

    And don't tell me that it won't do any good. Have you ever tried? Really tried?

    If not, then get to it. This is our country. Let us take it back from those folks who would like nothing better than for you to sit there and do nothing, because it gives them the authority to continue to do things this way.

    Give them what for, and remind them, they work for you, not just the 100 million dollar club.

    Posted by: Slinky | Dec 5, 2007 12:03:06 AM

  5. Excellent Speech. I simply don't get how he thought his point of view would make ANY difference to the Republican Party. All that party wants from us is money and silence.

    Posted by: Kile Ozier | Dec 5, 2007 12:11:32 AM

  6. is it rich irony that this post comes right after the one re: William Sledd's new fashion/celebrity show on Bravo? Not to be an old bore, but in reading this speech - THIS is what "gay rights" are all about - taking a stand and making a difference. Thanks to you Andy - and the WaPo and other media sources - who have shared this speech with a broader community. In a time where the only gay people that seem to get coverage are versions of "Uncle Tom" and "Stephin Fetchit" you've shown that we can and do make a difference by our courage.

    Here's to the hero in each of us.

    Posted by: resurrect | Dec 5, 2007 12:12:14 AM

  7. HR really is the dismal science. While I'm sure he is trying to speak for many, the post of Ambassador is hardly a single step up from the mail room.

    Posted by: anon ( | Dec 5, 2007 12:16:03 AM

  8. "lesbian Condi Rice, secret lover of George Dubya Bush,"


    Posted by: jmg | Dec 5, 2007 6:34:09 AM

  9. I'm glad Andy expanded on this news. I too often get caught in the politics of the President and his cabinet, and I fail to see the good there is within the administration. It gives me hope to know that men and women alike are taking a stand for what they believe, it marks the beginning of a radical transformation with the truth as its righteous principle. I agree with Slinky, we must mobilize and take that stand ourselves, at some point we need to mature and realize we do have the power within ourselves to bring about change.

    Posted by: Rafael | Dec 5, 2007 7:50:03 AM

  10. I work for a federal agency and I can assure you we have never had fewer rights or have been treated as badly as we are under the current administration (compared to the last 2). This is nothing new.

    Posted by: anon | Dec 5, 2007 8:34:37 AM

  11. I believe that Lambda Legal has a case against Condi at this moment addressing this issue, or something like it.
    "U.S. Court of Appeals Issues Decision in Lambda Legal’s Case Charging Condoleezza Rice with HIV Discrimination: Man with HIV Must Have His Day in Court."-Lambda Legal
    We need to support Lambda in it's ongoing fight for equality.

    Posted by: Tommy | Dec 5, 2007 9:40:20 AM

  12. This man's words are powerful and I'm glad he had the courage to say them and stand (eventually) for his principles.

    However, not to throw cold water on this love fest for Mr. Guest, I can't help but wonder 1) What took him so long to come to the "pricipled" position (he was placed into this position in September of 2001 so he stayed there through YEARS of HIS administrations bashing, stigmatizing and marginalizing gay people and especially gay couples. Why resign now?; 2) What did he expect from this administration? Did he think that he and his relationship would be treated differently than the average queer by this homophobic administration? and; 3) Would he have stayed put if this administration had given him a special priviledge that other gay couples are not afforded?

    Some how I don't think this man is a principled as he is being painted to be. The facts on the ground point to a person who is opportunistic rather than principled.

    Still, I'm glad he said what he did and did what he did whatever his actual motivation.

    Hopefully this move is based on a recent epiphany and he will use his new found free time to fight to get the rights he wanted for himself and his partner for ALL gay couples, even ones who aren't priviledged and connected and who don't have diplomatic positions in anti-gay administrations.

    Posted by: Zeke | Dec 5, 2007 10:08:11 AM

  13. This is exactly the situation my American husband and I are in - we will have to live in Europe because over there thanks to the German life partnership law he has residency thru me. In addition access to my health care and state pension, he is considered a real family member by lay in my German family.
    America is not the leader of the free world. America is neither free nor equal.

    Posted by: Martin | Dec 8, 2007 11:53:18 PM

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