Hillary Clinton Addresses Issue of LGBT Personnel at State Department

At yesterday’s Secretary of State confirmation hearings, Senator Russ Feingold asked Hillary Clinton about difficulties faced by LGBT employees at the State Department.

HillaryFEINGOLD: So I look forward to working with you. Let me switch to something completely different. There’s widespread recognition of the need to build a more robust and effective diplomatic and development corps. And as a part of that effort, it, of course, makes sense to consider ways to address challenges faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, particularly relating to domestic partner benefits and State Department policies that make it difficult for the partners of foreign service officers to travel and live at overseas posts. What would you do as secretary of state to address these concerns? Will you support changes to existing personnel policy in order to ensure that LGBT staff at State and USAID receive equal benefits and support?

CLINTON: Senator, this issue was brought to my attention during the transition. I’ve asked to have more briefing on it because I think that we should take a hard look at the existing policy. As I understand it, but don’t hold me to it because I don’t have the full briefing material, but my understanding is other nations have moved to extend that partnership benefit. And we will come back to you to inform you of decisions we make going forward.

Michaelguest_2Issues of inequality and unfair treatment at the State Department were highlighted last year when departing Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest criticized the agency’s failure to deal with them. Guest took a parting shot at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at his retirement ceremony for failing to answer his calls to address LGBT issues. Said Guest: “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.”

Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) was pleased with the Feingold-Clinton exchange, and released the following statement:

“GLIFAA plans to present to the incoming Secretary of State a letter signed by over 2,000 current and former employees of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies, requesting fairness for LBGT employees. GLIFAA board members also met with members of President-elect Obama’s transition team at the Department of State in December. GLIFAA President Michelle Schohn welcomed Senator Clinton’s acknowledgement that fairer policies serve as good business sense. Schohn noted that LGBT U.S. diplomats and aid workers serve overseas in some of the most dangerous locations, but continue to be denied equal treatment for their families. She expressed hope that the incoming Administration would work quickly to implement overdue reforms…Among many other obstacles, LGBT partners lack access to affordable health insurance coverage and resources for moving abroad. During overseas tours, employees’ partners do not receive assistance in obtaining a visa and lack access to employment opportunities, emergency evacuation, and embassy medical units, all afforded to married, heterosexual couples.”

Hillary Clinton Looks Headed for Swift Secretary of State Approval [tr]


  1. seeldee says

    GLIFAA read a lot into Senator Clinton’s non-answer. Clinton has had lots of practice to perfect her political doublespeak and she doesn’t actually say anything at all about the question put to her yesterday.

    Clinton found the most diplomatic way to deflect the question and did so rather than offer a sincere opinion or indication of what she would do as Secretary of State. She would not need a brief to do that.

    Anyway, fingers crossed but if I were a gay employee working in the diplomatic corps I would not be holding my breath.

  2. Ed says

    I can never understand why so many glbt persons christen Hillary Clinton as their messiah. Especially when there have been political figures like Sen. Russ Feingold who have been working hard to advance rights and protections for the glbt community and this country as a whole for a very long time now.

    But I don’t hold Sen. Clinton’s answer against her. She’s simply demonstrating her usual rhetoric of non-commitment with regards to “controversial” issues that won’t immediately benefit her career. Basically it would come as no surprise to me if she did nothing. At least it’s out there right now (kudos- Feingold!) and we’ll just wait and hope that she does the right thing.

  3. Nick says

    I have a question that is more legal than ideological, I suppose. I understand that those who work for the state department (and their partners) face unique challenges secondary to living and working abroad. However, does the Sec’y of State (or any head of department) have the right to extend rights/priveleges to those working for them that are not available to American citizens in general (i.e. spousal rights to same-sex couples)? Don’t get me wrong I’m all for this, but it just seems funny. Could passage of such benefits set precedent for other departments or the government as a whole?

  4. daveynyc says

    I have no doubt that as Secretary Clinton will do everything in her power to make sure partnership benefits are extended.

    Clinton is a preparation junkie and she does not like to address an issue unless she is 100 percent completely filled in on ALL the details.

    I know some people take that as political rhetoric. I find it as a breath of fresh air that we (finally) have someone with smarts who will think before they open their mouth (unlike others in the Bush administration).

    Give em Hill

  5. zeke star says

    I believe Hillary is going to appoint an openly married gay man to be her assistant. He will also have to be confirmed through hearings as well. She has always had openly gay men on her staff.

  6. John in CA says

    Nick’s question nailed it.

    She doesn’t want to get sued over DOMA. That’s the reason for the vague answer. Because, you know, the wingnuts at the Alliance Defense Fund will sue her over this.

    As ridiculously absurd as it sounds, the religious right will think nothing of endangering the lives of their fellow Americans (by distracting the Secretary of State at a critical juncture in Mideast negotiations over this nonsense). They think this is a “Holy War” for souls. And homosexuality is the work of the devil.