REMARKS by MICHAEL GUEST at his RETIREMENT CEREMONY
“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.