In 1992, a small group of LGBTQIA+ State Department employees bravely founded glifaa to challenge a security clearance process that persecuted lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) U.S. government employees. From that risky start, membership and activities grew until glifaa won official recognition as the voice of LGBT personnel in U.S. foreign affairs agencies.
In 1998, President Clinton issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal civilian workforce. In 2002, senior State Department and USAID officials helped commemorate our 10th anniversary, and in 2003 we held our first meeting with a Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
Subsequent years saw partnering with activists like Judy and Dennis Shepherd (parents of Matthew Shepherd), members of Congress, journalists, think-tankers and colleagues in the military and other agencies to counter discrimination. In 2009, following glifaa’s concerted advocacy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton established personnel policies to protect and support LGBTQIA+ staff and their spouses as much as current U.S. law allowed. In 2010, Congress repealed the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Meanwhile, U.S. human rights policy increasingly addressed treatment of sexual minorities with the mantra “gay rights are human rights” becoming a cornerstone of U.S. policy. In 2010, in large part due to advocacy from glifaa, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added gender identity to the Department of State’s Statement on Discriminatory and Sexual Harassment and EEO Policy. USAID and other foreign affairs agencies followed suit shortly thereafter. 2012 saw glifaa’s 20th anniversary celebration followed by momentum from the Supreme Court’s 2013 “Windsor” decision on same-sex marriage, with multiple implications for employee benefits and overseas assignments.
A complete history of glifaa (as of 2013)
The first meetings of GLIFAA were in the spring of 1992 in the homes of David Buss and Bryan Dalton, State Department Foreign Service Officers. Worry hung in the air, as those present knew that the State Department’s security office was investigating personnel thought to be gay and driving them out of government service. In addition to setting policy goals, the group agreed upon ground rules for confidentiality, fearing repercussions. The group worked to raise concern about discriminatory practices, educate Department leadership and advocate for fair and rational treatment in security clearances. Its efforts led to reform of the security clearance policy by year’s end, as well as increased visibility of gay and lesbian issues in foreign affairs agencies. Upon entering office in 1993, President Clinton moved to protect the rights of gays and lesbians in government by enforcing the equal treatment provisions of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 in all government agencies. In 1994, Secretary of State Warren Christopher issued a clear prohibition against discrimination in the State Department including that based on sexual orientation. GLIFAA’s first big policy success occurred in 1998, when President Clinton signed Executive Order 13087 barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. To this day, there is no federal law barring such discrimination.
Work continued, including in close cooperation with the professional association and union of the Foreign Service, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), whose efforts helped spotlight growing support for inclusive policies among its membership. In 1999, James Hormel was nominated and subsequently appointed (without Senate confirmation) as the United States’ first openly gay ambassador. In 2000, GLIFAA achieved its next major success: Secretary Albright launched a policy to allow domestic partners to accompany staff posted overseas as “Members of Household,” and instructed Chiefs of Mission to ask host governments to accredit all members of household, whether they were opposite-sex partners, same-sex partners, parents, or other extended family who lived with an employee to post. Subsequent years saw progress and setbacks, but one highlight was an embrace of diversity within USAID’s rank and file and leadership.
(Click here to download the PDF 2002 GLIFAA Retrospective)
Meanwhile, career Foreign Service Officer Michael Guest was named Ambassador to Romania in 2001, thus becoming the first openly gay Ambassador to receive Senate confirmation. His high-profile departure from the Foreign Service in 2008 set the stage for GLIFAA’s next major push: to gain Eligible Family Member (EFM) status for all partners, whether same-sex or opposite-sex. Such status would allow partners a host of benefits, including air tickets to accompany their partners to post. Building on the momentum generated by Ambassador Guest, GLIFAA embarked on a historic letter campaign, and succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Immediately after her confirmation, over 2,200 current and former employees of foreign affairs agencies sent Secretary Clinton a letter asking her to treat their families equally: “We believe that no colleague of ours is a second-class colleague, and no colleague’s family is a second-class family,” the letter said. We were proud that 92% of the letter’s signers did not even have a Member of Household (MOH), but signed because like Secretary Clinton, they knew that pushing for equality was the right thing to do. Our effort to gain EFM status for same-sex domestic partners (SSDPs) succeeded with an order by Secretary Clinton in June 2009, which accorded family benefits to registered SSDPs to the maximum extent allowed by U.S. law.
Much work still remained, however. Discrimination and homophobia continued in some workplaces, particularly in assignments overseas to countries hostile to LGBT people. Due to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex partners were left out of employee insurance and retirement programs, and were unable to obtain residency in the U.S. The Supreme Court’s June 2012 decision in United States v. Windsor overturned DOMA and opened up these benefits to LGBT families. GLIFAA’s efforts turned toward full implementation of this decision in U.S. Government policies and practice. Meanwhile, we continued to advocate for unmarried domestic partners, straight and gay.
GLIFAA first became actively involved in advancing the rights of transgender employees in 2008 under the leadership of Policy Director Ajit Joshi and Presidents Michelle Schohn and Bob Gilchrist. In 2010, in large part due to advocacy from GLIFAA, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added gender identity to the Department of State’s Statement on Discriminatory and Sexual Harassment and EEO Policy. USAID and other foreign affairs agencies following suit shortly thereafter.
Today, we as GLIFAA continue our proud tradition of representing all our members. Our work on behalf of our straight allies will continue right alongside our work for our married and unmarried LGBT colleagues no matter where they reside on the rainbow spectrum of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender presentation.