Remembering, Reenergizing, and Refocusing

glifaa’s 2020-2021 Annual Report

Happy Pride from your colleagues on the glifaa Board! Pride month is a time to celebrate the progress made toward LGBTQI+ equality and to remember, reenergize, and refocus ourselves on the work that lies ahead. We still have a long way to go to achieve equality for LGBTQI+ colleagues and to build a more diverse and inclusive State Department and foreign affairs workforce.  

In the spirit of looking backward and forward, your glifaa board wants to update our 1100+ members on our efforts over the past year and on the important work that remains. With this message, we hope to start a new tradition in glifaa of sending an annual report during Pride month. With glifaa elections at the beginning of July, we also hope this will motivate members to seek positions on our board. Without committed, active members, our efforts will fail. We all have to take action if we want to influence change within glifaa, the Department, and other foreign affairs agencies.

During the past year, we had several focus areas as outlined below. One procedural note, as this is an unclassified message, we’ve excluded some sensitive information. If you’d like additional details on any information below, please write to us at glifaa@state.gov.

Accreditation of Same Sex Spouses and Family Members

Approximately 70 countries do no grant diplomatic status to our same sex spouses and family members.  Employees with same sex spouses and family members have to make a choice between career and family due to accreditation issues while colleagues in opposite sex relationships do not. Patchwork agreements sometimes permit spouses to be legally present in a country, but in most cases they do not allow for same-spouses to be afforded privileges and immunities (Ps and Is) and therefore do not guarantee their safety, eligibility to work, and in some cases the ability to enter and leave their host country freely.

Over the past two years, glifaa has called on the Department to employ a broader range of tools to encourage countries to accredit our spouses. Beginning in the previous administration, we had numerous meetings and engagements with senior department officials where we called on the Department to create a working group including  regional bureaus, M, A, GTM, the Office of Foreign Missions, and others to hammer out a strategy for expanding accreditation. In February, we met with the acting Undersecretary for Management (M) Carol Perez and she agreed to create the working group. Within two weeks, upon our request, she convened a DAS-level group to address accreditation as well other issues important to our community. Since that meeting, GTM has organized a half dozen, working-level meetings that have already reaped results thanks to better collaboration across the Department. First, several  additional countries have agreed to accredit our same sex spouses. Second, with our input, GTM has revamped the annual questionnaire to posts on LGBTQI+ accreditation to ensure bidders have more granular information (for example, countries that give visas, but not Ps and Is). Third, glifaa is working with the Overseas Briefing Center and GTM on an annual survey for all posts on issues related to LGBTQI+ life at post (security, education for LGBTQI+ kids, health care, etc). Talent Map will include a link to the responses.

Aside from the working group, glifaa has been advocating for better clarification and codification in the FAM of allowances related to accreditation issues. Earlier this year, after sustained glifaa engagement, the Department updated the FAM to include language that directs posts to reimburse travel-relative expenses for visa runs (14 FAM 532.10 Spouse Travel to Obtain a Visa or Reset Residency). 

On several occasions glifaa has helped employees receive Involuntary Maintenance Allowance (not Voluntary) when employees have been  separated from their spouses because of accreditation issues and posts or employees were unaware of regulations.

Looking ahead, although we have seen some positive developments, more work remains. First, we need stronger messaging from senior Department leaders that front offices should proactively engage with host governments on accreditation, not wait until someone is assigned to a country, and not hand the task of engaging the government to lower level employees. Second, we would like a more robust accounting of the levers available in the Department and intergency to encourage countries to accredit same sex spouses. Finally, we will continue to work with GTM and others to make sure employees and managers know resources and regulations available to LGBTQI+ employees.

Expanding Equality for Transgender Employees and Family Members

The transgender community within the State Department and other foreign affairs agencies is strong and growing. In the State Department alone, extrapolating data from the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, there are over 100 trans employees. This figure doesn’t include the hundreds of spouses and children in our community. Trans employees and family members have long lived in the shadow, in an environment of discrimination and unequal treatment. 

As one of its top priorities, glifaa has worked to advance equality for trans employees and family members. First, in numerous high level meetings and communications we advocated to the Department that it issue guidance on policies and protections related to transgender colleagues and employees who are transitioning.  Such communication was necessary to help employees maneuver policies when transitioning; prevent discrimination from colleagues and managers by underscoring requirements (access to bathrooms, e.g.); and highlight the Department’s commitment to creating a workplace where trans employees are welcome and treated equally. Last year, a glifaa board member worked with the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) to draft a cable. In March, the Department released 21 STATE 43408 Guidance Regarding Transgender Employees’ and Management’s Rights and Responsibilities in the Workplace. 

Second, we’ve been focused on improving health care options and access for transgender employees and family members. Last year, we met with the leadership of the American Foreign Service Protective Association (AFSPA) which oversees the Foreign Service Benefit Plan and were able to establish a new direct point of contact for any trans coverage issues which will improve the ability of trans employees and family members to clarify their coverage and raise issues in a more direct manner . Based on a survey conducted by glifaa and USAID’s GSM, we presented a list of treatment and procedures we believe the plan should cover. We are very hopeful this engagement will lead to additional benefits for transgender employees and family members when FSBP releases its 2022 brochure later this year. Beyond our health plans, glifaa is also working with Pride in Federal Service—the federal-government wide LGBTQI+ employee resource group—to engage with OPM to ensure all FEHB cover gender-affirming care. 

Third, we regularly receive emails from parents of transgender children about health issues at post. Last year, we met with MED leadership and discussed some of the feedback we receive regarding LGBTQI+ care. To better address the concerns of our members,, we organized a town hall with MED to address some of those concerns and distributed those answers to the broader community (write board@glifaa.org for password). Also, MED has identified a number of LGBTQI+ liaisons who can help address health-related concerns related to our community.  We also created a community resource document for parents and met with PFLAG to identify ways to provide information and educate international educators and medical providers. 

Moving ahead, we still have a lot of work to do. We would like to work with GTM to organize roundtables and other engagements to make sure that Department guidance is understood and practiced. Further, we have to make overseas life as supportive as possible for LGBTQI+ kids by making sure the schools the Department financially supports have codes of conduct that protect our kids and that MED units provide adequate support.

Safeguarding LGBTQI+ Rights in the Department

Another one of our top priorities, your glifaa board has served as a watchdog in the Department on LGBTQI+ equality.  We have tried to identify potential problems before they arise, work with bureaus to ensure support structures are in place, and to amplify and address actions that infringe upon our rights. Over the past year alone, we have assisted approximately 20 members of our community on various  issues.

As an example, during the previous administration, the Secretary created the Commission on Unalienable Rights. The glifaa board viewed the findings of the commission as a blueprint for countries to prioritize religious rights and discriminate (and persecute) LGBTQI+ individuals. We voiced our concerns directly to Secretary Pompeo, members of Congress, and the NGO community. In the goal paper we presented to the new administration, we encouraged the Department to renounce the findings of the report. Due partially to engagement from a number of entities who had issues with the Commission, the Secretary formally disavowed the report.

We’ve also worked to address some cases of Department employees engaging in hate speech against LGBTQI+ individuals on their personal social media. We were pleased the Department recently issued guidance on repercussions for such behavior. In meetings with Department leadership, we are encouraging the Department to take an even stronger stance against hate speech through mandatory training and other communications that underscore that hate and bigotry and intolerance have no place in our State Department family.

There are also a number of good examples in the Department of bureaus and offices proactively engaging on LGBTQI+ issues. Diplomatic Security, for example, has created an ally program whereby DS employees serve as a support for LGBTQI+ individuals. Further, DS worked with us last year to organize a town hall to address some concerns from our community. Other offices and bureaus routinely call on the board with questions or ask us to speak to leadership and employees on LGBTQI+ concerns. DS has also identified a POC who the board can contact if one of our members has a security-related concern or question. 

Other Advocacy

Some of our advocacy efforts span across glifaa goals. In early January, shortly before the transition, we released a goal paper for the new administration. The new team has started to address many of our priorities. As the White House and Department considers and announces more senior positions, we hope there will be greater LGBTQI+ representation in the senior ranks. We’ve never had an out person of color, lesbian, trans, or bi Foreign Service Officer (or political appointee) serve as Ambassador. We hope this will soon change. 

Another important issue, with guidance from AFSA, we’ve been working with GTM and other federal government LGBTQI+ employee resource groups to engage OPM to change its limited definition of fertility and expand reproductive support options for federal employees. For example, many private sector plans provide a one-time benefit for policy holders to offset surrogacy-related costs. We think this is an area where we  can make progress with sustained engagement.

glifaa has also served as a resource on draft legislation to congressional committees and provided member perspectives to a number of independent commissions and nongovernmental organizations that have looked at LGBTQI+ issues and diversity and inclusion in the State Department. We also joined other organizations in calling on the Department  to change policies regarding transmission of citizenship to children born abroad and we continue to push for a non-binary gender marker in passports.

Strengthening glifaa

Next year glifaa will mark its 30th anniversary. We have a lot to be proud of since our founders first met, under a shroud of secrecy, to end discrimination against LGBTQI+ employees. We owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to the generations of boards before us who have made real changes in the Department that we often take for granted today. It wasn’t long ago that DS denied security clearances to LGBTQI+ employees, embassies wouldn’t allow partners access to overseas MED units, the Department would reimburse pet but not partner/safe-sex spouse transport, and our health plans refused to cover gender affirming care. The list is long. Previous boards successfully changed these and many other policies. 

Today, glifaa as an organization is stronger than ever. We have over 1100 members (an increase of 40 percent in two years) and post representatives in 130 embassies and consulates. The work of our network has been impressive. For IDAHOTB, over 40 posts marked the occasion by flying flags, organizing discussions, media engagements, and other activities. Most of these efforts were the result of the hard work by glifaa Post Reps. This year, the glifaa board will also award a record number of small grants to post representatives for a variety of projects with local organizations. The board recently created a WhatsApp group for Post Reps that has quickly become a valuable tool for sharing experiences, challenges, and best practices and has organized Post Rep training sessions. 

However, we cannot rest on our past accomplishments.  Both the current and future glifaa boards must work to make our organization even stronger. Top of the list, we have to make sure that glifaa is a home for our entire LGBTQI+ community. Last year, the board surveyed members on diversity and inclusion within glifaa and produced a white paper to aggregate results. The responses indicated that many people, particularly people of color, do not feel that glifaa has been welcoming over the years. We have to do better as an organization. glifaa, given our intersectionality, has a unique opportunity to set an example for the rest of the Department. The board then facilitated a discussion on race in glifaa and created a working group to develop concrete ways to make glifaa more inclusive. We will also create a new board position to focus specifically on recruitment and retention.  Another member is also organizing a book club to serve as a basis of discussing race and discrimination.  We have a lot more to do and all of us—the board and all 1100 members—must commit to a glifaa that is truly a home for everyone in our community.

Over our three decades, glifaa has served as a place for mentorship and networking. This year, the board launched an official mentorship program. We’ve had a tremendous amount of interest from both mentors and mentees. We hope this program becomes a mainstay of glifaa and that future boards will work to expand it.

An issue that has long dogged glifaa has been its organizational status. This year, upon a unanimous board vote, we are registering glifaa as a NGO, 501c3 entity. This will enable us to continue to issue and expand post grants, act in compliance with tax laws, and offer tax deductions for donations. We are working with an entity that will help us register and file our first year of tax returns. We don’t anticipate the tax filing requirements to be a heavy burden as our dues-based income is small and would make glifaa eligible for e-Postcard filing. 

Networking and Educational Events

Regarding events, the pandemic closed some doors but opened others. The board has used zoom to expand our programming. Over the past year, we’ve hosted events with then-Deputy Secretary Biegun, filmmaker Alice Chu, Author Eric Cervini, and we organized a discussion with three trans activists to mark the International Day of Trans Visibility. We’ve also hosted discussions on racism, increased our collaboration with other EAGs, and held a first-ever glifaa discussion on bisexuality in the Department. We’ve also used Zoom to better communicate with our members. We’ve organized info sessions for Post Reps and held member meetings. We’re looking forward to doing more in person, but clearly given glifaa’s international reach, virtual events and meetings help us to be more effective.  

Despite the pandemic, we still managed to have some social events. When weather permitted, we organized happy hours in Malcolm X (Meridian Hill) park that drew 40-60 people each time. We also organized virtual happy hours, a trivia contest, and even a virtual cooking class.  In lieu of DC Pride participation given it went virtual due to COVID-19, we supported organizations such as the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, SMYL, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and created with the Diplomacy Center an online exhibit.

Looking ahead, we have a lot of diverse social interests among our members—happy hours, sporting events, family activities, book clubs—the list goes on. To organize more events that reach different people, boards need members to raise their hands, suggest activities, and help us put them together.

Closing Thoughts

Lastly, thank you all for instilling your trust in us to guide and lead this organization. We hope our efforts this year have helped improve the personal and professional lives of each of our members. We hope that you too will consider helping our community by running for a board seat, organizing an event, or participating in an activity.  

Please continue to follow our messages and events on Facebook, our email newsletters for people signed up as members on our MemberPlanet site, or–for people with a state.gov account–join our internal state.gov distro by sending an email to glifaa@state.gov.  As always, you can reach the board at board@glifaa.org.

Happy Pride!!

Jeff Anderson, President

Hammad Hammad, Vice President for State

Meghan Thompson, Vice President for USAID and Other Agencies

LaSean Knox-Brown, Policy Director

Calandra Hersrud, Treasurer and Secretary

Taylor Westfall, Social and Outreach Director 

Shalom Konstantino, Communications Director

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