Employment Non-Discrimination (EEO) and Workforce Equity FAQs

The following seeks to address questions from prospective employees of the Department of State, USAID, and other foreign affairs agencies about employment non-discrimination protections and workplace equity domestically and abroad.

This information is grouped by topic below, was compiled by glifaa, and reflects our understanding of current U.S. government policy. However, this informal Q&A is not an official publication of the Department of State nor any other U.S. Government agency and has not been cleared by any U.S. government source.

Please reach out to your labor union, an employment rights attorney, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, your Management Section, Executive Office, and/or Human Resources office to confirm the accuracy of this information before taking any action based on the contents of this page.

This page was last updated in September 2022.

Employment Non-Discrimination (EEO) and Workplace Equity Topics

  1. Employment Non-Discrimination (EEO) and Workplace Equity Topics
  2. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Guidance
  3. Overseas Life
  4. Benefits

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Guidance

Q: Does the U.S. government hire LGBTQIA+ people?
A: Yes. The U.S. government does not and cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in any employment decisions.

Q: What legal protections exist for LGBTQIA+ people in the federal workplace?
Existing U.S. law forbids sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. This was affirmed by the Supreme Court’s 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County decision. In that case, the Supreme Court held that firing individuals because of their sexual orientation or transgender status violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition on discrimination because of sex. This policy is also outlined in several Executive Orders, including Executive Order 13087 (signed by President Clinton on May 28, 1998) and Executive Order 13988 (signed by President Biden on January 20, 2021). E.O. 13988 establishes a uniform policy throughout the federal government that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the federal workforce.

Q: Will I be asked about my sexual orientation and/or gender identity during the employment application process?
A: All applicants for federal employment are asked to disclose their gender (listed as sex) on employment application forms. While you otherwise might not be asked directly about your sexual orientation and/or gender identity during the application process, there are circumstances in which you could be asked directly about this or in which it would be unavoidable to reveal it, especially during medical and security clearance processing. If you are given a conditional offer of employment for the State Department or another U.S. government foreign affairs agency, you must undergo a security clearance background check in order to obtain a U.S. government security clearance. Foreign Service personnel also undergo a medical evaluation. Please see our Medical Clearance and Security Clearance FAQ pages for more information.

Q: What is the Department’s policy regarding harassment based on sexual orientation and/or gender identify?
A: The State Department is committed to maintaining a workplace free from discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Existing U.S. law and Federal government policy strictly prohibits harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Specifically, State prohibits verbal or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, or which creates a hostile work environment or unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or career opportunities. Examples include epithets, slurs, negative stereotyping, threats or intimidation, whether they are expressed to an individual or a group or are contained in materials posted or otherwise circulated on State premises. Chapter 3 FAM 1520 of the Foreign Affairs Manual details the Department’s non-discrimination policy. In addition, State Department policy is in line with federal law, which prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates a hostile or offensive work environment. Examples of sexual harassment include unwelcome demands, propositions, advances, teasing, dirty jokes, remarks or questions of a sexual nature, offensive gestures and touching, sexually demeaning words used to describe an individual, and the display in the workplace of sexually offensive objects or pictures. That said, employees may still encounter homophobia and transphobia in the State Department and other U.S. government agencies as much as these would be encountered in society at large. Please reach out to an EEO counselor, management/human resources officer, or the Secretary’s Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) to report any discrimination issues.

Overseas Life

Q: Can the ambassador send me away from post if he or she finds out I’m LGBTQIA+?
A: The Ambassador (or other Chief of Mission) has broad authority to ensure that his or her embassy (or other mission) is able to carry out the duties of representing the United States in a foreign country. The Ambassador is generally granted the choice of his or her Deputy Chief of Mission, secretary, special assistant or staff assistant (where applicable) and other front office staff. The Ambassador also has the authority to request that a member of the mission depart post if that person’s conduct is deemed to jeopardize the mission’s effectiveness in carrying out its goals. Although this authority is broad, the authority to send home a mission member is exercised sparingly, and Chiefs of Mission rarely intervene directly in the assignments process. Since being LGBTQIA+ in itself is not a barrier to employment in the Foreign Service or to acquiring and maintaining a security clearance, the Ambassador cannot ask you to leave post merely for being (or on the suspicion of being) LGBTQIA+. However, there could be circumstances in which a person’s personal conduct (regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity) could be considered detrimental to the ability of the mission to carry out its goals. Such circumstances would have to be considered on a case-by-case and post-by-post basis.

Q: Can the Ambassador block my assignment to a post because I’m LGBTQIA+?
A: No. Assignments are based on Bureau consideration of the qualifications of all bidders for a given position. Assignment panels may not consider an officer’s gender, age, creed, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or gender identity when making assignments.

Q: I am not married but am in a long-term committed relationship, and my partner is not a U.S. government employee. Can my partner accompany me to post?
A: Yes. With Chief of Mission and State Department approval, your partner may be able to accompany you to post as a Member of Household and live with you in embassy-provided housing, though your partner may have more difficulties obtaining a visa to live in the foreign country than married Eligible Family Member (EFM) spouses do. More information on the Member of Household program is available on the State Department’s Global Community Liaison Office website.

Q: My spouse is also in the Foreign Service. Will we be assigned to the same post?
A: Married spouses (of all sexual orientations and gender identities) are considered “Tandem Couples” for the purposes of bidding. It is certainly possible for you and your partner to be assigned to the same post, particularly if you make your wishes clear during the assignments process and bid on a post where there are positions available for both spouses and you are well-qualified for those assignments, but there are no guarantees that two officers will be assigned together, even if they are a tandem couple. The needs of the service and the system’s efforts to best accommodate the interests of all bidders, posts, and bureaus play an important role in the process.

Q: Can my married same-sex EFM spouse work at post?
A: Depending on the type of accreditation your host government offers same-sex spouses and the nature of the bilateral work agreement (BWA) – if any – that is in effect, EFM spouses may be able to legally work at post. If your spouse can legally work in the host country, they may apply and compete for positions advertised by the embassy, recreation associations, expatriate organizations, and local employers just as any other EFM spouses may. However, some host governments may offer accreditation while refusing to use the term “spouse” when accrediting same-sex couples, potentially jeopardizing an EFM spouse’s ability to work under the bilateral work agreement.


Q: Can my married EFM same-sex spouse benefit from other employment benefits that I receive as a U.S. government employee? What about my unmarried partner/Member of Household?
A: Federal statutes control who is eligible to receive employment benefits such as health insurance, life insurance and retirement annuity. Married spouses (of any gender and sexual orientation) are eligible to receive benefits. Unmarried partners are not eligible. The State Department is bound by federal law in this regard and does not have independent discretion to offer these benefits. Nevertheless, certain provisions of current federal employee benefits and compensation are already available to unmarried partners of federal employees:

  • You can designate your partner as your beneficiary under the Federal Employee Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program. You can change your beneficiary at any time without the knowledge or consent of the previous beneficiary.
  • You can designate your partner as your beneficiary for any unpaid compensation due to you, such as accrued vacation. This designation remains valid until you change or revoke it and as long as you are employed with the Department of State.
  • You can designate your partner as your beneficiary under the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). You can make this designation at any time.
  • Under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS, applicable to federal employees hired before 1984), you may designate your partner as your beneficiary for a lump sum refund of your retirement contributions to the retirement system. However, if anyone qualifies to receive survivor annuity benefits by law, retirement contributions cannot be refunded.
  • The Federal Employees Family Friendly Leave Act (FEFFLA) permits eligible employees to use sick leave to provide care for a family member (defined as any individual related by blood or affinity, whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship) if that person is incapacitated because of physical or mental illness, injury, pregnancy, or childbirth; or requires assistance to go to medical, optical or dental examinations or treatments. FEFFLA also permits employees to use sick leave to make arrangements for and attend the funeral of a family member (as defined above). Employees should therefore be eligible to use sick leave to care for or bereave an unmarried partner.