FAQs

The following seeks to address questions from prospective employees of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies about employment, security, overseas life, benefits, and HIV.  This information was compiled by GLIFAA and reflects our understanding of current State Department policy regarding sexual orientation.  This is not an official publication of the Department of State or any other U.S. Government agency.

Employment

Q: Does the State Department hire gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons?

A: Yes. The Department does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in any of its employment decisions. The same is true of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the other foreign affairs agencies of the federal government. This policy is laid out in Executive Order 13087, signed by President Clinton on May 28, 1998. E.O. 13087 established a uniform policy throughout the federal government that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal civilian workforce.

Q: Will I be asked about my sexual orientation during the employment application process?

A: No, not directly. If you pass the Oral Exam and are given a conditional offer of employment, you must undergo a security background check and a medical evaluation.

The security background check is conducted by agents of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). The background check consists of an interview with a DS agent, who will then contact the references you provide for further information. There is no routine question regarding an applicant’s sexual orientation, and DS will not be concerned with your sexual orientation per se. However, there are specific, individual circumstances in which you could be asked directly about your sexual orientation, or in which it would be unavoidable to reveal it. For example, you could be asked about your personal relationships, people you have lived with, or associations or organizations to which you have belonged. You will also likely be asked to describe any close relationships with foreign nationals. If any of these circumstances involved your sexual orientation, you might be obliged to disclose your orientation.

During the medical evaluation, the physician may ask about your sexual activity, or about medication you are taking/have taken. You will also be asked if you have consulted a therapist or other mental health professional, and to explain the circumstances if you have. If the circumstances are linked to your sexual orientation, it is possible that you would have to disclose it.

In all cases, candor and honesty are essential. It is incumbent upon the applicant to be complete and forthcoming in providing relevant information for the evaluation process. Remember, being gay, lesbian or bisexual is not in itself an obstacle to employment with the State Department. Many of our recently hired members entered into government service completely out and were not denied entry as a result of being homosexual.

Q: What is the Department’s policy regarding harassment based on sexual orientation?

A: The State Department is committed to maintaining a workplace free from discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, and State’s policy strictly prohibits harassment based on sexual orientation. 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 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. Subchapter 3 FAH-1 H-1520 of the Foreign Affairs Handbook details the Department’s complaints procedure for employees who suffer harassment based on sexual orientation.

In addition, State 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, homophobia still exists the State Department as much as it does in society at large. Problems have occurred and difficulties continue for gay and lesbian employees. What is important is that a mechanism exists to assist employees when confronted with such unwanted harassment.

Security

Q: Will being gay, lesbian or bisexual prevent me from getting and maintaining a security clearance?

A: No. Executive Order 12968, signed by President Clinton in August 1995, states that the United States Government does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation when determining an individual’s eligibility to receive access to classified information. State’s security clearance procedures comply with the provisions of this Executive Order.

Q: I’m not out to my family and friends. Does this make me a security risk?

A: Being in the closet does not in itself make you a security risk. Each case is reviewed using the “whole person” concept to arrive at a common sense determination of whether an individual would pose an unacceptable risk to the protection of classified information. To make this determination, the Department considers all information gathered during the security background investigation. The mere fact that you may not have disclosed your sexual orientation to friends or family would not normally make you a security risk.

That said, there are risks in not being honest. If during the background investigation it was found that you were dishonest or deliberately falsified or misrepresented information in order to conceal your sexual orientation, that information could figure into a decision to withhold a security clearance.

Q: What if I don’t want to tell my supervisors or coworkers that I’m gay, lesbian or bisexual – does that make me a security risk?

A: In most cases, the decision whether to come out to colleagues in the Department or at post is a personal matter, not a security issue. There are, however, circumstances in which it may be unavoidable. You are required, for example, to report certain unofficial contacts or relationships with foreign nationals, any outside employment you wish to take, certain speeches you wish to deliver, and any legal proceedings (civil or
criminal) you may become involved in. If such circumstances involve your sexual orientation, you might be obliged to reveal your orientation to your coworkers.

Overseas Life

Q: Can the ambassador send me away from post if he or she finds out I’m gay?

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 right to order home a mission member is exercised sparingly, and Chiefs of Mission rarely intervene directly in the assignment process. Since being gay 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) gay. However, there could be circumstances in which a person’s conduct of his/her personal life (regardless of sexual orientation) 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 gay?

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 or sexual orientation when making assignments.

Q: I am in a long-term committed relationship, and my partner is not in the Foreign Service. Can my partner accompany me to post?

A: Yes. Your partner can accompany you to post and live with you in embassy-provided housing, though your partner may have more difficulty obtaining a visa to live in the foreign country than heterosexual spouses do. As of the changes made to Department regulations in 2009, a same-sex domestic partner can receive Eligible Family Member status, obtain a diplomatic passport, and be placed on the employee’s travel orders. More information is available on our Partner Benefits page.

Q: My partner is also in the Foreign Service. Will we be assigned to the same post?

A: Same-sex couples who have signed the Department’s domestic partnership affidavit may be 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, but there are no guarantees that two
officers will be assigned together, even if they are a traditional tandem couple. The needs of the service and the system’s efforts to best accommodate the interests of all bidders play an important role in the process.

Q: Can my partner work at post?

A: Depending on the type of visa your partner is granted, it might be possible for him/her to work at post. If your partner can legally work in the host country, he/she may apply and compete for positions advertised by the embassy, recreation associations, and other expatriate organizations just as family members, expatriates and host nationals may. Your partner is considered an Eligible Family Member and will benefit from the preference given to EFMs applying for embassy positions.

Q: Is my partner eligible for training at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center (NFATC), such as language or consulartraining, that might be required for some positions advertised at post?

A: Yes. Your partner will be eligible for any training that is routinely offered to Eligible Family Members, including basic language training, overseas security training, and some job-related training.

Benefits

Q: Can my partner benefit from other employment benefits that I receive as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO)?

A: Federal statutes control who is eligible to receive employment benefits such as health insurance, life insurance and retirement annuity. Unmarried partners are not eligible. State 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 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 can therefore use sick leave to care for or bereave a same-sex partner.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Q: Will I be tested for HIV during the employment application process?

A: Yes. An HIV test is a standard part of the required medical exam.

Q: Will State hire me if I’m found to be HIV positive?

A: That depends. In general, newly hired FSOs must be medically able to accept worldwide assignment, and the level of available medical care varies greatly from post to post. Each candidate’s medical condition and ability to serve worldwide is assessed on an individual basis. If the Department’s medical staff determines that an individual’s HIV positive condition severely limits the places where he or she could serve, this limitation may be an obstacle to employment. Currently, HIV positive individuals are not considered available for worldwide employment, as regular medical check ups are required for asymptomatic and otherwise healthy individuals. GLIFAA is continuing to work with Department officials to develop a different approach to considering the employment of HIV positive people.

Q: If I’m HIV positive, who at State will know my status?

A: The Department’s medical staff regards its evaluations and the existence of any condition to be medically privileged information that cannot be divulged without the consent of the individual, except when that individual is at risk for harming him/herself, someone else, or national security. In addition, Department medical records are protected by the Privacy Act. Under this federal law, information from Department of State medical records may be disclosed within the Department only to those individuals who have a specific need for this information in the performance of their official duties.

Q: If I test positive for HIV on a Foreign Service-administered test, will State report my status to any other federal, state or local authorities?

A: No. State does not report the HIV status of applicants to any health authority. Affected individuals are referred to their private physicians for further evaluation, treatment and monitoring. These physicians may have a reporting obligation.

Q: If I become HIV positive after I’m hired, will it affect my employment?

A: In itself, HIV infection does not affect a person’s continued employment with State. Symptoms or conditions associated with HIV, however, can make it difficult or impossible for an individual to perform the essential functions of his or her job. FSOs must have their medical clearances updated periodically. Certain conditions associated with HIV can affect the employee’s ability to maintain a worldwide medical clearance, but persons with limited medical clearances can and do continue to serve in the Foreign Service. Depending on the individual’s condition and the availability of appropriate medical resources, an HIV positive person could be approved for either worldwide or limited overseas assignment. Medical clearance and assignment decisions for HIV positive individuals are made on a case-by-case basis.

This information above was produced by Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), a State Department-recognized employee group. It reflects GLIFAA’s understanding of current State Department policy regarding sexual orientation. This is not an official publication of the Department of State or any other Foreign Affairs
Agency.