Security Clearance FAQs

The following seeks to address questions from prospective employees of the Department of State, USAID, and other foreign affairs agencies about security clearance processing.  

This information is grouped by topic below, was compiled by glifaa, and reflects our understanding of current State Department 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 Management Section, Executive Office, Regional Security Office, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security 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.

Security Clearance Topics

  1. Security Clearance Topics
  2. Security Clearance Processing
  3. Common LGBTQIA+ Security Clearance Concerns

Security Clearance Processing

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: What does the security clearance background check consist of?
A: A security clearance allow an individual to access classified national security information as required by their employment duties. Each U.S. government agency has its own procedures for security clearance processing and determines which positions require security clearances. The security clearance background check for State Department employees is conducted by agents of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). The background check is a multi-step process (more information is available on the State Department website) involving the submission of questionnaire forms, a personal interview with a DS agent, credit/law enforcement/national security database checks, and interviews of other references. There is no routine question regarding an applicant’s sexual orientation, and DS will not be concerned with your sexual orientation and/or gender identity per se. However, beyond identifying your gender on the application form, there are specific, individual circumstances in which you could be asked directly about your sexual orientation and/or gender identity, 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 and/or gender identity, you might be obliged to disclose this information. During security and medical clearance processing, you may also be asked about your sexual behavior or about medication you are taking and any medical procedures you have undergone. You may also be asked if you have previously 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 and/or gender identity, it is possible that you would have to disclose this information. 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 LGBTQIA+ is not in itself an obstacle to employment with the State Department. Many of our members entered into government service completely out and were not denied entry as a result of being LGBTQIA+.

Common LGBTQIA+ Security Clearance Concerns

Q: I’m not out to my family and friends. Does this make me a security risk?
A: Being in the closet may 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 and/or gender identity to friends or family may not automatically 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 and/or gender identity, 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 LGBTQIA+ – 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.

Q: What are the criteria for obtaining a security clearance? What are the most common reasons a security clearance is denied?
The Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 4: National Security Adjudicative Guidelines are the criteria used to evaluate all individuals who require security clearances for access to national security information. According to Department of Defense information, financial considerations (commonly bankruptcy), personal conduct, drug involvement, foreign influence, and criminal conduct were the five most common reasons for security clearance denial in 2021. The glifaa board encourages all prospective applications for federal government security clearances to review the adjudicative guidelines before applying.