Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thank You, Madam Secretary

Secretary Clinton Addresses GLIFAA
One year ago I would not have dreamed of maintaining notes such as this in a public forum.   That I am able to do so today without risk to my career and livelihood is testament to the leadership of Hillary Rodham Clinton, and I want to take this opportunity to say, "Thank you, Madam Secretary."

The Department of State historically has had a reputation of being a bunch of men in striped pants, a hierarchical "old boys' network" that was tradition bound and slow to change.  That has not been true for quite some time, if indeed it was ever true, but compared with private industry (my personal observation), any government agency is slow to respond to change.   It's the difference between piloting a sleek schooner and a heavy, cargo-laden vessel built for the long haul.  Real changes began under Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose diplomatic hiring initiative greatly expanded the ranks of the Foreign Service with new officers coming from diverse backgrounds and different stages of their careers.  (It was thanks to this initiative that yours truly left private industry and joined State.)  The question being asked in the early 2000s was, "Will the State Department culture change these new officers, or will the new officers change the culture at the State Department?" 

It is becoming clear that it is the State Department's culture that is changing.  This is true nowhere more than in LGBT policy in general and transgender issues in particular.  Secretary Clinton's declaration that "LGBT rights are human rights" has become a rallying cry both in U.S. foreign policy and in internal personnel policy.   It was only one year ago that gender identity was added to the State Department's EEO and anti-discrimination statements.  Up until that time, I could have been subject to curtailment from my assignment and other disciplinary action simply for being transgender, let alone openly pursuing transition.  At the same time, the State Department liberalized and simplified policies for changing name and gender in U.S. passports.  It is now sometimes easier for a person in transition to change a passport than it is to change a state driver's license.

This past week in July has brought other profound changes.  By official cable to all embassies, consulates, and other posts, the State Department has affirmed its adherence to guidance from the Office of Personnel Management (http://www.opm.gov/diversity/Transgender/Guidance.asp) on the employment of transgender individuals in the federal workplace. This guidance includes provisions for transition while employed.

Our State Department culture continues to change even in the day-to-day minutiae of filling out official forms.  Just last week, when I went to the central server to retrieve a form, I found the form had changed since the last time I had filled it out three months ago.  Under gender, there are now three choices: female, male, and transgender.  I proudly checked the last box.  It is President Obama, his administration, and the personal leadership of Hillary Rodham Clinton that have made these changes possible at the Department of State.

Thank you, Madam Secretary.

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