Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Homage to Allyson Robinson

So let's see. What's new?

Well, I am now living in an empty apartment in Takoma Park, MD, just over the line from Washington, DC.  My furniture consists of a folding table and two folding chairs loaned by my sister, and my bed is an inflatable mattress on the floor.  My dressers are several cardboard boxes and the two suitcases I have lived out of for almost two months now.  My household effects are somewhere in transit between Bucharest and Washington.  I can almost see the container ship rolling in the waves of the North Atlantic.

My youngest sister came from Arizona, and we had a small reunion at my oldest sister's vacation home in western Maryland. We don't see each other nearly enough.

I hear nothing but good news from friends in Romania.

I was down with what I think was my fourth cold of the year, perhaps in part the product of the stresses of moving around the world so much, not to mention sleeping on the floor on an inflatable mattress?

I was elected president of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA).

I began my new work assignment two weeks ago in an operations center environment that allows me to use of my Russian.

"Slow down!" you say.  "What was that about GLIFAA?"

Yes, yours truly is now the president-elect of GLIFAA.  You might say that I'm GLIFAA's lady in waiting as the stupendous outgoing president and board finish their work.  The elect will be dropped from my title on August 22nd at the next business meeting.

"Isn't it presumptuous of you," you ask, "to take the lead position in an organization you knew almost nothing about five years ago?" Well, yes, perhaps, but I was asked to run by more than one respected member of the outgoing board.  Also, membership organizations of this type depend on members who have been active, committed, and effective.  In my own minor way, I fulfilled this description as GLIFAA's post representative in Bucharest.  I rather did expect to have something to do with the board as I came to Washington for a year, but the presidency?

I do get the symbolism.  In its twenty year history, GLIFAA has had only one woman serve as president.  I will be the second.  (My predecessor writes one of the best-known web journals on foreign service life and on occasion has been known to look at these jottings.)  I will also be the first transgender person to lead this organization made up primarily of gay and lesbian members and straight allies.  Note that there is no "T" in GLIFAA.  Well, OK, neither is there a "B" or an "I" or any of the other letters that are becoming common after "LGBT."

Note that I wrote, "I will be the first transgender person to lead this organization made up primarily of gay and lesbian members."  In 2012 Allyson Robinson was appointed executive director of OutServe-SLDN, the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel.  That made her the first transgender person to lead a large LGBT organization.

Gulp.  Am I following in the footsteps of someone I admire as much as Allyson Robinson?  Although GLIFAA is orders of magnitudes smaller than OutServe-SLDN just as the Department of State is orders of magnitude smaller than the combined arms of the U.S. military, the fact is that I am, in effect, following Allyson Robinson's example.  Although there has been some turbulence of late in the board meetings at OutServe, Allyson set a mark for other transgender activists to match.  Gulp.

All humor aside, this will be a very busy year.   In meetings with outgoing and incoming board members, I am coming to grips with the issues currently in play and those that are likely to rear their heads.  Although the Supreme Court threw out the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional in June, the devil, as they say, is in the details.  As many organizations are finding, it's not as simple as declaring that all rules and policies concerning heterosexual couples now apply to same-sex couples.  It's much more complex with many layers of nuance.  At State, much of this nuance will be worked out in consultation with GLIFAA.

As a transgender person, I am learning the depth of the issues of most concern to GLIFAA's gay and lesbian members.  I will be representing their interests to the best of my abilities hand-in-hand with my fellow board members.  I will also be working to make transgender issues more visible within the Department.  At this time I can count the transgender foreign service officers I know on the fingers of one hand.  I doubt that I would exhaust the fingers of the other hand if I were to add in Civil Service, yet I expect there are more who have as yet chosen not to become visible.  It is my goal that by my example, some of those yet in the shadows may choose to become visible.

I do not plan to make this web journal a forum for GLIFAA business.  That will remain within the confines of our board discussions and business meetings.  If my postings to this journal become infrequent, know that it is because I'm doing my best to serve an organization that has made my life possible.  If not for the work done by previous GLIFAA boards, I might not be writing this journal at all.  It is time that I return the favor.  It will be a very busy year, one that I know will be both exhausting and fulfilling and, I pledge, successful.

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