Friday, June 27, 2014

Proudly from Washington, Proudly from GLIFAA

On the Amtrak Acela from Washington to Boston, we just crossed the Susquehanna River.   Tomorrow the Concord Bus will take me the rest of the way to Bangor as I repeat the route I took almost exactly one year ago when I first arrived back in the US at the end of my three-year life in Romania.  For the first time in many months, I begin to relax from what has been the most exhausting but at the same time most productive and gratifying year of my life.

This has been the year of my life in GLIFAA, our officially recognized lgbt+ organization for the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies.  I knew a year ago when I was first asked if I would be willing to serve as GLIFAA president that this would be a challenging year.   It was so challenging that I gave up writing in this web journal several months ago, recognizing as hopeless the possibility of finding time to write here while engaged in two full-time jobs.

The first full-time job, my day job, was in arms control in an operations center that works 24/7/365.   We worked in shifts of 6-days-on/3-or-4-days-off, rotating between 7am-to-3pm, 3pm-to-11pm, and 11pm-to-7am shifts.   I worked on Christmas Day and New Years' Day, and I will work on the 4th of July.

The second full-time job was GLIFAA.   In Department-of-State-speak, it was the desk officer job that challenged and required me to be always on alert and always ready to manage, solve problems, and advance issues through white papers and meetings with highly-placed officials.  Suffice it to say that I got used to meeting with officials at the Undersecretary and Deputy Secretary levels.   In my day job I never would have met with people at that level.   I met with officials at the White House and with peers in other LGBT groups representing employees of federal agencies and departments.

One year ago I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of lgbt+ and, in particular, trans* activists whom I knew in the US; all of my contacts were in Romania, Moldova, and in a handful of other European countries.   I may have been just a meteor rushing across the sky of U.S. activism this year, a flash soon to be forgotten.  Still, for the few who witnessed the flash firsthand and who were affected by it, I hope a memory will remain of the bright falling star that moved against the background of fixed stars, against the background of those who have been carrying the weight of U.S. lgbt+ activism for decades.

This was an lgbt+ year for GLIFAA.   When I agreed to run for GLIFAA president in the spring of 2013, I had worries of what it would be like to be president of what historically has been a gay men's organization.   (See In Homage to Allyson Robinson.)  I am only the second woman to be GLIFAA president, the first to be so by virtue of the transgender experience.  In fact, I am only the second transgender woman to be visibly involved with GLIFAA, following on the bold example set by Dr. Chloe Schwenke in 2008.

My worries were unfounded.   Perhaps more than anything else, I consider the biggest success of this year has been GLIFAA's continued internal evolution.  My Board of Directors (BoD) consisted of six men, and our Governing Committee (GC) consisted of two men and two women.   (Although those numbers are still heavily weighted in one gender direction, I hasten to say that one of the women on the GC was the powerhouse of energy who got us through many an event with her energy, organizational skills, and boundless enthusiasm.)   It was a year for the BoD and GC to learn from me what it is to be trans*, and it was my year to learn more about what it is to be gay or lesbian.

In September the BoD took up the discussion of GLIFAA's brand.  Have you noticed that I have yet to spell out what GLIFAA stands for?   When it was founded in 1992, it stood for Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies.  That spelling out of GLIFAA did not on its surface include me or those who are intersex, gender queer, gender fluid or any of the other letters of the ever enlarging LGBT rainbow.  The BoD decided the time had come to discuss the future of GLIFAA's brand.

That discussion went on from September through February.  All sorts of new names and tag lines were proposed and discarded while ever new ones were proposed.   In the end we chose to respect both our history and our future.  Like Coca Cola, GLIFAA is a name with deep and honorable roots.  If it had not been for those brave souls, mainly gay men, who founded GLIFAA at a time when security was still routinely rooting out gays and lesbians, I and many others would not be here today.  A number of our founding members paid with their careers for founding GLIFAA.  The price that they paid needs to be remembered and honored always.

But what of the future?   How were we to include our allies and other parts of the LGBT rainbow?   It was in February that that we came to a collective decision that enthused us all.  GLIFAA's name henceforth would be, simply, GLIFAA without any spelling out.  At the same time, we approved a new tag line for use in our literature, on our website, and in our correspondence: lgbt+ pride in foreign affairs agencies.  The + encompasses all the other letters in the LGBT rainbow.   Pride means we are proud of GLIFAA, of who we are, and of the agencies and departments in which we work.   The BoD's decision is subject to a month-long membership vote that is now underway, but I am confident that the decision will be ratified.

GLIFAA Board Meets with the Five Out Gay Ambassadors
If you go to our website (, you will see what GLIFAA's banner looks like today.   I am proud beyond words of my BoD and GC for taking this evolutionary step. Indeed, this was not Robyn's issue.   Rather, it was other board members who took the lead, and the result was collective decision on an issue that affects all our members.   We proved that the L and G can work to common purpose with the T.  My concerns when I first agreed to run for GLIFAA president were unfounded, and it is my sincere hope that our cooperative, collective example will help other groups that are going through their growing pains as they look to include all the letters of the lgbt+ rainbow.

What else?   We had our monthly membership meetings and happy hours, not to mention our monthly newsletter.  Our website is entirely new as of February and, unlike the old, is easy to update and maintain.   Our largest annual social event, The Pink Party, filled the ballroom at The Chastleton and showed a profit for the first time that anyone could remember.   There were also pride marches and festivals and more roundtables, seminars, workshops, and meetings than I can remember let alone enumerate.

The GLIFAA BoD and GC Celebrate at the Pink Party!
So what about policy?   We had three big policy issues this year.   I won't go into detail here – see our website for that -- but I can say that we were successful beyond my greatest hopes when we first laid out our policy program last September.  The State Department's domestic partners policy first introduced by Secretary Clinton still exists today just as it did a year ago.  We pushed back against the misguided view that "Hey, since you can all get married now, you don't need domestic partner benefits."  In fact, we pushed back hard using every possible avenue we could think of.  The fact that the domestic partners policy is still in place today just as it was when our board took office in September is a quiet but huge triumph.

In the Capital Pride March
We have made progress in keeping our LGB families together when foreign service officers go to their overseas assignments.   This will be a long-term, uphill battle as governments in some parts of the world are adopting laws against gay propaganda or even making it a criminal offense to be gay.  These same countries have begun denying visas to spouses of our officers more often than they did in years past.  Our success this year has been an internal one at State and USAID as we educated upper level management and brought them to an understanding of the issue that will allow them to take steps that will make it easier to keep our families together.

Our third big issue had to do with transgender health care for federal employees.  Without wanting to attract undue attention, I will allude to a certain June decision from the Office of Personnel Management regarding Federal Employee Health Benefits.   GLIFAA, working with a coalition of allies, worked hard in this area.

We also worked closely with those involved in official State Department and USAID foreign policy.   I helped to write the first State Department cable (i.e., instruction) to all diplomatic posts on carrying out reporting on and outreach to transgender communities around the world.  In Washington, the Department of State had its first-ever observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance.  So did a number of U.S. embassies and other diplomatic posts around the world.

Escorting Secretary John Kerry to Pride at State on June 19
So what is the cause for my mood of celebration and relaxation today?  That is simple to explain.   Last Thursday, after planning and organization that went back to early March, we had the annual Pride at State ceremony.   It was held in the Benjamin Franklin room on the eighth floor of the State Department, a venue that was beyond the dreams of GLIFAA's founders whose first meetings were in member living rooms in the early 1990s.  The keynote speaker was Secretary of State John Kerry, who gave the strongest State Department statement on LGBT rights since former Secretary Clinton's speech in Geneva two and a half years ago.   (You can find the Secretary's speech at  Russian-American LGBT activist Masha Gessen was our guest speaker, and she spoke eloquently on the need to push back against the restrictions on human rights in Russia and a number of other countries.  Yours truly moderated and gave the opening and closing remarks.

Sharing the Stage with Secretary Kerry, Masha Gessen, and
Janice Caramanica from the State Department's Office
of Civil Rights
Moreover, Pride at State took place on June 19, my mother's birthday.   I was wearing her pearls and thinking of her that day.  By serving as GLIFAA president, I had finally become the manager that my father had always hoped I would be, a role for which I had no stomach in my former life.   It is remarkable how what once was so hard has now become so possible.  I could feel the spirits of my mom and dad in the Benjamin Franklin room that day.   As I read the list of our VIP guests, I knew who were the VIPs who headed my personal list.

So as I sit in the Acela, now somewhere in New Jersey, I can say to myself, "You did it!"  Although my term of office extends officially through August, elections are now underway for our new board.  We will know the results in early July, but I'm reasonably confident of the results even today.  GLIFAA will continue forward in very good hands.  Once the election results are official, we'll begin a transition period that will allow me to step back and regain more of the personal time that I need for family and friends and for the preparations I must make to move on to my next post in Central Asia in September.

As I once wrote Proudly from Tirana and Proudly from Bucharest, I can now write Proudly from Washington, Proudly from GLIFAA.  This has been my year of lgbt+ leadership, the year when I gave all for the causes I believe in.  I am proud of my GLIFAA board and all we accomplished.   I'm proud that I had the honor to serve as GLIFAA president.   To all whom I have known and worked with this year, your GLIFAA mom sends her warm thanks.   I am proud and honored to have known and worked with all of you.