Clinton Celebrating State Department’s 'Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies'

By Patrick Goodenough | November 28, 2012 | 6:18 AM EST

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) event in Washingon in June 2011. (Photo: U.S. Mission to the UN, Geneva)

( – As she approaches the end of her tenure as America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday will address an event in keeping with her active role in promoting benefits for homosexuals in the foreign service.

Clinton will deliver remarks at a State Department event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the launch of an organization representing gays and lesbians at the State Department, USAID and other government agencies that send employees abroad.

According to its website, the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) was established “by fewer than a dozen employees who faced official harassment simply because of their sexual orientation.”

From those early beginnings two decades ago it has become – in the words of a State Department release Tuesday – “the State Department’s officially recognized employee affinity group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees.”

“Today, under the leadership of Secretary Clinton, LGBT employees at the State Department and their families have a level of benefits and recognition never before seen in foreign affairs agencies of the U.S. government,” the statement said.

“Most notably, Secretary Clinton is responsible for the extension of the full range of legally available benefits and allowances to same-sex domestic partners of Foreign Service members serving overseas.”

In June 2009 President Obama issued a memorandum extending to the same-sex partners of federal employees many of the benefits enjoyed by the spouses of their heterosexual colleagues.

Prevented by law from extending all available benefits to same-sex partners, Obama also voiced support for legislation in the U.S. House and Senate aimed at achieving that goal. (The bills did not proceed that year, and successor legislation has not progressed beyond a Senate committee vote in support last May.)

Two days after Obama’s memorandum, Clinton extended “eligible family member” (EFM) status to same-sex domestic partners of department employees sent to serve abroad. EFM status brings benefits including housing, education, medical services and travel to post.

The State Department also pledged to work with foreign governments to provide same-sex partners with diplomatic visas, privileges and immunities.

The department says GLIFAA was “instrumental” in encouraging the EFM shift.

Prior to that move, same-sex partners had fallen under the “members of household” category, ineligible for education allowances, medical services or and travel expenses.

Clinton’s EFM change impacted employees like the U.S. Consul General in Osaka, Japan, Patrick Linehan, whose official online biography says is married to a Brazilian man, Emerson Kanegusuke. (“Mr. Linehan and Mr. Kanegusuke live in Nishinomiya, Japan. They have two beagles.”)

When Linehan was deployed to Osaka in August 2011 from his previous posting in Seoul, the federal government paid for Kanegusuke’s travel costs, he told a Japanese newspaper last January.

Under Clinton the State Department has also made promotion of LGBT issues a foreign policy priority, particularly at the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, where the U.S. in June 2011 co-sponsored the first-ever resolution adopted by the U.N. on the human rights of LGBT people.

The measure passed by 23-19 votes, with the 47-member council largely split between Western and Latin American countries in favor, and Muslim and African countries opposed.

(Homosexual acts are crimes carrying the death penalty in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Mauritania, Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria’s shari’a-governed northern states, while several countries in Africa and Asia have laws that provide for imprisonment of 10 years or more for homosexuality.)

In a keynote Human Rights Day-themed speech in Geneva six months later, Clinton addressed what she called “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our times” – LGBT rights – and argued that religious beliefs and cultural values do not justify the failure to uphold the human rights of homosexuals and lesbians.

Last February, while hosting a live online chat on the administration’s LGBT foreign policy initiative, a State Department official said the focus was on advocating “human rights for LGBT people,” rather than – as suggested by a questioner – promoting “gay rights.”

The campaign has not always gone smoothly. When the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and GLIFAA co-hosted a LGBT “pride celebration” in July 2011 a radical Islamist party organized protest rallies in several cities, demanding that the Pakistani government act, in line with the country’s laws.

Pakistan’s Penal Code outlaws what it describes as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow