6 CIA Officers On Coming Out, McCarthy, and Gay Recruiting

The CIA may be defined by secrecy, but these days it encourages its LGBT officers to come out.

BY Jorge Rodriguez-Jimenez

August 14 2014 4:00 AM ET

When President Bill Clinton signed an executive order in 1995 allowing clearance to classified information for LGBT officers working at federal agencies, it was a watershed moment for an often-shunned and closeted group of employees in the federal government. Then in 2011, after 16 years of simply following the order, the CIA began specifically recruiting LGBT officers.

“We realized that there were communities that had distrust that we really had to lay the groundwork before we could think about going out and recruiting — that we really had to pay special attention and have someone dedicated, on the ground, having these conversations about our history, some honest conversations,” says Lyssa, the communications officer for the Center of Mission Diversity and Inclusion.

The Agency’s Network of Gay and Lesbian Employees, called ANGLE, acts as both a resource on LGBT issues for employees by hosting events for the broader CIA community and by providing a safe space.

“It’s really part of our mission to make sure we have diversity abroad and the biggest pool of qualified candidates,” said Lyssa, who acknowledges denying LGBT officers was part of the CIA’s history, but that it’s exactly that — history.

Six openly LGBT officers working for the CIA spoke about their experiences within the agency, which range from an era when being out was a liability, up until the moment the CIA went to Pride celebrations to find potential officers. Their identities are being withheld because of the nature of their work.

 

Chris, 40, recruiter and LGBT program manager for diversity and community outreach.  For Chris, being in the CIA runs in the family. With the encouragement of his father, Chris joined the agency after high school through its Summer Employee Program and worked part time throughout college. Soon after graduation, he was offered full-time work at the CIA.

Two decades later, he was still trying to figure out his own identity but was aware of the consequences being gay could have. Even when his father, who worked at the agency, encouraged him to apply to the summer program, he was concerned about how he would be treated as a young gay man.

“I wasn’t sure if it would have any impact on my father because I didn’t want him to have his career affected by me as well,” Chris recalls.

Coming out to his supervisor was the catalyst that led to him becoming more comfortable with opening up to the rest of his co-workers.

“I came out to her because there were times when I had to change my stories or pronouns and say like, ‘I went out with her,’ because I wasn’t really comfortable coming out and telling people my story yet,” Chris says.

These days, however, Chris makes it his job to dispel misconceptions some people have about the CIA and whether it's LGBT inclusive.

“As a recruiter, people will come to me with questions about what it’s like to work at the organization and the opportunities that we have,” Chris says. “But also, several people that I have spoken with have definitely become interested knowing they can work with the agency and they can be an out gay person at the CIA.”

Chris’s time at the CIA has not been perfect as a gay man but he uses these chances of disagreement with other officers to educate. For example, one of his colleagues shared that she did not quite support marriage equality, so he had a conversation with her about marriage rights over lunch.

“She didn’t know a lot about the LGBT community … so I tried to teach her a little bit about what it’s like to be gay and to talk about some of my viewpoints and stuff like that and talked it out with her,” Chris says. “Even though we had this disagreement, we were still able to work well together and she considered herself a good friend of mine when she retired.”

 


Andy, 49, deputy director of the Office of Terrorism Analysis

Andy joined the CIA in 1993, two years before President Clinton signed the executive order allowing security clearance for LGBT officers. Four years later, he came out.

“In the late ’90s, there was a lot of progress after President Clinton signed the executive order,” Andy says. “That’s also when ANGLE became very active.”

Since Andy joined the CIA, he considers the progress made in LGBT inclusion to have come in spurts. The energy that followed the executive order was kinetic, and then hit a plateau, but that moment helped Andy come out. In fact, one of his coworkers learned that Andy is gay when he had to file paperwork to notify the agency that he was in a relationship.

“I had to report” the relationship Andy says.  “And I was worried about that but he was 100 percent supportive and positive about it so that left a real impression on me.”

Andy hit some rocky moments with others in the agency who did not know him, but among colleagues and managers, he said his experience was universally positive. Years after Clinton’s executive order was signed, he says the inclusion and acceptance of the agency now makes it easy for people to be who they are.

“We are to the point," he says, "where there is simply no need to hide who you are, to be in the closet, to worry about what other people think about you, or what the potential career impact would be if you were an openly gay person.”

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