Ted Osius seems to be the right man in the right place at a very opportune time. Recently appointed the first gay U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Osius now serves in a culture he and his family adore, in a country experiencing a burgeoning quest for LGBT rights.
Osius had previously served with the State Department in Vietnam after starting with the department in 1989. “The U.S. and Vietnam reestablished relations in 1995,” Osius said. “Vietnamese are very open and hospitable to foreigners today—particularly to Americans. It helps that I speak Vietnamese and have quite a few friends from when I served in Vietnam nearly 20 years ago. The job is very much a dream come true for me. It’s a return to a country I know well and care about deeply.”
David Huebner, former State Department representative to New Zealand and the first gay ambassador to be confirmed for service, acknowledged the importance of another gay ambassador working for the U.S. and indicated the unique nature of the Osius appointment shouldn’t get in the way of the work ahead.
“In my own experience, I found the ‘gay ambassador’ issue to be a short-lived media phenomenon,” Huebner said. “Once I was in the job, the novelty dissipated because of the diversity and complexity of the work. The experience will be different in each country, but the dynamics of the position will always trump individual demographics.”
Osius brought his husband, Clayton Bond, and their 1-year-old son, Tabo, with him from Virginia on the assignment. “I don’t think my family and I could have hoped for a warmer welcome,” he said.
“At home, it’s three generations under one roof,” Osius added. “My spouse, Clayton, loves Vietnam. My mom is with us, helping look after her grandson. She finds Vietnam fascinating, also. Altogether, we’re truly an American family—black, white and brown.”
Recent years have seen a growing LGBT rights and awareness movement taking root in Vietnam. Osius hopes to have a positive effect on that movement.
As of the beginning of 2015, Vietnam no longer bans same-sex marriage. Although the government does not confer any rights or privileges with those unions, Vietnam is the first Southeast Asian country to permit same-sex marriage.
Osius, a co-founder of the organization Gays and Lesbians In Foreign Affairs Agencies, sees an opportunity to serve as a role model for an LGBT community looking to gain more legitimacy.
“Some young people here have said they’re inspired to know that a gay person can have a satisfying job and a happy family,” he said. “But, ultimately, it will be the Vietnamese, not Americans, who will decide what kind of society they want to have.”