Clinton Hails Progress in Speech to LGBT State Department Employees

The Secretary of State told a professional group for LGBT employees “creating an LGBT-welcoming workplace is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do.”

BY Julie Bolcer

November 29 2012 12:14 AM ET UPDATED: November 29 2012 12:46 AM ET

 

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you all, very much.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Laughter.)  Thank you, all.  Thank you.

Yeah, that’s good.  (Laughter.)  Wow.  Well, welcome to the Ben Franklin Room.  (Laughter.)  And congratulations on your 20th anniversary.  I am so pleased to be here and to have this chance to join this celebration.  Ken, thank you for your kind words and your efforts here to make this day possible.  I am extremely pleased that Cheryl Mills, my friend as well as Chief of Staff and Counselor is here, so that those of you who may not have met her or even seen her, given how shy and retiring she is – (laughter) – can express your appreciation to her for her tireless efforts.

I’m delighted that Deputy Secretary Tom Nides is here.  Tom, who some of you know, who you’ve had a chance to work with him, has been just an extraordinary deputy.  Also let me recognize USAID Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg.  He’s been an unyielding advocate for the LGBT community at USAID.  We also have a number of ambassadors and deputy chiefs of mission, both past and present, some of whom have literally traveled from the other side of the world to be here.  David, I’m talking about you.  And we have Michael Guest with us, our country’s first out ambassador to be confirmed by the Senate and someone who’s remained an outspoken champion for LGBT rights, despite having to endure countless attacks and threats.  Michael, why don’t you stand up so that you can be recognized?  (Applause.)

Also let me thank the GLIFAA board and members.  I just had a chance to meet the board and former presidents.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with so many former presidents.  (Laughter.)  The last count was maybe five.  (Laughter.)  But it’s really due to their leadership over 20 years that GLIFAA has reached this milestone, and it will be up to all of you and those who come after you to keep the work going for the next 20 and the 20 after that.

Now, it wasn’t really that long ago since this organization was created, but in many ways it was a completely different world.  As we heard, in 1992 you could be fired for being gay.  Just think about all of the exceptional public servants, the brilliant strategists, the linguists, the experts fired for no reason other than their sexual orientation.  Think of what our country lost because we were unable to take advantage of their hard work, expertise, and experience.  And the policy forced people to make terrible choices, to hide who they were from friends and colleagues, to lie or mislead, to give up their dreams of serving their country altogether.

That began to change, in part because of the brave employees here at State, who decided that it was time for the bigotry, the ignorance, the lying, and discrimination to end.  The LGBT community deserve the same chance as anyone else to serve.  And indeed, as we all know, many had for many years, just without acknowledgment of who they were.  So enough was enough, and that’s how GLIFAA was formed.  And thank goodness it was.

We’ve come a long way since then, and we have seen milestones along that journey over the last 20 years.  I remember that I think on my husband’s first day in office back in ’93, he announced that gays and lesbians working in the federal government would receive equal treatment under the Civil Service Reform Act.  Two years later, Secretary Warren Christopher made clear those rules would be enforced within the halls of the State Department when he issued a statement that explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Now over the past four years, we’ve built on those and other steps to really acknowledge and welcome LGBT people into the State Department family and other agencies.  We’ve extended benefits to same-sex domestic partners of State and USAID employees, Foreign Service officers, personal service contractors, third country nationals at missions overseas.  We’ve institutionalized these changes by creating a classification for same-sex domestic partners in the Foreign Affairs manual.  We’ve also made it clear in our Equal Opportunity Employment statement that the Department doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression.

We’ve helped to make it easier for transgender Americans to change the gender listed on their passports, because our mission is not only to protect the rights and dignity of our colleagues, but also of the American people we serve.

And we’ve taken this message all over the world, including the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where we worked to pass the first ever UN resolution affirming the human rights of LGBT people.

Now, together we have worked to make something very simple and right come true.  Our people should not have to choose between serving the country they love and sharing a life with the people they love.  And I want to say a few words about why this work is so important. 

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