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LGBT Group
Lobbies Clinton for Fair Treatment in State Dept.

LGBT Group
Lobbies Clinton for Fair Treatment in State Dept.

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About 2,200 government employees working in foreign affairs signed a letter supporting the rights of the LGBT employees that was hand-delivered to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's office Monday.

About 2,200 government employees working in foreign affairs signed a letter supporting the rights of the LGBT employees that was hand-delivered to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's office Monday afternoon.

The letter (full text below) from Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies congratulated Secretary Clinton on her confirmation and then proceeded to outline a number of inequities faced by same-sex partners of employees at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, among others.

"We are concerned that access to the federal health care insurance program is denied to same-sex partners of employees serving in Third World countries with substandard medical care," read the letter. "We question the logic of leaving same-sex partners to fend for themselves during an emergency evacuation of a high danger post. We are embarrassed when the Department will reimburse a variety of moving expenses, including the cost of transporting a pet, when an employee is assigned overseas, but will not do the same for a same-sex partner."

The document's delivery came on the heels of Clinton's confirmation testimony earlier this month in which she promised to review the policy regarding same-sex partners of civil and foreign service agents. "This issue was brought to my attention during the transition," Clinton noted. "I've asked to have more briefing on it because I think that we should take a hard look at the existing policy."

Same-sex partners of foreign service personnel are currently deprived of health care benefits and are unable to access other services available to heterosexual spouses, such as subsidized relocation, language training, employment opportunities, on-site medical treatment, and evacuation aid in emergency situations. According to Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), an order from Clinton to designate gay partners as eligible family members could remedy a number of these inequalities.

J. Michelle Schohn, president of GLIFAA, said the group has not yet received a response from Secretary Clinton but anticipated the issue would be addressed.

"We feel really confident that she will end up seeing the letter and that she is interested in hearing our issues," said Schohn, who has spent five years as a foreign service officer and whose partner has served for seven. "The mood here is overwhelmingly optimistic -- as optimistic as I have seen it."

Schohn said the majority of the signatories were heterosexual, and she was particularly struck that 92% of the those who signed had no "member of household" -- meaning they have nothing to gain immediately from a policy change because they are either single, in a heterosexual marriage, or their partner is also employed as a foreign service officer and so the department usually assigns the couple in tandem whether they are gay or straight.

"Those people were signing just because it's the right and fair thing to do. I can't tell you how amazing that feels, being a lesbian person in the department, to have that kind of support from your colleagues," said Schohn, who had been working on the message since mid November. "It's just an overwhelmingly positive feeling I've gotten from my colleagues during the course of doing this letter." (Kerry Eleveld, Advocate.com)

Text of the letter:

Madam Secretary:

We congratulate you on your Senate confirmation, and we look forward to working with you in promoting America's interests and strengthening our national security in this rapidly changing world. Whether assigned stateside or overseas, Civil Service or Foreign Service, active or retired, we are all proud to be serving our nation.

We, the undersigned and representing the diversity of the foreign affairs agencies, would like to bring to your attention a matter that concerns us all. All of us are troubled that our families are not all treated equally and with the same respect. We are concerned that access to the federal health care insurance program is denied to same-sex partners of employees serving in Third World countries with substandard medical care. We question the logic of leaving same-sex partners to fend for themselves during an emergency evacuation of a high danger post. We are embarrassed when the Department will reimburse a variety of moving expenses, including the cost of transporting a pet, when an employee is assigned overseas, but will not do the same for a same-sex partner. We are saddened that individual and community safety are put at risk because full language instruction is not available to same-sex partners. We are uncomfortable that same-sex partners receive less compensation and fewer benefits for performing exactly the same job inside the mission as an opposite-sex spouse, that is, when same-sex partners are given a chance to work.

An order from your office designating same-sex partners as Eligible Family Members (EFMs) could remedy many of the inequalities that these families face. Other remedies will require coordination between the Executive and Legislative branches.

Madam Secretary, we believe that no colleague of ours is a second-class colleague, and no colleague's family is a second-class family. Given your commitment to protecting the safety and promoting the welfare of all Foreign Service families, we ask for your full consideration of our concerns and we hope that a dialogue aimed at ending this unequal treatment can be started.

Your loyal staff,

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