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Board Blog Number 1: The First Quarter of a Hundred Days
I think blogging is cool. Of course, blogging on an iPad while sitting in a Starbucks is even cooler. Not that I am doing that right now. I wish I were, because I am committed to ensuring that you have the scoop you need to be informed, motivated, and contributing members of GLIFAA, and I would like to look cool while doing it. Cool or not, though, the whole Board has promised to blog at least once a week on glifaa.org to keep you all abreast of the latest developments, the pressing issues, and our new initiatives. Think of it as a weekly verbal mood ring for GLIFAA. Now try to get rid of that image - if you can.
Before the meat and/or potatoes and/or tofu of the last few weeks, I'll give a quick shout out to the go-getters who have thus far stepped up to serve as volunteer advisory members of the Board: Antonio Agnone, fresh back from Vatican City, who will be working legislative and some DoD-related issues; Jay Daniliuk, who will be our USAID point person; Ashton Giese, the man with the plan for communications and press relations; Fitz Green, our legal guru; Matt Paschke, who will continue to make this website work like a charm; and Jessy Teicher, who'll be looking out for contractors and leading our efforts to reach the ever-elusive, but vitally important community of LGBT women among GLIFAA's constituency. A big round of applause also to your elected Board - Selim Aritürk on Vice Presidency, Paul Kim playing Policy, Ken Kero-Mentz rocking Outreach and Social Events, and John Wiecking keeping it real with our finances and records.
These have been an eventful first three weeks of my time as president. Only a few days in 'office' (there is no physical office, sadly, that goes along with being president of GLIFAA), I was invited to meet with Ambassador Steven Browning (slightly out-of-date bio here), Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in State's Bureau of Human Resources. Jeremy Curtin and Bernie Cole-Byrd, whom many of you know, from State HR were also there. Our HR friends reported that the J-1 program is running well thus far, and that nine couples have been through the initial processing needed to apply for the visa or change of status. I raised our concerns that some of the mechanics of the program might be burdensome - especially the cost of the required educational component.
We turned next to the same-sex domestic partner committee, created by HR to decide whether our partners will be treated as eligible family members in countries that will not grant them diplomatic privileges and immunities. PDAS Browning explained that the committee is composed of representatives from HR, DS, and Legal, the regional bureau representing the post in question, and Jeremy and Bernie advocating for the employee and partner. As put to me, the committee considers the risks of allowing a partner to live in the host country without the protections offered by immunity. The Chief of Mission's input is given particular weight, given his/her personal responsibility for the safety and security of the post's employees and their families. In the end, the committee decides whether a partner can be on the employee's orders as an eligible family member; the committee will not prevent an employee from bringing his/her partner to post as a Member of Household under the old system. On a positive note, at the time of the meeting, PDAS Browning could report that the committee had not failed to find a way to 'get to yes' as of yet.
Finally, there was some discussion of ways to make more accessible the matrix of countries willing to grant privileges and immunities to partners, so that LGBT employees of all agencies can more effectively and knowingly bid. Right now, your CDO must vet your bid list against the matrix before submission. This is, obviously, a cumbersome system. Despite the intelligence of those in the room (okay, those in the room other than me) no magic solution was found. Maybe you have one. Well, stop being coy. Fess up with it already.
Lest you think I was quiet as a church-mouse during this marathon hour, rest assured that I repeatedly stressed that all of the above - and more - under HR's purview must be done transparently, fairly, and with compassion. As I pointed out to PDAS Browning, the LGBT foreign affairs community is one that, until two years or so ago, was subject to institutionalized discrimination against our families and remains subject to legal restrictions on our rights. We are rightly sensitive to anything and anyone that has even the faintest whiff of discrimination, a scent which - all best intentions aside - could waft from all of the processes we discussed if they are not properly and carefully implemented.
All that before I even had access to my glifaa.org email!
Your new Board held its very first meeting this past Saturday. Now for those fans of open government, let me assure you that this will be the last time the Board conducts a full business meeting to which all members are not invited. Frankly, I was afraid that if any of you saw us at this first meeting trying to get our act together, you might run away screaming! Anywho, I will not bother you with too many details, since we'll be posting the full minutes in very short order. I would like to note, though, that thanks to the magic of Skype and our big screen TV, we had Ken (in Colombo, Sri Lanka), Paul (in Pakistan), and Selim (in Iraq) joining us for the discussion. This despite my aforementioned lack of a 'silicon' thumb when it comes to technology!
Two things to highlight from the meeting: the Board is in agreement that the by-laws need a complete overhaul to reflect the current realities of today's foreign affairs community, given the expansion in the number of agencies sending personnel overseas and the increasingly integrated role played by contract employees. Second, and this is where (assuming you have stayed with me this far) each of you has a part to play, the Board agreed that for all big-ticket issues we will form ad hoc committees and working groups that will have full ownership of GLIFAA's efforts and strategy, reporting to the Board and the members periodically. The first of these, tasked with generating proposals on how State can support implementation of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal, is already alive and well. So get off your duff and join it. An email to firstname.lastname@example.org is all it takes to get yourself a front row seat to making history for our community on this or any other issue that strikes your fancy.
Stop giggling. I mean it. We do have a chance to make history this year. Our community has not made a single request to the Secretary to which she has responded negatively in the last two years; we are obviously not trying hard enough. Sure things are better, but we - and millions of our LGBT brothers and sisters around the world - are not fully free and not fully equal. Until we are, we need to be shooting for the stars in what we ask for from those who support our aspirations. We cannot do that without your talents, your ideas. Get involved and you might just come up with that seemingly far-fetched wish, the realization of which will write a new chapter in the LGBT story.
Now wouldn't that be cooler than a blogger in a Starbucks with an iPad?!
You know where to find me: email@example.com
Pride. Every Day. The World Over.