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I recently returned from a work trip to Pakistan. I was excited to visit Islamabad not only to check out my future post (I am due there come November), but also because it was my first visit to a post as a GLIFAA board member. Not long after arriving in Islamabad, I set off to find out how LGBT issues play out on the ground for a wide range of folks on the Embassy. So who are the people in the neighborhood (in Islamabad)?
My first visit was with someone who is something of a GLIFAA celebrity, because we have published her story in GLIFAA newsletters. Who would have thought that, in a world and agency with relatively few transgender individuals to start with, one of them would be a Pakistani locally employed staff member? She is not only tremendously brave, and a pioneer in seeking the right to gender reassignment through the Pakistani legal system, but has a wonderfully optimistic outlook on life. I was much encouraged to hear that she felt warmly supported by GLIFAA and (almost all) folks at post, and inspired by her determination in working through her transition. It turned out that I was fortunate to arrive just as she started wearing full true-gender dress... and she even bought me lunch!
The next round of introductions came through fearless post representative Erin Krasik, a fellow USAID-er who has been in Pakistan for over a year now. Erin and I talked at length about Islamabad's now (in)famous June reception. I will spare you the details for now (google searches should pull up some relevant stories, and I believe some were posted on the Embassy’s Facebook page as well), but I think that Erin, as a long-time GLIFAA member, post-rep and former board member, will be a treasure trove of ideas for the kinds of activities that GLIFAA and individual GLIFAA members can take part in abroad--and how best to go about doing them.
banner in downtown Islamabad "commemorating" Embassy June-month reception
Erin introduced me not only to fellow lesbian and gay foreign service officers at post, but also to some other categories of people that I was interested to meet, including some charming folks from our armed services and a gay local staff member.
Meeting the military folks certainly made me realize that one of the big issues for GLIFAA in the coming year should be implementation of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. Even if the military and DOD are not in one sense among "core" GLIFAA membership, we have many folks in uniform working among us at post, and it's clear that helping them be out and proud (and maybe receive some benefits/recognition) is something that GLIFAA should be actively engaged in. State and AID are much further along the equal rights continuum than the military, though we can be hopeful that one day we will all enjoy full equality. I couldn't be more excited about the work that our military working group has already done--in time I’m sure we will be able to fill you in on some of their great accomplishments.
I also had dinner with our gay local staff member. He isn't out at work, but having spent some time outside the country he was quite comfortable in his identity, and we chatted about a whole range of things from his personal/family situation to his feelings on GLIFAA and the June-month reception. Again, I was much encouraged by his optimistic and almost audacious attitude. I look forward to engaging with more LGBT FSNs in the future, and having them play a greater role in shaping GLIFAA activities (according to our bylaws, they can even be full members without paying dues!).
Finally, on the Sunday before I left, there was a GLIFAA brunch, complete with mimosas. I was happy to see that GLIFAA/Pakistan involved not only USG folks but the broader diplomatic LGBT community as well. I met folks from the UK, Brazil and the NGO community, including a gay British couple who gave me advice on what it will be like to live as a gay couple in Islamabad. Contrary to my concerns, they said that their guards really couldn't care less, and that they think their housekeeper may have worked for gay folks in the past! I told them to look forward to hanging out with me and my husband come November.
Thanks to all for a good time in Islamabad, and see you again soon!