Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Changing Face of Diplomacy

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Changing Face of Diplomacy

Article excerpt

Not so long ago the idea of a gay person representing the United States in embassies abroad was unimaginable. Oh, how times have changed.

IN 1994, RUMORS CIRCULATED that President Bill Clinton would nominate James Hormel, the openly gay American philanthropist, to the post of U.S. ambassador to Fiji. While the reason Hormel was not nominated was never clear, some argued that the White House did not pursue his nomination because the Fijian Penal Code criminalized homosexuality at the time. Others opined that opposition from Republican senators would be unsurmountable. Nearly two decades later, appointing openly gay people to ambassadorial posts overseas has gone from an unthinkable act to an unremarkable one, and the shift has made U.S. foreign policy stronger.

It took a special executive action for Clinton to circumvent the Senate confirmation process and appoint Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg in 1999--a post that Clinton had nominated him for two years earlier. His 1997 nomination prompted a conservative Christian response, and Republican then-Senator Chuck Hagel declaring that being "openly, aggressively gay" would inhibit Hormel from effectively representing the United States abroad.

After Hormel's appointment in 1999, the vitriolic atmosphere seems to have calmed. Only a few years later, Ambassador Michael Guest, who represented the United States in Romania from 2001 to 2004, was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate. At his swearing-in ceremony, Colin Powell, then secretary of state, publicly acknowledged the presence of Guest's partner, a historic moment for the recognition of gay individuals in the U.S. foreign service.

Fifteen years after Hormel's appointment, President Barack Obama has included five out gay ambassadors in his newest class of nominees, all of whom have been confirmed. Whether ascending to the post as career diplomats or political appointees, each ambassador will fulfill their mandate in their host country by attending high-level meetings and appearing at state functions--and many will do so with their partners.

Acting as the president's representative abroad, openly gay U.S. ambassadors have impacted more than domestic politics. "A few weeks before I arrived in Romania in 2001, the government repealed Article 200 of the Romanian Penal Code, which criminalized same-sex relationships. …

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