April 19, 2022

Castro, Meeks, Cicilline, Titus Call on State Department to Expand Opportunities for LGBTQI+ Diplomats

WASHINGTON — This week, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Development, International Organizations, and Global Corporate Social Impact, Congressman Gregory Meeks (NY-05), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman David Cicilline (RI-01), Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, and Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-01) led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the State Department to better support LGBTQI+ foreign service officers by ensuring that same-sex couples can receive full diplomatic privileges and immunities around the world.

Currently, U.S. diplomats are generally permitted to bring their spouse/partner, children, and in some cases, dependent parents, to foreign postings, except to those locations designated “unaccompanied” or in cases where there is imminent danger or civil unrest. Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats and their family members receive full diplomatic protections and immunities in the countries where they are assigned. However, roughly 70 countries around the world continue to deny visas to same-sex spouses, effectively making diplomatic assignments in those countries unworkable for many foreign service families.

“Despite decades of domestic progress on civil rights for same-sex couples, America’s LGBTQI+ diplomats are still excluded from serving openly with their families in dozens of countries around the world. These discriminatory policies are robbing our foreign service of talented diplomats and undermining American leadership on LGBTQI+ equality,” said Congressman Joaquin Castro. The State Department must uphold our nation’s commitment to equal rights and insist that all diplomatic families receive the full protections they deserve.”

“The Department of State must do all that it can to foster an environment of meaningful inclusion for LGBTQI+ diplomats and their families, ensuring that their spouses are afforded equal accreditation, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Providing them full protections and immunities to which they are entitled is not only critical to their success, it is the right thing to do,” said Congressman Gregory Meeks.

“As we continue to work to ensure that all LGBTQ+ people can live without fear of discrimination or violence worldwide, we need to guarantee that all US diplomatic families are afforded equal rights – no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. An American diplomat’s sexual orientation should not be a factor in determining their posts – and therefore limit their career choices and advancement. Our diplomats shouldn’t have to choose between being with their partner and their posting,” said Congressman David Cicilline.

“Foreign Service Officers and other employees of the State Department go above and beyond to represent the United States around the world” said Congresswoman Dina Titus. “We should be doing everything we can to ensure their families, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are afforded the same diplomatic accreditation when representing our country abroad.”

“The diversity of our country is our greatest strength. We must do more to support that diversity in our diplomatic representation abroad and that means doing more to support and promote our LGBTQI diplomats,” said Mark Bromley, Co-chair, Council for Global Equality.

“We strongly support increased attention to securing the equal diplomatic accreditation of LGBTQI+ members of the Department and their same-sex partners. LGBTQI+ Americans further U.S. foreign policy goals every day, and it is time departmental policy championed their contributions, and the American ideals they represent, with equal dedication.  Internationally, insistence upon equal accreditation is an opportunity for the United States to lead with our values and demonstrate the equality we seek to inspire among other nations. Serving openly as a gay man and out official during the performance of my duties when representing the United States at post was a special privilege for me that many others are still unable to enjoy. We hope the Department will give this matter the attention it deserves as we recognize and support the entirety of the dedication and contribution every member of the Department makes–regardless of gender identity or who they love,” said Rusty D. Pickens, Co-founder, Out in National Security and former Senior Advisor for Digital Platforms, U.S. Department of State 2015–2017.

“This initiative could put the United States in the lead when it comes to encouraging equal treatment for all families.  Inclusivity benefits everyone,” said Ambassador Ted Osius, former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, where he served with his husband.

“LGBTQIA+ people proudly serving their nation abroad deserve to keep their families together and safe without being forced to sacrifice their ability to advance in their careers.  This can only happen when all posts and positions are open and safe for our spouses and families,” said Michael Margolies Konstantino, President, glifaa - LGBT+ Pride in Foreign Affairs Agencies.

“The Human Rights Campaign is thankful to Rep. Castro, Chairman Meeks, Rep. Titus, and Rep. Cicilline for taking up the matter of diplomatic accreditation for same-sex partners of State Department diplomats stationed overseas. When LGBTQ+ State Department employees can’t be positioned in certain countries because their loved ones won’t be granted official status as family members, that limits the careers of LGBTQ+ diplomats as they vie for a smaller pool of potential postings than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. It is essential that the State Department work to rectify this situation by engaging actively with the approximately 70 nations that currently refuse to recognize full diplomatic privileges and immunities for the loved ones of LGBTQ+ diplomats,” said David Stacy, Director of Government Affairs at Human Rights Campaign.

The full list of signers on this letter include: Reps. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Gregory W. Meeks (NY-05), David N. Cicilline (RI-01), Dina Titus (NV-01), William R. Keating (MA-09), Gerald Connolly (VA-11), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Sara Jacobs (CA-53), Albio Sires (NJ-08), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03) , Mark Takano (CA-41), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Sean Casten (IL-06), Ritchie Torres (NY-15), Dean Phillips (MN-03), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Jake Auchincloss (MA-04), Chris Pappas (NH-01), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Marie Newman (IL-03), Linda T. Sánchez (CA-38), Ted W. Lieu (CA-33), Paul D. Tonko (NY-20), Karen Bass (CA-37), Katie Porter (CA-45), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Jennifer Wexton (VA-10), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Angie Craig (MN-02), Peter Welch (VT-AL), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Sharice L. Davids (KS-03), Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08), Andy Levin (MI-09), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Steven Horsford (NV-04), Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Brad Sherman (CA-30), and Jamaal Bowman (NY-16).

The full letter can be read here and below.

Dear Secretary Blinken: 

We write regarding the continued challenges surrounding diplomatic accreditation faced by LGBTQI+ Department of State employees and their spouses. This issue should be proactively raised in all relevant bilateral meetings by Department leaders, especially at the Chief of Mission level abroad and at the Front Office or higher level domestically. 

One of the Department of State’s highest priorities is supporting its employees and fostering meaningful inclusion and professional advancement for underrepresented communities. To fulfill these commitments, the Department must ensure that all employees and their family members regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity receive full diplomatic privileges and immunities when assigned to all posts overseas. More than one-third of the world, roughly 70 countries, continue to deny visas to same-sex spouses. This effectively renders a vast swath of overseas assignments unbiddable to many Foreign Service families. We are concerned that the Department of State has left this issue unresolved for too long, utilizing “workarounds” instead of addressing the problem. We urge you to prioritize raising diplomatic accreditation for same-sex partners at the highest levels in all interactions internally and externally. 

We are encouraged to learn that several additional countries in the Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) and Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) regions are finalizing agreements to soon begin accrediting spouses of the same sex. We understand that the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, through the leadership of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Joey Hood, has been at the forefront of developing successful strategies for engagement on this issue with countries in their region. We hope that you will promote and employ the tactics developed by the NEA Bureau, such as raising the issue of diplomatic accreditation at the Ambassadorial level in addition to Management Counselors and other working level officials, as well as encourage other regional, and where appropriate functional, Bureaus to replicate this model. 

We further urge you to promote equal diplomatic accreditation for LGBTQI+ spouses as a Chief of Mission priority in Integrated Country Strategies in countries where same-sex couples are currently denied full privileges and immunities and in other high-level Department strategic planning. By including diplomatic accreditation as a mission priority, Department leadership ensures that attention and resources are dedicated to advancing change. Additionally, we encourage you to develop a robust reporting mechanism that allows Ambassadors and Chiefs of Mission to easily share feedback on successful or unsuccessful strategies, which can be used to the advantage of missions in similar situations. 

As guaranteed by the Vienna Convention, our diplomats and their family members should be accredited and receive full diplomatic protections and immunities in the countries to which they are assigned, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Thank you for ensuring that resolving this issue remains a priority.