A bipartisan call to the new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asks that all State department workers, including Foreign Service Officers (FSO), be given full State benefits for their partners and therein bring gay and lesbian couples in-line with their heterosexual counterparts. This came in a letter from the Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic congresswoman Tammy Baldwin as well as other supporters in congress, who wrote:
“The lack of equitable treatment could force dedicated, intelligent, and needed FSOs and officials to make an unfortunate choice between serving their country and protecting their families.
“As you noted during the question and answer session of your Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing, many other nations now extend training, protection, and benefits to the partners of LGBT employees.
“Further, the State Department’s past inattention to these disparities places it below parity with the best employment practices used in the private sector, where the majority of Fortune 500 companies extend employee benefit programs to cover the domestic partners. Without remedying these inequities, the State Department may fail to attract and retain qualified personnel.”
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin previously wrote to the incoming Obama Administration expressing her hope that when President Obama took office the discrepancies in the benefit plan would be finally amended.
This follows Hillary Clinton’s meeting with the organization Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and its head Michelle Schohn over the Secretary of State’s plans for advancing the treatment for gay employees. Both sides talked in glowing terms about one another and an overwhelmingly positive outcome all round is expected. Although, as Schohn noted, no timetable for changes was drawn-up.
The main issues tackled in the meeting dealt with Foreign Service Officers, since under current legislation, partners of gay or lesbian employees are not included in travel orders, are not allowed Federal health care provisions and are not covered for travel expenses should a service man or woman’s partner have to relocate overseas.
Other potential changes include:
• The facility for all partners of gay and lesbian service people to have access to language and effectiveness lessons, as well as area studies to help with relocating.
• Aid in securing Visas for same-sex partners so that they can travel when their partner is placed overseas, as well as for those partners born in other countries looking to travel to the United States with their partner.
• Emergency aid for FSO same-sex partners.
• The same or equivalent rights as Eligible Family Members (EFM) in securing work.
The inequality faced by gay employees was last brought into the spotlight during the winter months of 2007 when Michael E Guest, a US Ambassador to Romania and openly gay individual, retired in order to protest Condoleezza Rice’s position on the subject and her refusal to extend those rights or even to acknowledge Guest’s proposals for equal treatment for gay staff. It seems Hillary Clinton is more open to the discussion over FSOs.
A move toward equal protective measures for gay federal staff and their partners would bring America into line with other nations who have already extended their care program to include domestic or civil partnerships. There are high hopes for the Obama Administration and for Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State after she publicly declared that, should she secure office, she would be an advocate for LGBT rights.
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