My research topic is centered on LGBT Americans in diplomacy. In this framework, diplomacy is defined as the official representation of the United States government sanctioned through the State Department. Diplomats serve in positions of public service, and represent their countries, its values, and its people. Selecting who represents a nation is a daunting process, but how the process includes and excludes certain individuals and groups reveals more about a country than the person standing in front of the podium.
I will explore how the political climate and general societal attitudes towards the LGBT community impact queer U.S. diplomats and their rights. In periods of political turmoil and more conservative movements, LGBT diplomats are excluded or repressed from representing the country. During more liberal administrations, they are given more agency in fighting for equal rights and standing among their peers. Because of the changing tides of government, LGBT individuals have been excluded from American diplomacy, included in the process, and their representation is subject to changing policies that can either empower them or take away long- earned rights. I break this down into four periods 1) exclusion 2) inclusion 3) representation 4) equality.

As LGBT rights have become synonymous with basic human rights, it has become politicized and used as a part of political agendas for politicians. Utilizing a form of “pinkwashing,” politicians use the gay agenda to gain favor with certain groups and win more votes.

Exclusion in Diplomacy

The period of exclusion for LGBT individuals in diplomacy originated during the Cold War. Paranoia surrounding Communism shaped society’s views on the LGBT community and tied it to national security. Following the conservative attitudes of society, President Dwight D. Eisenhower legalized discrimination based on sexual orientation with an executive order. The pattern of political figures taking society’s current stance on a social issue and making it into a political issue is seen again during the period of “inclusion,” but under the guise of a more progressive agenda.

Exclusion in Diplomacy: Lavender Scare (1950)

  The Cold War brought to the American government mass paranoia and persecution against Communist sympathizers, which also bled into an anti-gay movement. Senator Joseph McCarthy led the “red scare,” in which he accused the federal government of being infiltrated by Communists and other sympathizers of deviant behavior.[1] He grouped homosexuals together with this category because of their potential “security risk”. According to him, they were more susceptible to blackmail because of their sexuality, which was attributed to sexual perversion.[2]

Known as the Lavender Scare, homosexuals were subjected to being questioned and fired for their sexuality.[3] Even being associated with queer people was grounds for firing. In 1950, the State Department admitted to firing 91 LGBT individuals on the basis of their sexuality. This led to an investigation by members of Congress, but the final report only created more hysteria and justification for the treatment of gays and lesbians in government. “One homosexual can pollute a government office,” the Senate report concluded.[4] The minority party, the Republicans, used this as an opportunity to attack the Democrats on their creation of New Deal agencies as centers of immorality.[5]

 Under the guise of protecting national security, LGBT individuals were excluded from the State Department and the realm of diplomacy. They were considered not fit to represent and serve the American people both domestically or abroad. A few years later, public sentiment bled into legislation and pressured President Dwight D. Eisenhower to make legal the discrimination practices that were already accepted by the federal government and society.

Exclusion in Diplomacy: Executive Order 10450 (1953)

 In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 under pressure from the Lavender Scare. This solidified discrimination based on sexual orientation into law, making it legal to investigate and fire homosexuals. Homosexuality officially became a “sexual perversion” and was considered a question of character and suitability.[6] Federal employers were allowed to question applicants and current employees on their sex lives, ask about their association with homosexuals, and place individuals under surveillance if they were suspected of being gay. The impact of Executive Order 10450 led to the loss of thousands of jobs and a handful of suicides.[7]

Using the mask of anti-Communism, fear of gender non-conformity was spread and legalized. The moral outcry from the Lavender Scare led to the legal action of Executive Order 10450. In this case, conservative social attitudes were strong enough to influence government policy. This is a common pattern over time.

Inclusion in Diplomacy

LGBT individuals are excluded by law for another four decades, and it continues well into the early 90s. However, the civil rights of the LGBT community becomes a topic during the 1992 U.S. presidential election.[8] With civil rights becoming a hot topic and pushing the LGBT agenda to the forefront, the LGBT community within the State Department begins to fight for inclusion. President Clinton senses the gradual acceptance of the queer community and signs an executive order that disregards President Eisenhower’s legalization of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The LGBT community is finally included in the federal government, but this is different from being equal. (President Clinton also attempts to repeal the ban of LGBT individuals in the military, but ends up enacting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a compromise.)[9]

Inclusion in Diplomacy: 1992 (GLIFAA//Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies)

Into the early 90s, it was still common practice to investigate and fire gay personnel in the State Department and other federal agencies. U.S. Diplomats David Buss and Bryan Dalton convened the first meeting of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFFA) to fight against these discriminatory practices.[10]
The group banded together to advocate internally to leadership for equal and fair treatment. Within a year of its first meeting, GLIFFA was able to reform the security clearance process and sexual orientation was no longer considered an issue of security.

GLIFFA represents inclusion for LGBT individuals in the State Department and gives them a platform to advocate for their community. Created under George H.W. Bush’s presidency, GLIFFA became a voice during a period of repression. Their advocacy contributed to a series of policy victories, including provisions to the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s prohibition against discrimination in the State Department based on sexuality.[11]

Inclusion in Diplomacy: 1993 (Executive Order 13087)

It was not until the following year that President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13087, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.[12]
Thirty nine years later, this directive finally overturned President Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450. Its enactment officially includes LGBT individuals and the community in diplomacy and protects them. This is a political victory for President Clinton since he is unable to repeal the ban of LGBT individuals serving in the military. Instead, he enacts “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a comprise.

As the presence and public service of LGBT individuals in diplomacy becomes accepted, they finally become gain recognition within the diplomatic community. Ambassadors are the highest-ranked diplomats and the late 90s/early 2000s bring with it the first openly gay ambassadors. Their appointment is a symbolic gesture of LGBT diplomats represented in American history. 

Representation in Diplomacy

Ambassador James Hormel of Luxembourg and Ambassador Michael Guest of Romania make up the highest ranks of diplomacy, and their sexual orientation was a topic of discussion when being appointed. As openly gay men, they were attacked, criticized, and questioned about their ability to lead and represent America. Their sexual orientation became a question of ability and values. Ambassador Hormel’s nomination was met with huge controversy, and he had to withdraw from his original nomination and it took several years before he was nominated again for Luxembourg.[13] Ambassador Guest’s nomination was met with much more approving sentiment, which reveals the gradual acceptance of openly gay individuals in society.

Representation in Diplomacy: 1999 (Ambassador James Hormel)

President Clinton nominated James Hormel to be ambassador of Fiji, but his nomination was then reconsidered for Luxembourg due to controversy. Even with the switch to a more “open” society, Hormel’s nomination was met with public protest because of his status as an openly gay man. The American evangelical community associated his sexual orientation with pedophilia and demonized him in the media.[14] Although Hormel ended up being appointed ambassador of Luxembourg, he was approved during a recess appointment. He was shuffled through the process without a proper consensus on his appointment. President Clinton may have been comfortable with appointing the first openly gay ambassador, but his decision to deliberately do it during a recess appointment reveals that the majority of society was not. Protest against Ambassador Hormel’s nomination and appointment and his withdrawal from Fiji reveals that LGBT individuals were deemed by society as not representative of the United States at the time.

Representation in Diplomacy: 2001 (Ambassador Michael Guest)

 Michael Guest, a career Foreign Service Officer, was named ambassador of Romania and became the first openly gay man to be approved by the Senate.[15] The contrast in process reveals changing attitudes towards the LGBT community in general and how they represent the country. A career ambassador is different from an appointed ambassador in that he/she has been promoted in the State Department versus personally appointed by the President. Ambassador Guest’s ascension within the State Department is important because it shows the positive impact of the removal of discriminatory practices based on sexual orientation. His ability to join the State Department as an entry level officer and work his way up to ambassador shows the acceptance of his peers and leadership.

With openly gay individuals being represented in the highest ranks of diplomacy, the next fight was for equality. LGBT spouses did not have the same rights and benefits of heterosexual spouses, which was putting them at risk. The State Department paid for the transportation of pets, but not gay spouses.[16] It was this frustrating inequality that ultimately led to Ambassador Guest’s resignation after nearly 30 years of public service.

Equality in Diplomacy

With LGBT individuals being accepted and represented in diplomacy, gaining equality was the next fight. The fight for civil rights and equality becomes a politicized issue and is used by politicians to gain votes and popularity. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton follows through with her promise of equality and extends benefits to same-sex partners while setting up for her presidential run. Meanwhile, President Trump also ran on the platform of advancing LGBT rights and has two openly gay ambassadors in his administration, but has taken away rights from LGBT individuals.

Equality in Diplomacy: 2009 (Benefits for same-sex partners)

 In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton extended spousal benefits to same-sex partners of U.S. diplomats.[17] For decades, partners of gay diplomats were not allowed access to the same benefits and services as heterosexual couples. This includes diplomatic passports (which grants diplomatic immunity), family leave, and the option for medical evacuations. These benefits were positioned as protection and basic rights for LGBT families, similar to Clinton’s foreign policy stance on LGBT rights.

The pursuit of the LGBT agenda was a part of Secretary Clinton’s larger plan to solidify a voting base and list of policy wins for her presidential run in 2016. As Secretary of State, she created a more powerful State Department by increasing the budget and engaged with various world leaders early on in her tenure.[18] Secretary Clinton’s famous Geneva speech where she declared LGBT rights as human rights[19] is another call for support from the gay community, but she followed through with her promises. This is not the same situation with President Donald Trump, who also used the LGBT agenda to gain support during his campaign.

Equality in Diplomacy: 2016 (Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons)

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump positioned himself as an advocate for the LGBT community and painted Hillary Clinton as someone that would take away their civil rights. On June 14, 2016, he tweeted, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”[20]

Under his administration, he has two openly gay ambassadors but has done little to advocate for equal standing for LGBT diplomats. In fact, he has taken steps to limit the rights of foreign same-sex couples. The State Department will no longer issue visas to same-sex partners of foreign diplomats unless they are legally married.[21] A majority of these couples that are not married are from countries where gay marriage is outlawed.

One of the most telling actions of President Trump is his lack of action when it comes to filling the position of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons. Although he campaigned for equality in the LGBT community, he has failed to show commitment to the cause.

These eight dates represent different periods of American diplomacy and its treatment of LGBT employees and their families. The State Department is unique because its diplomats heavily involve their partners and families in their work life because of the nomadic lifestyle of the Foreign Service. Most diplomats are posted overseas for one to two years at a time in a country and their partner or family travels and lives with them.

 LGBT Americans in diplomacy also have the unique opportunity and platform to advocate for policies that will affect LGBT rights overseas. However, this leads to the question of whether or not U.S. diplomacy should be used to influence LGBT rights globally. It has been criticized as a form of western moral imperialism.

The very definitions and identities of “heterosexual” and “homosexual” are Western-constructed ideas driven by U.S. medical professionals, and institutionalized by the U.S. government through the GI Bill and “sexual perversion” screening procedures during World War II.[22] The identity of being gay was constructed by the United States and the government forced society to adopt a sexual identity, doling out repercussions to those that were openly gay. By creating the identity of “homosexual” and forcing the LGBT community to out itself, sexuality transformed from “an aspect of behaviour” to “an aspect of identity.” It is this identity that makes individuals vulnerable, more so in parts of the world where Western imports of ideas create tension and can be seen as a threat.

Historically and even on a contemporary basis, the United States has treated LGBT rights as a strictly sexual orientation issue without accounting for other factors, such as race or class. By viewing LGBT rights through the lens of a predominantly middle-class white majority, minorities and other marginalized groups within the community are not heard or accounted for during policy debates or considerations. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute released a study in 2005 on discrimination within the LGBT community. 82% of gay Asian-Americans reported being discriminated against based on their ethnicity.

The United State’s definition of the advancement of LGBT protection excludes minorities and does not account for societal factors, all which applies to the case of international LGBT groups. In India, caste is an issue that cannot be separated from sexual orientation. This can be seen in its first “gay groom” marriage ad, in which the mother listed a caste preference for her son.[24] By pushing a Western definition of LGBT identity and rights, the risk of blowback is higher due to the lack of cultural consideration and tact and perceived political agenda.


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Hormel, James C. Fit to serve : reflections on a secret life, private struggle, and public battle to become America’s first openly gay U.S. ambassador. New York: Skyhorse Pub, 2011. 2.

“India’s first ‘gay groom’ wanted ad has a caste preference,” Al Jazeera (2015):

Johnson, D. K. (2004). The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Katz, Jonathan. Picturing the World We Make: Studying Modes of Construction (2017).

Martin, Michel. (Host). (2008, October 7). Former U.S. Ambassador to D.R. Criticizes New Diplomatic Visa Policy. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from

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White House. (1998, May 28). Executive Order 13087 of May 28, 1998. Retrieved April 14, 2019, from