A gay man who’s worked as a State Department official on international LGBT issues was sworn in on Tuesday as the next U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.
Daniel Baer was sworn into the Vienna-based position by Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, during a ceremony in the Benjamin Franklin room of the State Department as his partner, Brian Walsh, stood at his side.
“Working on advancing human rights and democracy around the world, is, among other things, supporting the efforts of people elsewhere to leverage the fundamental building blocks of our nation’s success — and working to uphold these principles at home is an ongoing project that demands constant work and reinforces the source of strength and comparative advantage in the world,” Baer said.
Baer, who until recently worked in the same bureau as Zeya, said his time at the State Department has deepened his appreciation for those working overseas on human rights issues.
“The last few years traveling … have deepened my awe for how lucky I am to be an American,” Baer said. “Many was the time that my old boss … would lean over to me in the midst of some meeting with a less than democratic counterpart and say, ‘I’d rather have my talking points than his.'”
The OSCE was set up during the Cold War as a forum where the United States could raise human rights and security issues with countries aligned with the Soviet Union. It now serves as a pan-Atlantic forum for conversations on early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation.
Baer was nominated by President Obama as ambassador to the organization in June and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as ambassador with other openly gay nominees by voice vote last month.
Noting that the organization to which he was appointed could be considered obscure — especially after the fall of the Soviet Union — Baer maintained the importance of the organization and said it continues to have play a key role in maintaing dialogue between countries working toward a common goal.
“The OSCE was at its founding — and remains today — a unique regional security organization built on the empirically demonstrative truth that true security must be comprehensive, that security from violence and war, security from violations of human rights and denial of other freedoms, and economic and environmental security are distinct objectives, but they are not separable,” Baer said.
During his remarks, Baer choked up as he recalled wondering as a high school student whether he’d be able to achieve his career ambitions because of his sexual orientation.
“I remember a very sad and lonely junior and high school student in 1994 who wondered whether it was possible for him ever to be happy, and wondered whether it was worth going on,” Baer said. “Certainly, he would have been shocked to see today’s ceremony.”
In addition to his partner, among the dozens of attendees at the swearing-in were other employees in the State Department and members of Baer’s family, including his grandmother.
Introducing Baer, Zeya commended him for his work at the State Department to ensure freedom on the Internet overseas as well as for international LGBT rights.
“For Dan, the right to connect, the right to love and other fundamental human rights are not just ‘nice to do,’ but they’re ‘must haves’ for the sustainable advancement of U.S. national interests abroad,” Zeya said.
Additionally, Zeya credited Baer with helping to create the Global Equality Fund, a State Department-led initiative that assists programs advancing LGBT rights abroad, as well as work in assisting political prisoners in Burma.
Among the notables present during the ceremony were Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign; Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First; and Ukraine Ambassador to the United States Olexander Motsyk.
Baer wasn’t the only LGBT person to be sworn into a presidential appointment on Tuesday. Jeff Marootian, former director of LGBT outreach for the Democratic National Committee, was sworn in as the new White House liaison to the Department of Transportation.