Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered on Wednesday what might be her last public address before an LGBT audience as chief diplomat for the United States when she told group of LGBT Foreign Service officers their service is integral to the country.
“Creating an LGBT-welcoming workplace is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing,” Clinton said. “And part of that is because the nature of diplomacy has changed and we should and need to keep up. Today, we expect our diplomats to build relationships not just with their counterparts in foreign governments, but from people from every continent and every walk of life, and, in order to do that, we need a diplomatic core that is as diverse as the world we work in.”
Additionally, Clinton said having an LGBT-inclusive State Department makes the Foreign Service corps “better advocates” for American values.
“When anyone is persecuted anywhere and that includes when LGBT people are persecuted, we’re kept from fully participating in their societies,” Clinton said. “They suffer, but so do we. We are diminished because our commitment to the human rights of all people has to be a continuing obligation and mission of everyone who serves in the government of the United States.”
Clinton delivered the remarks in Benjamin Franklin room at the State Department to observe the 20th anniversary of the department’s LGBT affinity group, Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, or GLIFAA.
She reminded the estimated 200 people in attendance that world in which GLIFAA was created was much different than today and the organization has worked over the course of 20 years to create a fairer workplace for LGBT Foreign Service officers.
“As we heard, in 1992, you could be fired for being gay,” Clinton said. “Just think about all of the exceptional public servant — the brilliant strategists, the linguists, the experts — fired for no reason other than their sexual orientation. Think of what we lost because we were unable of their hard work, expertise and experience.”
Clinton also gave recognition to Tom Gallagher, whom she said joined the State Department in 1965 and in the early 1970’s became the first openly gay Foreign Service officer. He was in the audience during Clinton’s speech and rose when the secretary mentioned him.
“He served in the face of criticism and threats, but that did not stop him from serving,” Clinton said. “I want to take this moment just to recognize him, but also to put into context what this journey has meant for people for people of Tom and my generation because I don’t want any of you who are younger ever to take for granted what it took for people like Tom Gallagher to pave the way for all of you. It is not a moment for us to be nostaglic; it is a way for us to remember.”
The speech occurs almost one year after Clinton gave a high-profile speech in Geneva in favor of LGBT human rights, telling LGBT people that face human rights abuses overseas they “have an ally in the United States of America.” Clinton noted her speech from the previous year during her remarks at the State Department.
“When I gave that speech in Geneva and said we were going to make this a priority for American foreign policy, I didn’t see it as something special, something that was added on to everything else we do, but something that was integral to who we are and what we stand for,” Clinton said.
Toby Quaranta, who’s gay and president of the D.C Young Democrats, was among those in attendance and said the speech was “an example of why she is such a popular secretary of state.”
“She wants to make advances for LGBT people not just as a way to advance the cause of human rights, but also as a way to advance American interests abroad,” Quaranta said. “It’s a moral issue with a pragmatic end. That’s her way of doing business, and that is why she has been so successful as secretary of state.”
No new announcements were made during the State Department address, but the event was geared toward thanking those present as opposed to addressing policy issues.
Clinton gave no update during the speech on where she stands on marriage equality. She remains one of the few high-profile Democrats who’s yet to publicly endorse same-sex marriage and has remained silent in the issue even after her employer President Obama came out for marriage equality in May.
Also absent from Clinton’s speech was any mention of anti-gay legislation in Uganda that’s received considerable international attention out of fears the bill may soon be headed toward passage. It would institute a sentence of life in prison for homosexuality acts and possibly the death penalty.
But Clinton did tout the LGBT achievements the State Department has made under her watch. Among them are extending benefits to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers. On transgender issues, the department instituted policy against workplace discrimination for transgender employees and eased the process to allow transgender Americans to change the gender marker on their passports.
“Together we have worked to make something very simple and right come true: Our people should not have to choose between serving the country they love and sharing a life with the people with they love,” Clinton said.
Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff and a long-time adviser who worked on her 2008 presidential campaign, also commended those present as she said her boss seeks to ensure each person across the globe can “live up to his or her God-given potential.”
“That principle is a very simple one, but its implementation too often requires courage and persistence, relentlessness and willingness to actual do something when doing nothing is absolutely the easiest course of action,” Mills said. “Those who have been part of and stayed with GLIFAA, they have always managed to do something, and the work that you all have done together has brought the change that we have seen in the department.”
Clinton has indicated that she intends to step down as secretary of state after the conclusion of Obama’s first term. Speculation persists that she may pursue that Democratic nomination for the presidency when Obama completes his second and final term in 2016, although she hasn’t stated she’d run.
Lane Hudson, a gay Democratic activist and outspoken Clinton supporter, said he expects her to maintain a strong relationship with the LGBT community whatever her course of action she pursues after she leaves the State Department.
“Given her long history with the LGBT community and her exemplary record on issues of equality at the State Department, I fully expect there to be a meaningful ongoing relationship between her and the community, whether she pursues the presidency or continues to advocate for equality for all as a private citizen,” Hudson said.
Others who spoke before the audience were GLIFAA President Ken Kero-Mentz, USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, and Daniel Baer, who’s gay and deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor.
Notable members of the LGBT community who were in the audience included U.S. ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner, former U.S. ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, White House LGBT liaison Gautam Raghavan and Amanda Simpson, who was first openly transgender woman political appointee in any U.S. administration.
NOTE: This article has been updated to include a statement from Toby Quaranta.