The gay career diplomat who will become the next U.S. ambassador to Vietnam on Wednesday spoke about his upcoming post during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Ted Osius. “I feel like I have been preparing for this job for 25 years.”
Osius spoke with the Blade inside his Northwest D.C. apartment two days after the U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination. Tabo, his 11-month-old son, spent the majority of the interview sitting next to him on a couch in the living room or walking around a nearby coffee table while holding onto its edge.
President Obama earlier on Wednesday in a formality known as an attestation confirmed that he intended to nominate Osius to the post. Osius told the Blade he is hopeful that Secretary of State John Kerry will swear him in as ambassador at some point in the coming weeks.
“He loves Vietnam,” said Osius. “He really cares about Vietnam and he wanted me in this job, so I think he’ll probably be able to do it.”
Osius said he expects to formally present his ambassadorial credentials to Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang on Dec. 29.
He will live in a French Colonial home in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, that was built in 1903 with his husband, Clayton Bond, and their son. Osius’ mother will also live with them for the first several months of the post.
“We’re going to have to put in some baby-proofing because it has big, wide-sweeping marble staircases,” said Osius. “We don’t want him to go crack his head open.”
Gay ambassador-designate co-founded GLIFAA
Osius, who grew up in Annapolis, Md., joined the foreign service in 1989.
He married Bond, a career foreign service officer who currently works in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, in Canada in 2006.
Osius spent the majority of his career in Asia; working in India, Thailand, the Philippines and other countries. His most recent overseas post was at the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia where he was deputy director of mission from 2009-2012.
Osius is among those who co-founded Gays and Lesbians In Foreign Affairs Agencies in 1992.
“No one then thought we could have ambassadors who were openly gay,” Osius told the Blade. “We didn’t think we could even get married, of course, 22 years ago. We certainly didn’t think we could adopt children and we didn’t think we could rise to the highest levels of our profession. It just wasn’t possible.”
The U.S. and Vietnam formally normalized relations in 1995, two decades after the Vietnam War officially ended.
Osius said his primary job as ambassador will be to implement a comprehensive agreement between the two countries that Obama and Sang signed in 2012. It includes several areas of cooperation that include political security and economic development.
“My job as I see it is to put the flesh on the bones of that agreement,” said Osius.
Family could ‘encourage some people’ in Vietnam
Osius’ ambassadorship also comes against the backdrop of a Vietnamese LGBT rights movement that continues to grow more visible.
PFLAG Vietnam officially launched in Ho Chi Minh City in May 2011, and it has grown to include hundreds of members across the country. Vietnam’s first Pride parade took place in Hanoi a little more than a year later.
A number of popular Vietnamese television shows now feature gay characters.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Justice in June 2013 proposed a bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry and extended rights to gays and lesbians who live together.
Lawmakers earlier this year approved a measure to amend the country’s marriage and family law, but it did not include provisions that would have allowed gay nuptials or extended rights to same-sex couples. Members of the Vietnamese Parliament continue to debate them.
“It’s a conservative country, but it could be the first country in Asia after New Zealand to endorse same-sex marriage,” Osius told the Blade. “It could be. I don’t think it’s guaranteed. It’s a work in progress just as it is here.”
Osius acknowledged the presence of an openly gay ambassador in Vietnam could have a positive impact on the country’s LGBT rights movement.
“I will show up with the family that looks like mine,” he told the Blade. “My husband’s African American; our son is brown, he’s Latino. I’m white. We have this modern family. My mom’s coming with us. She’s 84. It’s a multigenerational, multiethnic family.”
Osius said he has not seen any negative reaction to his confirmation within Vietnam — a picture of him with Clay and their son went viral within the country.
He told the Blade that friends who have spoken with conservative Vietnamese about his confirmation said they would “have to learn to deal with this.” This apparent reaction is far different from the outrage the 2013 nomination of gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster sparked among religious officials in the Caribbean country.
“The possibility exists that we can help in a country of 92 million people move the ball forward, potentially,” said Osius. “The Vietnamese will make their own choices. We will not make any choices for them. I would like to think we might have some marginal influence. I’ll get off the plane with my husband and my kid and my 84-year-old mom. And we will represent the most powerful country on earth, the country that people are wildly supportive of.”
Osius further discussed how his ambassadorship could influence the Vietnamese LGBT rights movement.
“We have this kind of unique opportunity to influence the dialogue,” he said. “They’ll make their own decisions in their own parliament. They’ll figure out how they want to influence themselves. But you know we might be able to have a little bit of influence too. I think we’ll encourage some people.”
An ambassador ‘who happens to be gay’
Osius is the seventh openly gay person that Obama has nominated to serve as an American ambassador.
The U.S. Senate last year confirmed Brewster alongside U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa David Huebner, U.S. Ambassador to Australia John Berry, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Daniel Baer, U.S. Ambassador to Spain James Costos and U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford. Richard Hoagland was the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan from 2009-2011.
Osius and Bond briefed Brewster, Huebner, Berry, Baer, Costos and Gifford about what they should expect in their respective posts in terms of reaction to them and their partners or spouses after the U.S. Senate confirmed them.
“It’s great,” Osius told the Blade when asked about serving alongside his fellow gay ambassadors. “It shows how much Obama’s a man of his word and is moving things forward for our community.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest is the first out person to hold an American ambassadorship. Osius is only the third openly gay career diplomat nominated to such a post.
“I’d like to be remembered as someone who really deepened the relationship; really did great things for U.S.-Vietnam relations; was really, really effective; respected Vietnam; respected its people; speaks its language; knows the country well and who happens to be gay,” he told the Blade. “That’s how I would like to be remembered.”