January 27, 2017 at 10:40 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay State Dept. employee says Trump prompted resignation

Kiev, Ukraine (Photo by Levchuk Volodymyr; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Kiev, Ukraine (Photo by Levchuk Volodymyr; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A long-time State Department employee says he resigned last week because of President Trump.

TJ Lunardi has worked for the State Department for 17 years.

He was a foreign service officer for three years before joining the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service. Lunardi was the deputy director of security operations at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine until he submitted his resignation on Jan. 19, the day before Trump’s inauguration.

Lunardi told the Washington Blade on Thursday during a telephone interview from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev that he “simply could not serve in an executive branch where I would have to carry out (Trump’s) orders as president.” The career State Department employee said Trump’s previous comments on torture and banning Muslims from entering the U.S. and his immigration executive orders are among the myriad things he feels “make Trump a threat to our constitutional values.”

“I concluded he himself was a threat to the constitution,” said Lunardi.

Trump, Putin seem to have ‘fawning relationship’

Lunardi, who lives in Kiev with his husband and their two dogs, spoke with the Blade hours before news broke that Trump plans to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend.

Hundreds of thousands of people protested against then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev’s Independence Square — known as Maidan — in late 2013 and early 2014. More than 100 people had been killed by the time the Russian-backed president fled to Russia.

Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine a few weeks after Yanukovych fled the country. Pro-Russian separatists have governed the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine for more than two years.

The Obama administration in 2014 imposed sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and other military interventions in Ukraine. The Kremlin has also faced allegations that it sought to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.

Trump has repeatedly sought to downplay these allegations and has publicly praised Putin. Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who is expected to become secretary of state, also has close ties to the Russian president.

“There are issues of concern related to the exact role that Russia may have played in the election,” Lunardi told the Blade.

“It’s clear,” he added.

Lunardi also said Putin “to any rational human being is not a good person and not a liberal democratic leader.”

“It does concern me that it almost seems to be a fawning relationship between the two of them,” Lunardi told the Blade, referring to Trump and Putin.

Embassy employees are ‘soldiering on’

Lunardi spoke with the Blade hours after reports emerged that the Trump administration asked Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy and three other high-ranking State Department officials to resign.

The State Department’s website indicates Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry remains in his position, although he is also identified as a deputy assistant secretary. The Trump administration has not publicly commented on whether it plans to eliminate it.

Lunardi told the Blade “the vast majority of people” who work at his embassy “are professionals.”

“They are soldiering on and trying to do the best to do their jobs,” he said. “Professionally they are doing what they need to do.”

Lunardi said some of his friends with whom he works “share many” of his concerns about Trump. He told the Blade his Ukrainian friends are also worried about the new administration.

“They’re concerned by what could be a change in direction towards Russia, especially to Ukraine,” said Lunardi.

“They always soldier on,” he added. “There’s a certain stoicism of the Ukrainian people.”

Lunardi’s resignation is effective on March 4.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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