Michael Guest, diplomat (LGBT History Month)
Michael Guest is the first openly gay Senate-confirmed U.S. ambassador. He was nominated by George W. Bush. After serving for 26 years, Guest resigned from the State Department due to its discriminatory policies toward same-sex couples. Bent Alaska presents his story as part of our celebration of LGBT History Month 2011, with thanks to the Equality Forum.
Michael Guest (born October 26, 1957) is the first openly gay Senate-confirmed U.S. ambassador. He was nominated by George W. Bush. After serving for 26 years, Guest resigned from the State Department due to its discriminatory policies toward same-sex couples.
Born in South Carolina, Guest received a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Furman University, and a master’s degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia. In 1982, Guest joined the State Department as a Foreign Service officer. During his early career, he was part of a delegation that facilitated the reunification of Germany.
In 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell swore in Guest as ambassador to Romania. At the ceremony, Powell recognized Guest’s life partner, Alex Nevarez. Advocates expressed hope that this would herald a more inclusive State Department attitude towards LGBT employees and their partners.
Guest’s work in Romania was characterized by condemning corruption, advocating for the rule of law and aiding preparations for Romania’s entry into NATO. When Guest’s ambassadorship ended, Romanian President Ion Iliescu presented him with the Order for Faithful Service in the Rank of Grand Cross.
Guest ended his 26-year career with the State Department in December 2007 after having sought, without success, to end the State Department’s discriminatory treatment of the partners of gay and lesbian Foreign Service Officers in foreign postings. In his farewell speech at his retirement ceremony, he publicly criticized Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:
For the past three years, I’ve urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees. Absolutely nothing has resulted from this. And so I’ve felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner, who is my family, and service to my country. That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the Secretary’s leadership, and a shame for this institution and our country.
Since I’m leaving over this matter, I ask that you indulge me for a moment. It’s irrational that my partner can’t be trained in how to recognize a terrorist threat, or an intelligence trap. How is that in our overseas communities’ interests, or in those of the Department? It’s unfair that, because we’re not married and indeed cannot marry, I have to pay his transportation to my assignments. It makes no sense that partners cannot sit in otherwise vacant seats to learn the informal community roles expected of them as Ambassadors’ or DCMs’ partners. Why serve in dangerous or unhealthful places, if partners’ evacuations and medevacs are at issue? And shouldn’t gay and lesbian partners have separate maintenance allowances, when employees answer the call to duty in Iraq and elsewhere? Does their service and sacrifice somehow matter less?
I’ve spoken with many, but not all, of you about this over time. To those who are hearing this for the first time, I want to make clear that this is not about gay rights. Rather, it’s about the safety and effectiveness of our communities abroad, of the people who represent America. It’s about equal treatment of all employees, all of whom have the same service requirements, the same contractual requirements. It’s as much a part of transforming diplomacy as any issue the Secretary has chosen to address. And fundamentally, it’s about principles on which our country was founded, principles that you and I are called upon to represent abroad — principles that in fact are symbolized by this flag, which ironically has been offered to my partner.
Upon Barack Obama election as President of the United States, Guest served on the State Department’s transition team. He advised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on discriminatory State Department policies, helping influence Secretary Clinton to change policies to provide equal benefits for same-sex couples. In May 2009, he, along with 23 other LGBT rights advocates, coauthored the Dallas Principles, a set of eight guiding principles for the achievement of full LGBT equality.
Guest received the Leadership Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Christian Herter Award for Constructive Dissent from the American Foreign Service Association. He also received the State Department’s Charles E. Cobb Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development, the Meritorious Honor Award, and five Superior Honor Awards.
Guest is the senior advisor and cofounder of the Council for Global Equality, which works to advance an American foreign policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. He was married in 2011 by U.S. District Court Judge Joe Gale, who is the first openly gay Senate-confirmed federal judge. Guest and his husband reside in Washington, D.C.
Guest continues to be engaged in international diplomacy. He headed the U.S. delegation to the Warsaw portion of the OSCE Review Conference in September and October 2010. OSCE — the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe — is the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization; the conference reviewed the progress made by member states in implementing commitments relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, democracy, and tolerance and non-discrimination. As the Review Conference wound down, Ambassador Guest was interviewed about the role of the OSCE, the value of such conferences, and the importance of NGO access. Watch: