Former gay ambassador launches new rights group
by Matthew S. Bajko
Michael Guest, formerly the United States ambassador to Romania, is helping to launch a new group that will push America's government to support LGBT rights on the world stage. The openly gay Guest is a paid adviser to the Council for Global Equality, which will have its first meeting in Washington, D.C. on September 23.
The council, whose Web site is slated to go live this month, is a collaboration between LGBT and straight groups that work on human rights internationally.
"Its purpose is to make the United States government and the State Department stand up for global LGBT human rights," explained Guest during an interview last month in Washington, D.C. at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association's LGBT Media Summit.
Guest, 50, made history in 2001 when be became the first openly gay person to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to an ambassadorship. He stepped down from the post at the end of 2003 and retired from the State Department at the end of 2007.
In 1999, San Francisco resident James Hormel became the first out person to serve as an ambassador when then-President Bill Clinton appointed him as the country's representative to Luxembourg during a recess of the Senate, which had refused to confirm Hormel due to his sexual orientation.
During Guest's swearing-in ceremony, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made a point to recognize Guest's partner, Alex Nevarez. The occasion was viewed by many in the LGBT community as a turning point in how the government treated out Foreign Service employees.
Instead, Guest and Nevarez quickly came to realize that they did not have the same rights and benefits as other embassy employees because the government did not legally recognize their relationship. Yet it wasn't until the occasion of his retirement last December that Guest publicly repudiated how the federal government mistreats its LGBT employees and their partners who are stationed overseas.
"The Foreign Service tends to be very open-minded. I never heard any colleague express a problem with my sexual orientation. It is the policies of the State Department that are unfair to us who are lesbian or gay and have partners," said Guest.
As soon as Nevarez made the decision that he wanted to travel with Guest to the embassy in Bucharest, the couple faced numerous hardships that other ambassadors and their partners would not have. Guest was forced to pay for Nevarez's transportation and to ship his belongings overseas.
The two were also informed that Nevarez could not be treated in the embassy's own medical unit. Should he be treated there, Nevarez would be charged for the medical care. Nevarez would also have had to find his own way out of the country should the embassy need to be evacuated, said Guest.
"If there is political unrest or violence and the embassy is drawn down, they are on their own," he said. "It doesn't make any sense. It is very unfair. The government is putting partners at risk."
Guest is pushing to see that such discrimination against same-sex couples stationed overseas ends should Democrat Barack Obama be elected president in November. He serves as an adviser to Obama's presidential campaign, working on the LGBT human rights and the European policy groups.
"I am fully confident if Obama is elected, certainly he will revise these policies that are so unfair to us," said Guest. "It should not matter if you are gay or straight. We need good people to serve."
Asked if he would serve again in an Obama administration, Guest left open the possibility.
"I learned a long time ago never to say no and rule things out. But it is not what I want in my life right now," said Guest. "I really love the freedom I have now to be outside of the government and free to say what I want to say, working on issues I care about."
Together 12 years now, the couple, who live in Washington D.C., would like to marry someday. Opposed to flying out to California for a wedding, Guest said they would like to have the ceremony closer to home.
"We want to do a ceremony to reflect the importance of the relationship to each of us," he said. "We have thought of going to California but would want our friends to be there. We will likely have a commitment ceremony in D.C. or some closer place like Massachusetts in Provincetown so it is not a financial burden on our friends."