Out in the World: Biden nominates Maloney as 6th out ambassador

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday June 2, 2023
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Former Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York), has been nominated by President Joe Biden as the U.S. representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which carries the rank of ambassador. Photo: Maloney's campaign website
Former Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York), has been nominated by President Joe Biden as the U.S. representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which carries the rank of ambassador. Photo: Maloney's campaign website

President Joe Biden's commitment to putting LGBTQ rights at the forefront of the United States foreign policy that he announced shortly after he was sworn into office in 2021 is now gaining momentum, as seen by his recent nomination of a sixth out person to serve at the rank of ambassador.

Gay former congressmember Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York) has been nominated to be the U.S. representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Biden announced Maloney's nomination last month and officially sent it to the Senate June 1, the first day of Pride Month.

The OECD works to build better policies with the goal of fostering prosperity, equality, opportunity, and well-being for better lives for all, according to the organization's website.

If confirmed, Maloney will succeed the current OECD ambassador, former Delaware Governor Jack Markell, whom Biden nominated to fill the coveted Italy and San Marino ambassadorship, which has been vacant for two years, reported Axios. Maloney and his husband, Randy Florke, will move to Paris, where the OECD is headquartered. The couple recently celebrated their 30th anniversary. They raised three children — Jesus, Daley, and Essie — together, according to the release and Maloney's campaign website. The children were only identified by their first names.

Maloney did not respond to the Bay Area Reporter's request for comment.

In 2021, Biden placed LGBTQ rights at the forefront of the United States foreign policy with a stroke of a pen. Standing at a podium, he proudly announced that he strengthened the historic memorandum protecting LGBTQ people globally signed by former President Barack Obama in 2011, when Biden was vice president, with his own revised memorandum, the B.A.R. previously reported.

Who is Maloney

Maloney, the youngest of six, grew up in Hanover, New Hampshire. His father was a disabled veteran. His mother was a small business owner. She put Maloney and his brothers through college, according to his biography on his congressional campaign page. Maloney earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Virginia. He worked as a volunteer with the Jesuits in rural Peru between college and law school from 1988 to 1989.

Prior to serving in Congress, Maloney served as then-President Bill Clinton's White House staff secretary, helped found a financial services software company, and worked as a partner at two global law firms, according to the White House's May 12 news release.

Maloney was the first openly LGBTQ person elected to Congress from New York. While in Congress, Maloney authored more than 40 pieces of legislation that became law. He chaired both the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure as well as the Commodity Markets, Digital Assets, and Rural Development Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture. He served as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was elected by his colleagues to House leadership in 2020.

Hard loss

Maloney is the former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democratic House members. He led Democrats to a major political upset, holding back the expected "red wave" and flipping some electoral districts from red to blue in the 2022 midterm elections last November. But that wasn't enough to keep the GOP from regaining control of the House, albeit by a slim margin.

However, Maloney lost his own seat representing the people of the Hudson Valley in the 18th Congressional District that he held for five terms from 2013 to 2023. Under redistricting in 2022, several districts in the New York City suburbs and Hudson Valley area were redrawn, including District 17 and District 18, both represented by gay men. Maloney moved into District 17, which was held by Mondaire Jones, a gay Black man, reported The River. Jones ran for office in District 10, reported NBC News.

Maloney lost the race for District 17 to Republican Mike Lawler. Jones lost his District 10 bid to Democrat Dan Goldman.

Bitter about his defeat, Maloney, speaking with the New York Times shortly after the election, blamed the loss on redrawn district lines, Republicans pouring millions into his opponent's smear campaign, and New York City's aggressive media negatively spinning crime stories in New York City, scaring suburban voters.

Since November, Biden has been searching for a position for Maloney, insiders close to Biden told Axios, which broke the news 10 days before Biden's announcement.

Slow process

In March, more than two years after Biden's pledge, the U.S. made its biggest move to protect LGBTQ people globally when it led a coalition of countries, along with the United Nations LGBTI Core Group, the U.N. LGBTQ expert, and two experts from Afghanistan and Colombia. The coalition called upon the U.N. Security Council to better integrate LGBTQ human rights under its international peace and security mandate, the B.A.R. previously reported.

Nominating LGBTQ ambassadors has been a slower process. According to the American Foreign Service Association's tracker, there were a total of 194 positions as of May 16. Of those, 46 of Biden's 2022 and 2023 nominees were entering the Senate confirmation process or are at various levels of the Senate confirmation hearings. Of the 46 pending nominations, 24 offices are vacant. Some of those vacant offices are very important, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the African Union and many African countries, like Uganda; the United Arab Emirates, and the United Nations/Deputy Representative, to name a few.

Other empty or pending appointments are in coveted destinations like the aforementioned Italy and San Marino and Colombia.

In 2021, the Washington Blade questioned if Biden was missing an opportunity "to exhibit America's LGBTQ community overseas through its first-ever appointment of a lesbian and transgender ambassador" after he passed his first 100 days in office.

Senate confirmations of Biden's ambassador nominations did not pick up momentum until 2022. Biden currently has the most out LGBTQ ambassadors, eight, serving in U.S. history. Obama had seven LGBTQ ambassadors serving the U.S. during his term, according to the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, the education arm of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBTQ candidates.

Biden nominated six gay men and one lesbian ambassador. Currently, there are nine out gay and lesbian ambassadors. In total 19 gay men have served as ambassadors to the U.S. over the years.

Chantale Wong, ambassador to the U.S. Asian Development Bank, was confirmed by the Senate in February 2022, the B.A.R. previously reported. Wong is the first out lesbian and woman of color to be confirmed by the Senate to serve as an ambassador. She also has ties to San Francisco, where she once worked as an environmental engineer for the city.

Not an ambassador role, the B.A.R. previously reported, Jessica Stern was appointed by Biden in 2021 as the special envoy to advance the human rights of LGBTQI persons in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department. The first U.S. LGBTQ expert, Randy Berry, a career member of the Foreign Service, served in Nepal as the ambassador after leaving the position under former President Donald Trump. Berry is currently the ambassador to Namibia, according to the American Foreign Service Association.

Last year, Biden nominated Seattle resident Roger Nyhus as ambassador to Barbados, the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, according to a White House September 20, 2022 news release. If confirmed, Nyhus, a biracial gay man, will be the eighth out LGBTQ ambassador tapped to represent the U.S.

The B.A.R. previously reported that the Caribbean has been undergoing a transformation in LGBTQ rights. In 2022, Barbados decriminalized homosexuality, reported the newspaper, and St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia, decriminalized homosexuality, reported Outright International.

Nyhus' mother is Native American and his father is Norwegian American, he told senators during his confirmation hearing May 4. Nyhus is the founder and former CEO of Nyhus Communications, one of Seattle's leading communications and public affairs firms, and the eighth-largest Native American-owned company in Washington state, according to the release.

The Senate has confirmed Biden's gay ambassadors Berry, Scott Miller (Switzerland and Liechtenstein), Erik Ramanathan (Sweden), Christopher J. Lamora (Cameroon), David Pressman (Hungary), and Wong.

John Jefferson "Jeff" Daigle, ambassador to Cabo Verde since 2019, and Robert S. Gilchrist, ambassador to Lithuania since 2020, and Berry served as an ambassador under Trump and Biden.

Eric Nelson, the gay former ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina (2019-2022), who also served under presidents Trump and Biden, was succeeded by Michael J. Murphy, who is straight, last year.

History of gay ambassadors

In 1998, the late James Hormel became the first openly gay U.S. ambassador when President Bill Clinton appointed him to serve in Luxembourg from 1999 to 2001. Clinton made a political move, appointing Hormel through a recess appointment, which averted the need for Senate confirmation, after a coalition of anti-gay senators, including the late Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), refused to confirm Hormel because he was gay. Hormel died of natural causes August 13, 2021, in San Francisco, the B.A.R. previously reported.

Clinton also did away with the outdated 45-year-old discriminatory policies in 1995 after a group of gay foreign service workers under investigation fought back. In 1947, during the "Lavender Scare," President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9835, which led to the National Security Loyalty Program, where federal employees were investigated for their loyalty to the U.S., according to the National Park Service. The order targeted anyone "displaying immoral or disgraceful conduct," but it specifically targeted LGBTQ people in the federal government. LGBTQ people were seen as being a security risk to the U.S. at the time, despite no evidence. The State Department began to purge anyone suspected of being gay.

President Dwight Eisenhower took Truman's executive order one step further with his own Executive Order 104050 in 1953, banning LGBTQ people from federal employment. The order forced many LGBTQ federal employees out of a job or deep into the closet. The National Archives estimates, at minimum, 5,000 to as many as tens of thousands of LGBTQ federal employees lost their jobs due to the policy.

The ban remained in place until 1992, when gay Foreign Service employees David Buss, David Larson, former ambassador Michael Guest, and others being investigated by the State Department for being gay, stared down their fears of losing their careers and fought back. That same year they launched Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, the Foreign Service's employee resource group, according to the history of GLIFFA. In 1992, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Anthony Quainton also revised the department's policy on security clearances and ordered the investigative staff in field offices to stop investigating issues of sexual conduct. Three years later, Clinton banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal government with Executive Order 12968.

In 2012, GLIFFA celebrated its 20th anniversary with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the B.A.R. previously reported. Today, GLIFFA is a global network of nearly 1,000 members and allies, according to the National Museum of Diplomacy.

Democratic and Republican presidents since Clinton have appointed gay men as ambassadors. Appointed by former President George W. Bush, Guest became the first out gay ambassador to be confirmed by the Senate and served in Romania. Obama appointed a record seven gay men as ambassadors: John Berry (Australia), James Brewster (Dominican Republic ), Rufus Gifford (Denmark), Daniel Baer (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), James Costos (Spain), and Ted Osius (Vietnam). Trump appointed five gay ambassadors Randy Berry (Nepal), Daigle (Cape Verde), Gilchrist (Lithuania), Richard Grenell (Germany), and Nelson (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Until Biden's appointment of Wong, no lesbian has ever been nominated as an ambassador for the U.S. There are still no out trans ambassadors.

It is unclear when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up Maloney's case for confirmation.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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