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Obama’s 6 Gay U.S. Ambassadors Are Leading the Global Fight for LGBT Rights

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From Battling Bigotry in the Dominican Republic to Achieving Reality TV Stardom in Denmark, President’s Out Appointees Have Made Their Mark

President Barack Obama’s commitment to inclusion has been rendered concrete by his appointments, which have helped make the face of America’s government more representative of its people. In addition to a record number of racial and ethnic minorities, he has appointed a record number of LGBT officials, including judges and ambassadors who require Senate confirmation.

Before Obama’s presidency, there had been only two openly gay U.S. ambassadors. The first, James C. Hormel, was nominated by President Bill Clinton as ambassador to Luxembourg in October 1997. Although Hormel was eminently qualified for the post and quickly won approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was subjected to an ugly confirmation battle during which he was defamed and belittled by homophobic GOP senators such as Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft. His nomination was effectively blocked by Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who refused to schedule a vote.

Finally, in May 1999, to the outrage of some Republicans, Clinton named Hormel ambassador via a “recess appointment.”Â

In 2001, to little public controversy, career foreign service officer Michael E. Guest was nominated as ambassador to Romania by President George W. Bush and became the first openly gay ambassadorial nominee confirmed by the Senate. Guest served as ambassador until 2003 and then in the State Department until his retirement in 2007.

At his retirement ceremony, Guest bitterly criticized Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice (and by extension Bush) for the discrimination faced by LGBT employees and specifically for the benefits denied to their same-sex partners. He made clear that his decision to retire was a direct result of this discrimination:

“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.”

Obama’s Ambassadors

In contrast to the difficulties faced by Hormel and Guest, the ambassadors nominated by Obama have had little difficulty in the confirmation process and received unqualified support from the State Department. In addition, they have been encouraged to make the furtherance of LGBT rights a key part of their portfolio. (Moreover, many of the benefits that Guest complained were denied to his partner during the Bush administration were extended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009. Others were added after the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional in 2013.)

As Hillary Clinton declared at the United Nations in 2011, under Obama official U.S. policy is that “Gay Rights are Human Rights.”

Obama has appointed seven openly gay ambassadors: U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa David Huebner (who served from 2009 to 2014); U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer; U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra James Costos; U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford; U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster; U.S. Ambassador to Australia John Berry; and U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius.

Huebner discussing his role as Ambassador to New Zealand:

Costos introducing himself and his partner Michael Smith:

Baer and his husband, Brian Walsh:

Berry introducing himself, and discussing same-sex marriage and his husband, Curtis Yee.Â

Osius and his husband, Clayton Bond, on PBS Newshour:

The six currently serving openly gay ambassadors recently participated in a panel discussion — sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, the Harvey Milk Foundation, and GLIFAA, an organization for LGBT foreign service employees — at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

The six participants shared their personal experiences and the obligations of representing not only their country but also the LGBT community.

Particularly interesting is the contrast between the experiences of Brewster in the Dominican Republic, which criminalizes homosexuality, and Gifford in Denmark, a notably gay-friendly country. In one, the ambassador and his husband are beleaguered and sometimes vilified as a gay couple and advocates for LGBT rights. In the other, the ambassador and his husband are celebrated and their wedding became a major social event.

Ambassador Brewster

Brewster, a Chicago businessman who has served as a National LGBT Co-Chair for the Democratic National Committee and on the Board of the Human Rights Campaign, was nominated as Ambassador to the Dominican Republic on June 22, 2013.

His nomination was greeted with hostility from the Dominican Republic’s influential religious establishment. In a press conference, the Dominican Republic’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, referred to Brewster as a “maricón” — a derogatory term that is usually translated as “faggot.”

Another Catholic official, Monseñor Pablo Cedano, an auxiliary bishop of Santo Domingo, issued a veiled threat against the nominee. “I hope he does not arrive in the country because I know if he comes he is going to suffer and will have to leave,” Cedano said. He added that it was “a lack of respect” that Obama “sent … a person of this kind as an ambassador.”

Evangelical Christians were equally inhospitable. Ex-president of the nation’s Evangelical Confraternity, Cristóbal Cardozo, called the appointment “an insult to good Dominican customs” and said it is inappropriate to send such an ambassador to “a country where homosexual relationships are not approved, neither legally nor morally.”

On November 22, 2013, Brewster was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic by Vice President Joe Biden. Just a few hours later, Brewster married his longtime partner, Bob J. Satawake. The ceremony and reception took place at the Hay-Adams Hotel, overlooking the South Lawn of the White House.

Ambassador Brewster and his husband have persevered in a country that penalizes homosexuality and constitutionally bans same-sex marriage. They have refused to allow the hostility of homophobes to deter their commitment to equal rights.

They have engaged the attacks forthrightly and with dignity, always conscious that their very presence in the country gives hope to those who cannot speak out on their own behalf. They know that their openness as a gay couple itself makes a powerful statement:

Brewster especially infuriated his detractors when he and Satawake met with Dominican LGBT leaders, prompting the Dominican Republic’s Ambassador to the Vatican to protest.

In honor of Pride 2014, the ambassador produced this video:

In June 2016, Ambassador Brewster announced that he and his husband would participate in the Dominican Republic’s Pride Caravan:

Ambassador Gifford

Gifford, the son of a Boston banking family and a former film producer, came to political prominence as a prodigious fundraiser, first for John Kerry’s 2004 campaign, and then for Obama. In the 2008 campaign, he raised some $80 million as head of Obama’s Southern California fundraising operation. He subsequently became a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, and then the finance director of Obama’s re-election campaign. In the latter capacity, he is believed to have raised more than a billion dollars.

Gifford was appointed Ambassador to Denmark in 2013 and quickly became a national celebrity, appearing frequently on Danish radio and television programs. In 2014, he appeared in his own six-episode reality show (or, as he prefers, “documentary”) called I am the Ambassador from America, which followed his professional and personal life over the course of three months.

In the show’s first episode, he said, “the most common question I get is what does an ambassador do, and the only way you can explain it to people is by living it.” Thus, the show attempted to answer the question by inviting viewers to follow him during his work and in his life more generally.

The show was a surprise hit and was renewed for a second season. It won the Danish equivalent of an Emmy and made Gifford a familiar face and personality, especially since he so freely shared so many personal aspects of his life, including his upbringing in a small, wealthy Massachusetts town, his coming out experience, and his relationship with his partner Dr. Steven DeVincent, a Provincetown veterinarian.

But as Danish media critic Mads Hvas Jensen has observed, the show did more than highlight Gifford himself. It also advanced American diplomacy. Gifford has understood the strategic use of television to present American foreign policy in a favorable light, especially to young people. From this perspective, even Gifford’s openness about his sexuality and his advocacy for LGBT rights can be seen a means of demonstrating the advances made by the Obama administration in recent years.

Among the major recent advances in American civil rights was the achievement of marriage equality throughout the nation on June 26, 2015. Hence, it was not surprising that in October 2015, Gifford and DeVincent decided to marry, and to feature their wedding on the television show.

They also made the decision to be married not in the U.S. nor even in the American embassy, but in Copenhagen’s City Hall, where they were wed by the Lord Mayor in the same gold-filigreed room in which the world’s first legally recognized same-sex civil unions were performed in 1989.

The decision to wed in Denmark was “to be a statement,” DeVincent told Vogue. “We got married in the town hall in Copenhagen because it was the location of the first same-sex civil union. We also very much wanted to have the wedding in Denmark, because once Rufus became ambassador, we knew that was going to be our home for the next three and a half years. It was going to be the longest we’ve ever lived in one place together.” He added, “Once we were there, the country was so welcoming to us and we wanted also to show our appreciation.”

In the video below, an episode from PBS Newshour, Gifford is profiled:

Ambassador Gifford has spoken in favor of LGBT rights and participated in Pride parades not only in liberal Copenhagen, but also in other less accepting areas of his purview, including Greenland and the Faroe Islands. For example,  Gifford and DeVincent and members of the embassy staff participated in the Faroese Pride Celebrations on July 27, 2016, which were attended by 10 percent of the population.

Conclusion

America’s openly gay ambassadors are an impressive group. Some, such as Ambassadors Costos and Gifford have been chosen, as is a long honored and bipartisan custom, because of their political and personal connections to the president. Others, such as Ambassadors Baer and Osius, were chosen because of their academic or cultural expertise. The ambassadors have different styles and face different challenges, but all have distinguished themselves in their jobs.

In addition to the customary diplomacy that they practice, however, they also serve as living symbols of American progress in human rights.

When they march in Pride celebrations, for example, they make an important statement about American values in general and about American policy under Obama in particular.

When Ambassador Berry answers a question about same-sex marriage, he is careful not to interject himself into Australia’s fractious debate on the issue, but he nevertheless furthers the quest for marriage equality by offering the example of his own marriage.

Similarly, the high-profile weddings of Ambassadors Gifford in Copenhagen and Baer in Vienna have also helped normalize same-sex relationships here and abroad, as has the example of Ambassador Osius and his husband and children in Vietnam. In August, Osius and Bond renewed their vows in a ceremony presided over by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and attended by several LGBT rights advocates. “We thought it might be meaningful not only to us, but to the LGBT community in Vietnam,” Osius said.

The dignity and resoluteness of Ambassador Brewster in the face of insult offers hope to those who are unable to stand up to homophobia themselves; and Baer’s denunciation of Russia’s anti-propaganda law gains increased credibility because of his openness as to his own sexuality.

The appointment of openly gay ambassadors helps fulfill President Obama’s campaign pledge to make the face of the American government more representative of the nation’s people. But it is does more than that. It also announces to the world that in the U.S., opportunities are not limited because of whom one loves, and it illustrates concretely that the country’s much-touted support for human rights includes LGBT rights.

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‘Will You Accept the Results?’: Cruz’s Election Denialism Shut Down in ‘Brutal’ Interview

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U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) promoted Donald Trump’s false election denialism and was challenged by a CNN anchor in an interview being praised by several media watchers.

During the Wednesday interview Cruz suggested to host Kaitlan Collins that Democrats or Hillary Clinton criticizing election results was equivalent to Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” campaign, which included over 60 legal challenges and countless false allegations of massive fraud. He also insisted there was a “peaceful transfer of power” after the 2020 presidential election despite the violent and deadly January 6 insurrection for which more than 1200 people have been criminally charged and for which the ex-president is facing several indictments. In the end, Collins appeared to cut the interview short.

“Will you certify the election results?” in the November election, Collins asked the Texas Republican on Wednesday, noting he was the first in the Senate to say he would not certify the 2020 election results. “Do you plan to object or will you accept the results regardless of who wins the election?”

“So Kaitlan,” Cruz replied, “I gotta say, I think that’s actually a ridiculous question.”

“It’s a yes or no question,” Collins replied.

“No it’s not that let me explain why it’s a ridiculous question,” Cruz alleged combatively. “It’s not a question – have you ever asked Democrat that?”

READ MORE: ‘Investigate Now’: As Alito Scandal Grows Pressure Mounts on ‘MIA’ and ‘AWOL’ Judiciary Chair

“Of course,” Collins replied.

“What Democrat?” Cruz demanded to know.

After a short back-and-forth, Collins said, “I know, I know, I’ve been on this road many, many times, but no Democrat – you can not compare the two situations. We have talked about that, we’ve seen the audio of that when they protested,” Collins said,  appearing to refer to Hillary Clinton having called the 2016 presidential election “stolen,” which she did three years after the election, in 2019.

“Have you ever had a sitting president who refused to facilitate the peaceful transition of power refused to acknowledge that his successor won the presidency?” Collins asked Cruz.

“So, A, we did have a peaceful transfer of power. I was there on January 20. I was there on the swearing in,” Cruz insisted, ignoring the January 6 insurrection.

“Barely,” Collins replied..

Cruz continued to refer to individual “objections” Democrats have made about results of elections – not formal, legal objections (except Al Gore in 2000) but comments or remarks, or individual objections to one state elections – not organized campaigns.

So you’re asking, ‘Will you promise no matter what to agree an election is illegitimate regardless of what happens?’ and that would be an absurd thing to claim,” Cruz said.

Again, after some back-and forth, Collins said, “This isn’t a game. There was no widespread voter fraud.”

“It is a game,” Cruz responded. “You only ask Republicans that.”

It November of 2022, the right-wing Cato Institute published an opinion piece titled, “Yes, Democrats Have Called Some Elections Illegitimate. GOP Election Denialism Is Far Worse,” and added: “It’s not even close.”

READ MORE: ‘Contemptuous’: Justice Alito’s Actions ‘Close to Treason’ Suggests Constitutional Scholar

Collins later pointed out that it is only Republicans who have “tried to block the transition of power. You have to acknowledge that.”

“So my question for you again: free and fair election. Will you accept the results regardless of who wins?” Collins again asked.

“Look, if the Democrats win, I will accept the result, but I’m not going to ignore fraud regardless of what happens.”

“Was there fraud in 202o?” Collins pressed.

“Of course there was fraud,” Cruz insisted.

“No, that wasn’t and you still objected,” Collins pointed out.

“Oh, you know, for a fact there was zero voter fraud really? What’s your basis for that? Show me your evidence,” Cruz demanded, inserting “zero” when Collins meant fraud “that would have changed the outcome,” as she noted later.

Commenting on the interview, writer Charlotte Clymer, a former press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign said, “This is brilliant.”

“I seriously cannot remember the last time any journalist on cable news confronted the bad faith of a MAGA politician this insistently,” Clymer remarked. “For five minutes (!), Kaitlin Collins pressed Ted Cruz and demanded a good faith answer.”

Democratic strategist and former DNC official Adam Parkhomenko commented, “this is just brutal.” He added Cruz was “being humiliated.”

Calling it, “Well done,” journalist Ahmed Baba wrote: “Kaitlan Collins interjecting with fact-checks multiple times and ending the interview after Ted Cruz refused to engage in the facts and continued to spread his propaganda.”

Watch below or at this link.

READ MORE: Trump Adviser Scanned and Saved Contents of Box That Had Classified Docs: Report

 

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‘Investigate Now’: As Alito Scandal Grows Pressure Mounts on ‘MIA’ and ‘AWOL’ Judiciary Chair

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Revelations over the past week that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito flew flags associated with the January 6 insurrection and the far-right Christian nationalist movement at not one but two of his homes have drawn tremendous outrage, and heightened demands that Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) hold hearings on the jurist, and pass legislation to reform the Court.

Chairman Durbin, first elected to Congress in 1982, has focused his attention on ensuring President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees are confirmed. Wednesday morning he celebrated confirming 200 judges nominated by President Biden to the federal bench.

But critics, including legal experts, say the Chairman has done little to reform the Supreme Court or hold the judicial branch to account.

READ MORE: Trump Adviser Scanned and Saved Contents of Box That Had Classified Docs: Report

Durbin did not hold any hearings over Justice Clarence Thomas’s numerous alleged ethical violations. Some legal experts say he has not only violated the people’s trust and judicial ethics rules, but federal law.

And now, critics say, Chairman Durbin is not responding sufficiently to the Justice Alito scandal.

The Chairman did release a statement on Wednesday after the New York Times bombshell of a second Alito flag, calling for the Justice to “recuse himself immediately from cases related to the 2020 election and the January 6th insurrection.”

Critics say that’s not enough, recusal is also not enough, and a statement from Durbin doesn’t rise to the level of Alito’s actions.

Professor of law, election law expert, and Director, Safeguarding Democracy Project Rick Hasen Wednesday did not hold back.

“WTF Justice Alito?” he wrote. “I was uncertain if revelation of first flag merited J Alito’s recusal in the first case, but I now believe he must recuse in the Trump immunity and related cases. His impartiality could be reasonably questioned;no blaming it on spouse.”

Historian and professor Heather Cox Richardson, responding to Hasen, wrote: “Recuse? He needs to resign.”

Justice Alito’s flags indicate support for the January 6, 2021 insurrection, suggests University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Laurence Tribe, a professor of law and top constitutional scholar who wrote a major textbook on the U.S. Constitution.

In an interview Wednesday he also suggested Justice Alito’s actions come close to treason.

READ MORE: ‘Going for the Jugular’: Legal Scholar Warns ‘Trumpers’ Want to End Major Civil Right

Professor Tribe alleged Justice Alito may have committed impeachable offenses, including “giving aid and comfort to an insurrection against the Constitution of the United States, which is close to treason,” he said in his Wednesday interview on the MeidasTouch Network. He also called for a “serious investigation” by the U.S. Senate into Alito, who “has been contemptuous for quite a while.”

But Tribe also aimed his criticism at the Judiciary Chairman.

“This isn’t just about the insurrection-abetting Sam Alito, it’s about the AWOL Senator Durbin. He has no excuse for not holding hearings about Alito now.”

On Tuesday, even before the second Alito flag was discovered, Tribe demanded action.

I’m sorry, Senator Durbin, you’re MIA on this. You have a solemn responsibility to conduct oversight here. This is deadly serious! Key Senate Democrat doesn’t plan to probe Justice Alito over upside-down flag. Excuse me, why the heck not??”

Earlier, on Saturday, Professor Tribe had already been pushing for Durbin to act.

Talk is cheap. Chairman Dick Durbin needs to do more than call on Alito to recuse himself from the insurrection cases. Durbin needs to step up and use the subpoena power to demand Alito’s appearance and explanation before the Senate Judiciary Committee!”

On Monday, NBC News’ Sahil Kapur had reported, “Durbin has NO plans to hold a hearing on Justice Alito. ‘I don’t think there’s much to be gained with a hearing at this point… He should recuse himself from cases involving Trump and his admin.’ And if Alito won’t? Durbin says no recourse but impeachment—and they aren’t there.”

READ MORE: Trump Adviser Scanned and Saved Contents of Box That Had Classified Docs: Report

Attorney Dan Coffin, who writes about constitutional issues, disagreeing with Durbin’s claim, says there must be an investigation.

“An impeachment hearing should be preceded by an investigative hearing to establish the facts regarding the flag incident, as well as other matters currently known or as developed in an investigative hearing. The public needs to know the facts. Alito likely would refuse to appear, even with a subpoena, and the public needs to know that,” he said. “There should also be an investigative hearing regarding Thomas & his wife.”

Progressive talk show host Thom Hartmann also blasted Durbin.

“Dick Durbin needs to haul Alito and Thomas before the Senate Judiciary Committee to get to the bottom of their collision with Trump’s attempt to overthrow American democracy. Will he find the courage?”

Adam Cohen, Lawyers for Good Government Vice Chair, Board of Directors on Thursday also took aim at Durbin.

“Dick Durbin is the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair,” he began. “He needs to investigate Supreme Court Justices Alito and Thomas-NOW.”

“Chief Justice Roberts must testify about the MAGA takeover of the Court-and what he’ll do to stop it,” Cohen insisted, warning: “Americans are losing their rights … This CANNOT continue.”

See the social media posts above or at this link.

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‘Contemptuous’: Justice Alito’s Actions ‘Close to Treason’ Suggests Constitutional Scholar

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Laurence Tribe, a top constitutional expert, is suggesting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s actions may be “close to treason,” after the jurist flew flags associated with the January 6 insurrection and the far-right Christian nationalist movement at two of his homes.

Professor Tribe alleged Justice Alito may have committed impeachable offenses, including “giving aid and comfort to an insurrection against the Constitution of the United States, which is close to treason,” he said in his Wednesday interview on the MeidasTouch Network (video below). He also called for a “serious investigation” by the U.S. Senate into Alito, who “has been contemptuous for quite a while.” He added, “it’s about time that he be held to account.”

Justice Alito “serves not for life but during good behavior. That’s the language of the Constitution. It is settled that any judge or justice who commits high crimes and misdemeanors, and that certainly includes giving aid and comfort to an insurrection against the Constitution of the United States, which is close to treason, that any such person is subject to impeachment by the House of Representatives,” declared Tribe, University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, a professor of law, and author of a major textbook on the U.S. Constitution.

READ MORE: Why Alito’s ‘Stop the Steal’ Flag Story Just Fell Apart

“Obviously, this House of Representatives is not going to impeach Samuel Alito,” he continued.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, a Christian nationalist, has the same flag Alito flew at his New Jersey home outside his congressional office.

The GOP-led House “is very much in league with Donald Trump. He controls Mike Johnson, but he’s subject to impeachment and then trial in the Senate. The very fact that the House of Representatives will not do its duty is not an excuse for the Senate, not to at least initiate a serious investigation into whether impeachable offenses have been committed. And in any event, whether an enforceable meaningfully enforceable code of ethics, enforceable by an Inspector General, whether that should be enacted. That’s something within the Senate’s purview as well.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) is under increasing pressure to hold hearings into Justices Alito and Clarence Thomas, and to pass legislation to reform the Supreme Court.

“To have that kind of investigation without Samuel Alito being called to testify – and if you won’t testify, voluntarily being subpoenaed – is like playing Hamlet without the prince. He is, in this scenario, the prince, perhaps the Prince of Darkness, he needs to be heard from. He needs to be asked what he meant by allowing that symbol of sympathy with insurrectionists to fly in front of his home. It’s not enough for him to say casually to the Fox News Service, ‘Oh, that was just my wife responding to nasty comments about FU to Trump and to us by our neighbors.’ As far as I can tell, it seems that his defense for unethical behavior and worse, for expressing aid and comfort to an insurrection against the Constitution is that his neighbors were exercising their First Amendment rights in a way that he thought was not going to be nice for his children.”

READ MORE: ‘Going for the Jugular’: Legal Scholar Warns ‘Trumpers’ Want to End Major Civil Right

“Let him do it under oath,” Tribe continued, “and if he refuses to show up, in response to a subpoena claiming some new kind of judicial privilege, it doesn’t exist. He could be held in contempt, and should be. He has been contemptuous for quite a while, it’s about time that he be held to account.”

Watch below or at this link.

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