Appointed by President Bush in 2001 to be Ambassador to Romania, Michael Guest was the first publicly gay man to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as a U.S. Ambassador. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell explicitly noted the presence of and positively recognized Guest’s same-sex partner, Alex Nevarez, during the swearing-in ceremony. The Human Rights Campaign called Powell’s acknowledgement of Nevarez a “small gesture that spoke volumes.”
But serving as an openly-gay ambassador under the Bush administration proved not to be as pleasant as his swearing-in. Guest retired recently, and at his retirement ceremony, “he did what few people do — displayed uncommon courage and threw a rhetorical hand-grenade into his own party.” The New York Times reports, “Guest took Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was not present) to task for failing to treat the partners of gay and lesbian foreign service officers the same as the spouses of heterosexual officers.” Guest said that was the reason for his departure:
“Most departing ambassadors use these events to talk about their successes . . . But I want to talk about my signal failure, the failure that in fact is causing me to leave the career that I love,” said Mr. Guest, 50, whose most recent assignment was dean of the leadership and management school at the Foreign Service Institute, the government’s school for diplomats.
“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,” he said.
“Unlike heterosexual spouses, gay partners are not entitled to State Department-provided security training, free medical care at overseas posts, guaranteed evacuation in case of a medical emergency, transportation to overseas posts, or special living allowances when foreign service officers are assigned to places like Iraq, where diplomatic families are not permitted.”
“This is not about gay rights. … It’s about equal treatment of all employees, all of whom have the same service requirements, the same contractual requirements,” said Guest.
While the Bush administration has previously indicated an unwillingness to outlaw employment discrimination, Guest courageously highlights the fact that the administration is also practicing it.