Secretary Clinton Must Address State Dept. Policies on LGBT Employees (Rep. Tammy Baldwin)

During her confirmation hearing in January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to examine current policies relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees at the State Department. Her willingness to examine these issues signals positive change on many levels. Not only has our nation evolved in its recognition and acceptance of LGBT American, but our new administration understands that the strength of our diplomatic corps is undermined by inequitable employment policies.

As Secretary Clinton noted during the question and answer session of her confirmation hearing, many other nations now extend training, protection, and benefits to the partners of LGBT employees. Yet, the U.S. currently denies same-sex partners of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) access to travel and visa assistance to and from a posting abroad, and embassy health, protection, and emergency evacuation services that other “Eligible Family Members” (EFMs) enjoy. The lack of equitable treatment at the State Department could force -- in fact, already has forced -- dedicated, intelligent, and needed FSOs and officials to make an unfortunate choice between serving their country and protecting their families.

Secretary Clinton can remedy many of these inequitable policies immediately, without legislation; and, in our letter, Sens. Wyden, Feingold, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, and I urge her to do so. At a time when America’s core values and belief in democracy are most on display to the rest of the world, our nation is tarnished by practices that are contrary to those values and beliefs.

But Congress must also work to end discriminatory practices against LGBT Americans. For example, we must pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act to put the federal government on par with a majority of Fortune 500 companies by extending employee benefit programs to cover the domestic partners of federal employees to the same extent those benefits cover spouses of federal employees.

Last Spring, Congressman Barney Frank and I founded the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. To date, 74 Members have joined our caucus to achieve the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and well being of all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. In the 111th Congress, the Caucus will continue to serve as a resource for Members of Congress, their staffs, and the public on LGBT issues.

The very existence of an LGBT Equality Caucus makes a strong statement about the values this Congress and our nation hold dear. I hope more colleagues will join us in creating a more perfect Union, assuring equal rights for all here at home, and safeguarding the human rights of LGBT people in all parts of the world.