We’re Not Evolved Enough

Posted: 13 April 2009 in bitter old woman, propaganda, work, you've got to be kidding

One of the things I enjoy most about the place I work is the ability to be out and not once worry about backlash or changes in policy that would mean I couldn’t do my job.  In general, I feel like where I am in has changed just enough that I feel insulated from the homophobic judgement I might have faced working in some other countries.  Hell, I enjoy having a language in which I can refer to my partner without having to specify gender by the very nature of the word.  More importantly, I don’t have to worry anymore about whether I’ve specified a gender that will earn discrimination and condemation.

Although the State Department has come a long way in ensuring that gay members aren’t fired simply because they are gay (presumably a gay person was more susceptible to blackmail), I’m still sad to see areas in which the Department (and the nation) have yet to recognize gayness as a normal human feature.  Worse, I get a hollow sort of feeling when I see people who, while gay, don’t recognize it in themselves as a feature worth having and so stay closeted to their families and coworkers.  I know it’s naive to assume everyone can just be out and proud, but that’s what causes the gut wrenching feelings – there should never be a barrier to being out.  (I’ve handled this indelicately so far.  Suffice to say I’m aware that there’s a long way to go.)

Several months ago one of the officers that I worked with was killed.  I have fond memories of his eagerness to get started at a new post.  However, his trepidation at being gay and single overseas in service to the Department startled me.  I think, in my own outness, I had forgotten how challenging it was to carve out the space to be comfortable.  His admission and subsequent reluctance to be out made me question my own resolve.  Could I have gone overseas and been as brave as I was suggesting he be?  In our conversations, I made every effort to assure him that he could be out without detriment to his career.  He and I both thought the greatest risk to him was discrimination from his US colleagues and not, as it turned out, murder.

What turns the knife for me is the media coverage that doesn’t mention gayness.  It’s not relevant to his death, no.  People are killed all the time by friends, by lovers and by strangers.  What hurts is seeing the bewilderment from people to whom he didn’t feel he could come out.  Though it’s painfully obvious to me that it wasn’t a crime motivated solely by money or class (how often does the robber/murderer spend the night before acting?) it seems like a cover-up when the family is still quoted wondering at a senseless murder for a few electronics instead of recognizing a lover’s quarrel.

It’s true that if he wasn’t out, there is no reason to mention it.  I suppose it’s not relevant to the general public either.  But if the Department knows and is deliberately leaving it out, it makes it worse.  It renders a class of people invisible and doesn’t do justice to a murder.  It makes the crime look opportunistic and contributes to fear-mongering.  It obscures the nature of the Department’s diplomats – all kinds of people from all kinds of places.

It’s not a crime to be gay.  I wish we’d stop treating it like one.

  1. It seems to me that the Department is continuing to honor the desire of that officer to not be “outed,” even in death.

  2. Digger says:

    My concern is that the closet contributed to his death. People who are closeted still feel the need for human comfort and companionship and will often seek it in less than optimal circumstances. I have known friends who were closeted who would find a random stranger in a park to meet those needs, only to find themselves victim to robbery or worse.

    The closet is a dangerous place, and not just emotionally. I wish that was a message the Department would convey.

  3. backlist says:

    I’m with you on that one. Being so careful can result in risky behavior. Whether or not this was the case, it’s a lot easier to investigate crimes when you’ve got some of the important information. I’m sure there’s proof or a lack thereof of this somewhere, I only wish I had it to slap my hand on or rail against…

  4. I agree wholeheartedly. I have found that most folks are far more likely to engage in risky behavior when they’re in the closet than when they’re out of it. I know that was most certainly the case with me.

    Was this by chance the murder in Addis Ababa?

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