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Gay U.S. ambassadors meet with GLIFAA members

John Berry, Australia, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, Dean Baer, Daniel Baer, Spain, James Costos, Denmark, Rufus Gifford, Dominican Republic, James Brewster, Wally Brewster, gay news, Washington Blade

From left; U.S. Ambassador to Australia John Berry, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Daniel Baer, U.S. Ambassador to Spain James Costos, U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford and U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster. (Photo by Blake Bergen, courtesy of GLIFAA)

The five gay U.S. ambassadors met with members of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) for the first time in D.C. on March 9.

U.S. Ambassador to Australia John Berry, U.S. Ambassador to Spain James Costos, U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford, U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster and U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Daniel Baer met with GLIFAA members while they were in the nation’s capital for the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference at the State Department. They discussed their experiences with government officials and other diplomats as openly gay ambassadors and how they have helped to advance LGBT rights in the countries where they work.

GLIFAA President Robyn McCutcheon and others from the State Department, USAID, the Peace Corps and other organizations were among those who attended the meeting. It was also the first time that Berry, Costos, Gifford, Brewster and Baer had been in the same room together.

“GLIFAA was proud to host all five out gay U.S. ambassadors this past Sunday for very fruitful conversations on their experiences as personal champions for global LGBT+ human rights,” McCutcheon told the Washington Blade. “GLIFAA is proud to continue supporting these ambassadors, U.S. government foreign affairs agencies, and all of these agencies’ LGBT+ staff to advance equality for all around the world.”

The U.S. Senate last August confirmed Berry, who is the former head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, alongside Baer, Gifford and Costos. The chamber approved Brewster’s nomination three months later.

Baer remains a central figure in the White House’s response to the escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia after ousted President Viktor Yanukovych went into hiding last month following the deaths of dozens of anti-government protesters in Kiev. Baer on Wednesday met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya in D.C. before he left the nation’s capital to return to Vienna.

Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, last month met with a group of Dominican LGBT rights advocates at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo.

Dominican President Danilo Medina approved Brewster’s nomination, but Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo and other local religious leaders vocally opposed it because he is gay. Organizers of a Jan. 22 diplomatic reception to honor Medina cancelled it after several ambassadors to the Caribbean country announced they would not attend because they did not invite Satawake.


Advancing Obama’s LGBT rights agenda abroad

Todd Larson, USAID, gay news, Washington Blade

Todd Larson (left) is USAID’s Senior LGBT Coordinator. (Photo courtesy of USAID)

A retired U.N. official who spent two decades with the global body has brought his experience promoting LGBT rights issues to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Todd Larson, who worked in a variety of positions at the U.N. between 1990 and 2010 where he spearheaded efforts to extend domestic partner benefits to the same-sex partners of U.N. employees, in March became USAID’s Senior LGBT Coordinator. He was also a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Board of Directors between 2007-2013.

Larson’s primary responsibility at USAID is to ensure the agency implements President Obama’s 2011 memorandum that instructed agencies charged with implementing American foreign policy to promote global LGBT rights.

He noted in a 2012 Huffington Post op-ed that highlighted his support of Obama’s efforts to promote global LGBT rights on the eve of his re-election that his partner, who worked for the U.N., died shortly after he began working for the global body.

“In the aftermath I had no official standing to do basic things such as obtain copies of reports describing the circumstances surrounding his death,” wrote Larson. “Though I eventually prevailed, under internal U.N. advances shepherded by the Obama administration, I would not face that challenge today.”

He told the Washington Blade during an interview earlier this month that he learned “how to effect change within a large bureaucracy” through his work at the U.N.

“I don’t find engagement in institutional change daunting,” said Larson. “I find it profoundly satisfying, by virtue of the breadth of favorable impact that will last far longer than I. That which makes my work at USAID a particular pleasure is the fact that I’m not working against the tide. I am, rather, working with a team of committed and experienced folks to guide and focus an institution which is already very committed to LGBT inclusion in how it operates both internally and externally.”

Larson spoke with the Blade roughly a week after National Security Adviser Susan Rice announced the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce had joined the LGBT Global Development Partnership, a public-private partnership that USAID launched in April 2013 designed to support LGBT advocacy groups in developing countries. The initiatives’ first two trainings took place in Colombia last year.

USAID on Monday announced during the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, that it will contribute an additional $503 million to the global fight against HIV/AIDS over the next five years through three public-private partnerships.

“Under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), for which USAID is lead implementing agency, I am proud that USAID has invested hundreds of millions of dollars per year in the war against the pandemic — much of this has gone to the benefit of key populations,” said Larson.

Larson, who graduated from Carleton College in 1983, spent two years in the West African country of Togo with the Peace Corps. He earned a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Washington in 1988.

“When I joined the Peace Corps, fresh out of college and off the farm, it was my first time living and working in the developing world,” Larson told the Blade. “This sounds perhaps Pollyanna-ish, but it was a lesson I needed to learn.”

“People are the same the world over — LGBT or not, in whatever cultural or national setting,” he added. “They all have the same fundamental aspirations: Caring for family, realizing one’s potential, meeting one’s basic needs. This is what motivates all of us.”

Larson told the Blade he feels one of the most important parts of his job at USAID is to “identify the leaders” on the ground in a particular country and “work with them to identify how best to support their communities.”

He said he traveled to Uganda shortly after he joined USAID and spoke with local LGBT rights advocates about how they feel the U.S. should response to a law that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

LGBT advocates in the East African country last month applauded the Obama administration’s decision to impose travel bans on Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.

“One should never impose solutions from a distance,” said Larson.

Larson told the Blade that there are “no strings attached” to groups that receive USAID support.

“USAID works to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies,” he said. “USAID recognizes that the inclusion, protection and empowerment of LGBT people is critical, because drawing on the full contributions of the entire population leads to more effective, comprehensive and sustainable development results.”


Queery: Sarah Blazucki

Sarah Blazucki, gay news, Washington Blade, Queery

Sarah Blazucki (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Mid-year last year, Sarah Blazucki was ready for a professional change.

The 37-year-old Baltimore native had a good six-and-a-half year run as editor at Philadelphia Gay News and was looking for fresh vistas to tackle. In October, she moved to Washington to work as a writer and editor with The Peace Corps.

“I felt like I’d done all I could do with the paper and it was time to let someone else take over,” she says. “Someone with new, fresh ideas and for me to do something else. I was sort of looking to take my career to the next level.”

Though she says things are “very good” in her new position, it’s a huge change from what she calls “the rhythm” of the weekly newspaper rigors. She also realizes it will take time to get integrated into D.C. LGBT life.

“Just being at the PGN, I very much had my finger on the pulse of the LGBT community and down here I just don’t,” she says. “Granted I’ve only lived here three months, but it’s just going to take some time to find the community again. And not just the bars. I know where they are, but I mean really the heart of the community. The non-profits, the larger piece that really makes up the heart of the community.”

Blazucki is also active in the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the founder of website which allows web surfers to find out what laws apply in their part of the country. She also writes resumes on the side.

She has identified as queer since she was 21 and was in an 11-year relationship with a man whom she eventually married. But she says she knew all along she “was not straight.”

Blazucki’s dating but not in a serious relationship. She lives in Petworth and enjoys running, yoga, reading and “being a news junkie” in her free time.

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?

Since I was 21. Sometimes I get flack from gays and lesbians because I’m not a gold-star lesbian and that can be hard.

Who’s your LGBT hero?

Can I have more than one? As a journalist, I really admire Rachel Maddow. She’s super-smart and she’s got moxie. I also have a couple of personal heroes, who I can also count as friends: Gloria Casarez, who is the director of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia, and Carrie Jacobs, the executive director of The Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia.

What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present? 

Tracks. I had some good times there.

Describe your dream wedding.

I was married before and that was probably as close as I would get. (See my answer about overrated social customs.) It was a 1920s carnivale theme, very fun. Less of a wedding, and more of a big party.

What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

Gender equality/women’s rights.

What historical outcome would you change?

The 2007 Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. In the case, the court ruled 5-4 against Lilly Ledbetter, who had been getting paid less than her male counterparts at Goodyear for years. The court said her claim of long-term discriminatory pay decisions was filed after the statute of limitations, 180 days, had expired.

What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?

Pop culture really isn’t my forte, but Kurt Cobain’s suicide was pretty significant.

On what do you insist?

It’s OK to be gay. Also, good grammar and correct language use. It’s my job.

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

“So excited to have found what is likely the closest grocery store to my house, and it’s an organic grocer. That only took 3 mos. Sheesh!”

If your life were a book, what would the title be?

“Determined: How I got over a mostly shitty childhood and found my way in the world”

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?

For myself, nothing. I like being queer. For others, encourage self-acceptance.

What do you believe in beyond the physical world?

The universe.

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

Keep up the good fight. Don’t let the LGBT-rights movement be sidelined by petty differences. Don’t sacrifice the minorities amongst us for the good of the majority.

What would you walk across hot coals for?

My family, my close friends, LGBT equality.

What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

That lesbians “process” too much.

What’s your favorite LGBT movie?


What’s the most overrated social custom?


What trophy or prize do you most covet?

I’m not particularly motivated by either, but a Pulitzer would be nice.

What do you wish you’d known at 18?

That my life and work mattered, and that I could have a positive impact with both.

Why Washington?

Work. And it helps that my family is close.