Diplomatic Posts Around the World Celebrate Pride Month #LGBTI

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Below is a round up of overseas posts marking Pride Month. we hope to do another one towards the end of June. Also see So @StateDept’s guidance is do whatever you want. EXCEPT fly the Pride Flag on the pole #PrideMonth  on the reported controversy of flying the Pride flag at embassies overseas.

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So @StateDept’s guidance is do whatever you want. EXCEPT fly the Pride Flag on the pole #PrideMonth

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On May 17, 2018, Secretary Pompeo just three weeks into his tenure as secretary of state issued a statement on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.  This year, the State Department statement marking IDAHOT was noticeably missing.

We understand from a source on background that there was guidance circulated within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) this past May saying that there will be no IDAHOT/Pride cable this year. The directive reportedly came from the 7th floor although it apparently also said, there is no change in policy, including on display of the Pride flag. “The best we can do is rely on last year’s cable and the statement that policy has not changed.”

The directive last year would have been sent by an Acting Under Secretary for Management as there was no confirmed “M” at the State Department since U/S Kennedy departed his position in January 2017.

On June 7, NBC News reported that the U.S. embassies in Israel, Germany, Brazil and Latvia have requested permission from the State Department to fly the rainbow pride flag on their flagpoles and have been denied, citing three unnamed U.S. diplomats.

On June 10, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told NBCNews that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “respects the dignity of every individual” but did not believe other flags should fly alongside the American flag at U.S. embassies.

In an interview with NBC News, VPOTUS said that the Trump administration had “put no restrictions” on the pride flag or other flags flying elsewhere at U.S. embassies. When pressed, he also said, “We both feel that way very passionately, but when it comes to the American flagpole, and American embassies, and capitals around the world, one American flag flies.”

Another official who is LGBT speaking on background told this blog that flying the Pride flag on the flag pole with the U.S. flag has always been controversial.  This same official told us that while he/she personally does not believe that they should fly the Pride flag on the flag pole, there are others who have cited the Flag Act to justify flying the pride flag:

4 U.S. Code § 7 – Position and manner of display
(f) When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s right.

This same source indicated to us that his/her understanding was that the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao has not approved flying the Pride Flag on the same staff as the U.S. flag at State Department federal buildings within the United States and overseas (Mr. Bulatao was officially sworn into office in late May). We were told that this process is usually done via a decision memo and that this year, there was no cable in or out;  which confirmed the circulated guidance reportedly from DRL in May. This official also told us that his/her understanding is that posts are free to display the pride flag everywhere and anywhere, or to light up embassies in the pride colors, or do anything else they want to mark Pride month.  EXCEPT fly the Pride Flag on the pole.

We should note that in previous years, some posts, not all, have marked Pride Month with a rainbow flag on the flagpole or hanging the rainbow flag on the side of the embassy building. Others participated in local pride parades, or lighting up the embassy in rainbow colors. Social media indicates that our overseas posts are marking Pride month in a similar manner (poles excepted) this year, but they have not/not been prevented from marking or celebrating the event (if post is preventing you from marking Pride Month, holler, please).

Also typically, on June 1st or within the first week of June, the Secretary of State also releases a statement marking LGBTI Pride Month. Pompeo did that last year on June 1st.  The year before that, his predecessor Rex Tillerson released a similar statement on June 7, 2018. This year, we’re still waiting for a similar statement from Secretary Pompeo; 18 days to go before the days of June runs out. Write faster, folks!

Here is the official spox addressing the “except on the pole” issue:

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USCCR will accept public comments by an anonymous author in #sexualharassment inquiry

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This is a follow-up post to USCCR extends comment period for sexual harassment inquiry to Monday, June 25th and U.S. Civil Rights Commission Examines Sexual Harassment in Federal Govt (State, NASA) #FedMeToo.

We asked the USCCR how federal employees can protect themselves from potential retaliation from their agencies, and still be able to contribute to the Commission’s inquiry on sexual harassment in government offices. We understand that some State Department employees may also be tied  up with NDAs that may prevent them from discussing some details (for instance sensitive or classified locations, etc). We were also interested in learning if the Commission is also looking into practices at other agencies, and if so, which agencies are also being looked at (besides NASA and the State Department).

Below is the response we received from USCCR:

The US Commission on Civil Rights will accept public comments by an anonymous author. In regard to the application of non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) the Commission cannot provide legal advice. We recommend that an individual who is a party to an NDA consult an attorney.

As far as what our investigation entails we are looking at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) enforcement efforts to combat workplace sexual harassment across the federal government, including the frequency of such claims and findings of harassment, the resources dedicated to preventing and redressing harassment, and the impact and efficacy of these enforcement efforts. The investigation and subsequent report will also examine agency-level practices to address sexual harassment at the U.S. Department of State and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

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FCS Foreign Service Officer Lola Gulomova Killed By FSO Spouse in Apparent Murder-Suicide

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Last Friday, DC Metro Police reported the death of a Foreign Service couple in the District of Columbia (see below). Police said that preliminary investigation suggests that Lola Gulomova was killed in a homicide and that her spouse, Jason Rieff died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They left behind two young children (also see GFM: A Fund for the Rieff Girls).

Here is Lola Gulomova’s brief bio via DOC’s export.gov:

Lola Gulomova joined the U.S. Department of Commerce as a Commercial Officer for FCS in July 2008. She became part of the FCS Guangzhou team in summer 2013. Lola covers major sectors such as civil aviation, energy, SelectUSA and others. Prior to Guangzhou assignment, Lola Gulomova served as a Commercial Officer for AIT Commerical Section in Taipei. Prior to Taiwan, Lola worked in the Commercial Section of the U.S. Embassy New Delhi Office, India. During her tenure in India, Lola took part in the U.S. Government team supporting numerous high level visits, including POTUS visit in November 2010, two visits of the Secretary of U.S. Department of Commerce, and countless other VIP visits.

Prior to becoming a Foreign Service Officer for the Department of Commerce in June 2008, Lola worked in the U.S. Embassy/Moscow as NASA Deputy Russia Representative dealing with bilateral space relations between the United States and the Russian Federation. As part of her work with NASA, Lola ensured that the U.S. Astronauts who are present on the International Space Station receive appropriate support on the ground and in the space.

Before joining NASA, Lola Gulomova worked with United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) on Katrina Aid Today programs and initiatives to ensure long term recovery for people affected by Katrina hurricane. She set up operations of Katrina Aid Today and opened the office in Washington D.C. under tight schedule and deadline and limited budget. As a result of Lola’s efforts 70% of the initial set up operations budget was saved to be rerouted for Katrina aid efforts. Originally from Tajikistan, Lola graduated from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) – Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC in 2001.

The WaPo report cited a friend who said that the two met at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in the District and that the couple married in 2000.

Congressional Records indicate that Jason Bradley Rieff, of DC, was appointed to the Diplomatic Service during the 108th Congress (2003-2004).  His name appears a second time during the 110th Congress (2007-2008) when he was appointed as State Department FSO-04 Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America in December 2007.

In the fall of 2008, during the 110th Congress, Lola Z. Gulomova, of DC was appointed to the Department of Commerce Foreign Service. In August 2012, the U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment as Commerce Foreign Service Officer Class Three, Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America. We have not been able to find other entries in the congressional record as of this writing.

OPM-sourced data online indicates that she served from 2008-2011 in New Delhi, India; 2012 in Taipei, Taiwan; and 2013-2015 in Guangzhou, China.

We understand that the couple’s first tour was in Chennai, India around 2003-2005 where Rieff served as a consular officer, and Gulomova was one of diplomatic spouses who worked in the consular section. They were posted next to the US Embassy Moscow. We don’t know the exact time they were there but as a junior officer, it would have been a two-year assignment after Chennai but before she joined FCS as a career officer in June 2008.  In Moscow, she worked for NASA, according to her online bio, as Deputy Russia Representative dealing with bilateral space relations between the United States and the Russian Federation. 

While she was listed as having worked in Guanzhou from 2013-2015, Rieff was listed as school board member of the American International School of Guangzhou in its annual report from 2016-2017.  They were a tandem couple working for two agencies, it is possible she did a two year tour for FCS while he did the typical three-year tour for State. 

In Washington, D.C., Gulomova worked as a desk officer in Commerce’s Office of Russia, Ukraine & Eurasia (ORUE). ORUE provides assistance to U.S. companies including guidance on doing business in Russia, resolving market access issues, removing barriers to trade, market strategy considerations, and connections to other U.S. Government resources. She was also AFSA’s Foreign Commercial Service representative.  

She was on Twitter but did not tweet very much; the last thing she tweeted was an FCS recruitment announcement on June 4th.  The Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the United States tweeted that Gulomova was supposed to leave on June 8th to lead her first trade mission overseas.

Rieff worked in one of the annexes of the State Department; we have not yet been able to confirm his work assignment; we understand that he worked at Consular Affair’s Visa Office. Below is the police statement of this incident:

Via DC Metro Police, June 7, 2019:

Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch are investigating a homicide and a suicide that occurred on Friday, June 7, 2019, inside of a residence, in the 4300 block of Windom Place, Northwest.

At approximately 9:25 am, members of the Second District responded to the listed location for a check on the welfare. Upon arrival, members gained entry to a residence at the listed location and observed an adult male with a handgun. Officers heard a gunshot then found the adult male suffering from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. An unconscious and unresponsive adult female was also found inside the residence suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.

DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and found that the female victim displayed no signs consistent with life and remained on the scene until transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The male was transported to an area hospital. After all life-saving efforts failed, he was pronounced dead.

The male decedent has been identified as 51 year-old Jason Rieff, of Northwest, DC.

The female decedent has been identified as 45 year-old Lola Gulomova, of Northwest, DC.

Preliminary investigation by detectives from the Homicide Branch suggest that Ms. Gulomova’s death is a homicide and Mr. Rieff’s death is a suicide. The investigation also revealed that this incident is domestic in nature.

The exact cause and manner of death will be determined pending an autopsy to be conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

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This tragic incident is starting an informal conversation within one part of the Foreign Service’s online community about domestic violence which is not talked about very much. We hope to write a follow-up post. If you have something to share, email us.

Note that the State Department previously told this blog when we inquired about sexual assault data that “The Office of Special Investigations [within Diplomatic Security] receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.” If they’re not tracking alleged offenses like sexual assaults, or for that matter, domestic violence, how will the State Department know if it has a problem? We want to talk about that some more at some future post.

//Updated/June 10, 2019,  8:59 pm PST

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USCCR extends comment period for sexual harassment inquiry to Monday, June 25th

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This is a follow-up to our post: U.S. Civil Rights Commission Examines Sexual Harassment in Federal Govt (State, NASA) #FedMeToo

The U.S. Commission by unanimous vote extended the public comment period for its sexual harassment in the federal workplaces investigation from June 10th to Monday, June 25th.

The Commission is seeking to learn more from the public about sexual harassment in the federal government, including:

  • the culture surrounding the reporting of harassment in federal agencies,
  • the reporting process,
  • and new tools that can be used to address the issue.

The Commission will now accept written materials for consideration as we prepare our report on the subject. Please submit no later than June 25th, 2019 to sexualharassment@usccr.gov or by mail to: Staff Director/Public Comments, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 1150, Washington, DC 20425. Testimony from this briefing and public comments will inform our 2019 report to Congress, the President, and the American people regarding the state of sexual harassment in the federal government.

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AFSA Foreign Service Furlough Stories: 10 Days to Get to a Plane for a Medical Evacuation!

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Excerpt via AFSA/StateVP Kenneth Kero-Mentz:

For many of us, the shutdown caused real financial trouble, and even with careful planning, paying bills became a stretch. Some members had already tapped into their “rainy day fund” after being forced to leave Mission Russia last year. Others had to juggle funds to pay tuition expenses or mortgages due in January. Unemployment benefits were not available to many members serving overseas. Single parents and tandem couples were hit particularly hard with the delay of first one paycheck, and then two.

We heard stories of how the shutdown affected our members’ work. For instance, at the National Defense University and other war colleges, Department of State students were locked out of lectures and prohibited from participating in seminars during the shutdown. USAID war college students were designated “excepted,” so they could continue attending class. Students from State should have been “excepted” as well. There’s no reason why the U.S. government’s investment in a yearlong master’s degree program for its future senior leadership cadre should be torn apart midstream.

A mid-level officer at a small post in Africa reported that she was busier than ever, covering for her furloughed colleagues, planning events only to cancel later as the shutdown dragged on. As days turned into weeks, and then surpassed a month, morale plummeted. After all, as she said, who wants to work for an organization that consistently understaffs and overworks its team? She wonders if her enthusiasm for what is increasingly becoming a thankless job will ever rebound.
[…]
At one large mission in Asia, all State Department employees were required to report to work regardless of pay status. These people could not do any public-facing work and could not contact their counterparts at other posts or the department (since they were all furloughed), but were required to report to work in a non-pay status. It did not make sense. As many members noted, furlough decisions should be made in a central and transparent manner. Though none of us expected the shutdown to last so long, better contingency planning could have helped.
[…]
The hardships went well beyond juggling work requirements and paying bills. One second-tour specialist was hospitalized and needed to medevac to the United States immediately. The shutdown delayed the processing of the medevac funding request; due to the shutdown and short staffing, it took 10 days to get the person on a plane.

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Snapshot: 3 FAM 1217 Participation of Spouse (in Representational, Charitable, or Social Activities)

 

“Unless working as an employee or contractor, participation of a spouse in the work of a post is a voluntary act of a private person, not a legal obligation which can be imposed by any Foreign Service officer (FSO) or spouse. Nonparticipation of a spouse in representational, charitable, or social activities in no way reflects on the employees effectiveness on the job.”

Cite: 3 FAM 1217
(CT:PER-924;   09-21-2018)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees Only)

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U.S. Civil Rights Commission Examines Sexual Harassment in Federal Govt (State, NASA) #FedMeToo

 

On May 9, 2019, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public hearing in Washington, D.C. to examine the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) enforcement efforts to combat workplace sexual harassment across the federal government, including the frequency of such claims and findings of harassment, the resources dedicated to preventing and redressing harassment, and the impact and efficacy of these enforcement efforts. The briefing also examined agency-level practices to address sexual harassment at the U.S. Department of State and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Commissioners heard from current and former government officials, academic and legal experts, advocates, and individuals who have experienced harassment.

Below is the video of the event. The State Department portion starts at the 2 hour mark. After listening to the State Department representative OCR’s Gregory Smith presentation in this hearing, we’re now actually curious about the kind of training he is talking about. It almost sound as if he’s waving the State Department training as a magic wand.  And after everything he said during the hearing, we are no closer in understanding what specifically is involved in their sexual harassment training.

Also, apparently, according to the State Department rep, they “strongly enforced” steps against people taking any type of retaliation but … admitted under questioning by the USCCR that “no one has been  fired” for retaliation (3:07 mark). Well, now …

Jenna Ben-Yehuda, the President and CEO of the Truman National Security Project and a former State Department employee also spoke at this hearing as well as Stephen T. Shih, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity.  Both were impressive.  This is worth your time, and don’t miss the Q&A at the end.

Morning Session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0GjPYRAsHQ . (includes State, NASA Reps)
Afternoon Session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOZqWFIimoQ (includes CRS rep, NSF)
Public Comments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgEFjUr3gHE . (includes USDOJ, State FSO)

The Commission says it routinely seeks public comments on the substance of its briefings. The public comment period is 30 days following the date of the hearing or briefing, unless provided otherwise.  Since the public briefing: “Federal Me Too: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces” occurred on May 9, the  Commission will accept written materials until June 10 for consideration as they prepare their report on the subject. Please submit no later than June 10, 2019 to sexualharassment@usccr.gov or by mail to: Staff Director/Public Comments, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 1150, Washington, DC 20425.

We understand that the USCCR has asked employees (and the public) for information about:

  • the culture surrounding the reporting of harassment in State and other agencies
  • the reporting process, and
  • new tools that can be used to address the issue
  • prevention of harassment
  • suggestions how to increase enforcement of existing regulations against harassment
USCCR said during the public comment portion that interested parties may submit materials for the Commission’s consideration, including anonymous submission (mark 13.14). Those who are submitting comments with their names attached may want to inquire about privacy/confidentiality for the reporting individual and material as the USCCR will be releasing a public report at some point. An employee  speaking on background notes that individuals who signed NDAs with State may also wish to consult with  a lawyer before writing to the USCCR. We’re not equipped to give legal advice and we think it’s prudent to consult with a lawyer on the limitations on what is shareable to USCCR given the uniqueness of each sexual harassment case.

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The Havana Syndrome in the News, and Some Questions For Foggy Bottom’s New “M”

 

The Havana Syndrome remains a mystery and a subject of interest. But the latest report via Buzzfeed suggests that “much of the early research into the mystery may have been botched or biased.”

The initial investigation was confined to two competing sets of researchers, both eager to publish studies on their own work, and whose findings have been at odds with each other. In one case, researchers were also seeking to promote their own newly approved medical device as a diagnostic tool. And until now, the effort has lacked broader oversight by an institution capable of cross-disciplinary research.

“The fundamental problem is you can’t trust anybody here,” said medical ethicist Sergio Litewka of the University of Miami, who has written about the political cloud of secrecy and distrust surrounding the diplomats’ injuries. “Not the US State Department and not the Cuban government.” (BuzzFeed has filed a lawsuit with the State Department requesting its communications related to the medical research into the injuries, after the agency denied a request for them on medical privacy and ongoing investigation grounds.)

Can somebody please ask the new “M” Brian Bulatao what’s his plan about this matter going forward?  Can an “America First” policy over everything afford to have this medical mystery just go unsolved? What happened to the Accountability Review Board reportedly convened by the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The ARB process doesn’t stop when the secretary of state is fired via tweet, does it?  What happens to those affected? What happens to those affected who were not employed by the U.S. government (spouses and children)? What happens if those affected leave their jobs voluntarily or involuntarily?  What arrangements are made in terms of medical care? What’s the plan if a similar incident were to happen at another part of the globe?

We missed this 4-part report from Canada:

The Havana Syndrome, Part 3: Insiders say ordeal has ‘struck a nerve’ in Canada’s diplomatic community

The Havana Syndrome, Part 4: What it could be and how experts will try to crack the case

Diplomatic Security Memorial: Ten U.S. Embassy Kabul Guards Killed in Truck Bomb #OTD #2017

 

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