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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State/OIG Nassau Report: What’s taking them so long?

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We did ask State/OIG about this because well, somebody was too shy to ask. Below is the response we got that we’re passing on as there were other posts also inspected in 2018:

“The report addressing our inspection of Embassy Nassau is in progress. [W]e anticipate that it will be published this summer. For background, all of our Fall 2018 inspection reports were delayed due to the shutdown.”

 

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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.
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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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State/OIG Substantiates Allegation of Whistleblower Retaliation, @StateDept Says Nah, WhatYaTalkingAbout?

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Via State/OIG Semi-Annual Report to Congress: October 1, 2018 – March 31, 2019:

The whistleblower protection coordinator, OIG’s Assistant Inspector General for Evaluations and Special Projects, educates Department and USAGM employees, as well as contractor and grantee employees, on the rights and protections available to whistleblowers. As required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (41 U.S.C. § 4712), the coordinator oversees investigations of allegations of retaliation filed by employees of contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and subgrantees, as well as personal services contractors.
[…]
[T]he coordinator investigates complaints under Presidential Policy Directive 19, which prohibits whistleblower retaliation in the form of actions that affect an employee’s eligibility for access to classified information. During this reporting period, OIG’s whistleblower protection coordinator completed one report under 41 U.S.C. § 4712, which substantiated allegations of whistleblower retaliation.

Department of State:

“OIG substantiated one allegation of whistleblower retaliation related to a Department personal services contractor. This case was referred to the Department, which is responsible for making a determination as to whether to grant or deny relief to the whistleblower. On March 25, 2019, the Department denied relief to the whistleblower because it believed that there was a lack of direct evidence of retaliation.”

 

@StateDept to start requiring Diversity Visa applicants valid, unexpired passports on electronic entry forms

 

On June 5, 2019, the State Department published on the Federal Register an interim final rule requiring alien petitioners for the Diversity Visa Program “to provide certain information from a valid, unexpired passport on the electronic entry form.”

Diversity Visa Program, DV 2016-2018: Number of Entries Received During Each Online Registration Period by Country of Chargeability. (Click on image to see the full pdf document)

Excerpt:

An estimated 14 million aliens register annually for the DV Program through an electronic entry form. The entry form collects information on the petitioner’s full name; date and place of birth; gender; native country, if different from place of birth; current mailing address; and location of the consular post where the diversity visa should be adjudicated, if the petitioner is selected through the DV lottery. The electronic entry form also collects information about the names, dates and places of birth for the petitioner’s spouse and children. The entry process is open to all aliens who are natives of “low-admission” countries without numerical limitation, defined as countries with fewer than 50,000 natives admitted to the United States during the most recent five-year period. After the close of the DV Program entry period, petitioners are selected through a randomized computer drawing (“selectees”) for consideration for one of the 50,000 available diversity visa numbers.

Section 204(a)(1)(I)(iii) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1154(a)(1)(I)(iii), vests the Secretary of State with authority to set by regulation the information and documentary evidence to support a petition for entry into the DV Program. The requirements are set out in 22 CFR 42.33.

With this rule, the Department is amending 22 CFR 42.33(b)(1) to require the petitioner to include on the electronic diversity visa entry form the unique serial or issuance number associated with the petitioner’s valid, unexpired passport; country or authority of passport issuance; and passport expiration date. These requirements will apply only to the principal petitioner and not derivatives listed on the entry form. These requirements apply unless the petitioner is either stateless, a national of a Communist-controlled country and unable to obtain a passport from the government of the Communist-controlled country, or the beneficiary of an individual waiver approved by the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State, consistent with the passport waivers for immigrant visa applicants provided for in 22 CFR 42.2(d), (e), and (g)(2). A petitioner who does not have a passport and is either stateless, is a national of a Communist-controlled country and unable to obtain a passport from the government of the Communist-controlled country, or has an individual waiver of the passport requirement from the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State, must indicate that he or she falls into one of these three circumstances on the electronic entry form, instead of providing passport information. The requirements for information from a valid passport will not be waived under any other circumstances.

Mandatory Disqualification

The Department is also clarifying that failure to accurately include any information required by 22 CFR 42.33(b)(1) and (2) will result in mandatory disqualification of the petitioner for that fiscal year. The existing regulations require the petitioner to submit specific information, including, but not limited to: Name, date of birth, and place of birth for the principal petitioner and any relatives that may accompany the petitioner, if selected to apply for a diversity visa, as well as a digital photo. While these are currently requirements for the diversity visa entry form, existing regulations do not make clear the consequence for failure to provide the information. The revised regulation clarifies that failure to provide the required information, including a compliant photograph, will result in the disqualification of the entry, the petitioner, and derivatives from the DV Program for that fiscal year.

Why is the Department promulgating this rule?

The Department has historically encountered significant numbers of fraudulent entries for the DV Program each year, including entries submitted by criminal enterprises on behalf of individuals without their knowledge. Individuals or entities that submit unauthorized entries will often contact unwitting individuals whose identities were used on selected DV Program entries, inform them of the opportunity to apply for a diversity visa, and hold the entry information from the named petitioner in exchange for payment. Requiring that each entry form include a valid passport number at the time of the DV Program entry will make it more difficult for third parties to submit unauthorized entries, because third parties are less likely to have individuals’ passport numbers. Entries submitted by unauthorized third parties using a duplicative passport number will also be easily identified and automatically disqualified.

Click here to read the entire notice, or for information on where to send comments (accepted up to July 5, 2019).

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@StateDept to Establish a “Commission on Unalienable Rights”

 

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