Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Peace Corps Will Accept Applications From Same-Sex Domestic Partners Who Want To Serve Together

From the Peace Corps today:  

Peace Corps Deputy Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet today announced that the agency will begin accepting applications from same-sex domestic partners who want to serve together as volunteers overseas.  Same-sex couples may begin the application process starting Monday, June 3.
“Service in the Peace Corps is a life-defining leadership experience for Americans who want to make a difference around the world,” Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet said. “I am proud that the agency is taking this important step forward to allow same-sex domestic partners to serve overseas together.”
Expanding service opportunities to same-sex domestic partners who want to volunteer together further diversifies the pool of Peace Corps applicants and the skills of those invited to serve overseas in the fields of education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development and agriculture. Married heterosexual couples have been serving together in the Peace Corps since its inception in 1961. Currently, 7 percent of Peace Corps assignments are filled by married volunteers serving together.
The Peace Corps requires formal documentation for all couples who want to serve, and same-sex domestic partners will be required to sign an affidavit before leaving for service that will act as verification of their relationship. The Peace Corps continually works with staff in host countries to identify placements that allow for safe and productive assignments.
Couples who serve together gain a unique perspective of host country customs and culture, but opportunities for couples are limited, as both applicants must apply at the same time and qualify for assignments at the same post. Many factors affect placements, including an applicant’s overall competitiveness, program availability, departure dates, and safety and medical accommodations. For any applicant, the number one factor in determining an assignment is the demand from host countries for skilled volunteers.
To learn more about serving in the Peace Corps as a same-sex couple, visit http://www.peacecorps.gov/learn/howvol/couplesfaqs/.

While there are still people whose religious beliefs or personal issues will have problems with this, for most of us, this is a good move. As you can see, there have been discussions about what might and might not be appropriate placements.  I guess they've narrowed it down to 'safe' and 'productive.' What happens when a country says they do not want same-sex couples serving?   What role will same sex trainees get in discussing these options with the people who make the placement decisions?  Yes, there are issues, but nothing that can't be worked out fairly easily. And besides, there have been gay volunteer from the beginning, though I'm not sure when openly gay volunteers started serving. 


  1. Good morning, Steve, and friendly readers.

    Having just gone through the last several weeks of Parliamentary debates on a marriage equality bill in London, I'm a bit surprised to see this in the USA.

    Eugene and I, before we left Alaska, had applied through a British organisation that places volunteers in service of communities throughout the world. It's not government sponsored (actually, a NGO).

    We were both considered desirable and were flown for meetings and to assessment centre activities in Vancouver, BC. Our relationship was known, of course, and welcomed as an asset.

    We were turned down. Our country of choice, South Africa -- where Jacob had lived in the 70s -- was not considered safe for a gay couple to serve together and we didn't wish to be placed in different countries.

    This is a reality across the globe. US State Department well knows the extra risks placed on their LGBT personnel. I can only imagine this will be true of the Peace Corps as well.

    So, to those BGLT folk who desire this wonderful opportunity, know because of who we are, it isn't always offered. However, given the killing going on in the states right now, would an over-zealous official bar placement of a LGBT couple in New York City?

    As we said to VSO (the organisation we applied to), 'Please let us make the decision. It's our safety, not yours.'

    Nope. No go this time. We may still go in the future.

  2. Jay, I met VSO volunteers in Thailand. VSO had a much saner motorcycle policy than Peace Corps (which sends volunteers home if they are caught on a motorcycle.) VSO teaches volunteers motorcycle safety lessons, restricts them to riding on their own machines, and gives them the best available helmets.

    When I had my Fulbright I really wanted to go to Thailand. I figured I spoke Thai and had connections there and that was my choice. But despite having a public administration position listed in Thailand, the DC folks told me it wasn't going to be funded in Thailand and invited me to consider Hong Kong. I resisted and resisted and finally said ok. I even went early and spent 5 weeks in Thailand setting up a research project. But in hindsight, going to HK opened a lot of new options that have been rich and fulfilling.

  3. Yes, I know; the wisdom of the central office and all that. Sigh. But as I stated, we'll likely give it all another go if we're not too hopelessly old by that time... (smile) And yes, we'll be a bit more flexible next time round.

    So that's how you wound up in HK, then. Like to hear more about that in your blog, if it works to talk about it some time (checked your word listing and didn't see it).

  4. The Hong Kong year was well before the blog. In fact, it was before the University had email for faculty and students. Thus it hasn't come up here, though I did post some pictures of Beijing from that year.

    Anything specific you wanted to know?

  5. Good start with your post. Fascinating time to be there what with the rolling up of the Empire and the 'right to abode' change. Same thing was done across the old empire as the colonial attachments were withdrawn. The story of Indians in Uganda, South Africa, the various nationals of the Caribbean - all experienced similar decreed separation from the mother country as each country's independence loomed.

    I guess I'm asking because I know Chinese here (from university) who grew up in HK and whose families moved before these status changes. I'm finding myself more and more drawn to the narrative of Britain -- to see the world through its eyes -- and your time in HK oddly settles on my mind to ask how it influenced you.

    Citizenship, Steve, is a sometimes facile thing once one breaks and moves home. It's your relatively short stretches of time that fascinate me, as you move from 'visitor' to 'observer' relationships within a new country, to find love of a place that previously was a spot on a map.

    If I can bring something to this blog and its purpose, it would be to ask your readers, as I do myself, how we come to be 'home' in the sense of where we choose to live.

    It's the question of the American immigrant and how we still embrace it (or not). Are we, as Americans, still in search of 'home'? I know I was and I find nationality an encumbrance often times.

    I don't want to cheer for the home team any longer. I am tired of walls between people even while I know we clamour for them.

  6. Let's see if I can catalog the themes you've raised:

    The idea of home
    Getting a sense of place
    Citizenship, nationality, changing nationalities, and presumably being a citizen of earth

    Lots to chew on. For now, I'll just respond to one reference you made. I learned that a British friend had gone to teach in Kampala as I was planning my trip home from Peace Corps Thailand. So I added Uganda to the itinerary and spent a month there and in Kenya as 'Asians' were being refused the right to abode in England and turned back at the airport in London even though they had British passports. Asians we met were eager to trade us Ugandan currency for US dollars.

  7. Gave it a go for a reply and then decided against publishing. Another day, perhaps. It's challenging writing to a retired public policy professor, after all. I know too well you wouldn't be able to turn off the essay-marking part of your brain!

  8. Jacob, you (and everyone else) should know that blogspot allows bloggers to get the comments by email, so I did see your long comment before I saw this. And, I read it as a discussant, not as a professor. I was thinking, wow, the blog is being used to have serious discussions. I had some comments to add*, a question or two, and there was a lot I hadn't thought about before that I needed to digest. Then I found out you'd deleted it. I can send you the email if you want to repost it. :)
    *As I understood it, Asians referred to Pakistanis and other South Asians, not just Indians.

  9. Interesting. Yes, Asian here refers to the peoples in former British colonial possessions known as the British Raj -- Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka -- a massive area later partitioned upon the laying down of the Raj in 1947, a bit like what you saw unfolding in HK.

    As a shaper of modern geopolitical realities, Britain's legacy has very few rivals. I think it's a very large reason I'm more comfortable here than I was in the USA. Here, superpower glory is recalled; in America, it's aspirational still.

    Britain holds the mirror to my American self.

  10. [Did some editing on my earlier draft sitting on my garden deck -- a bit chilly but very green and sunny. These are my thoughts on your mention of events in Kenya and Uganda after some fact-checking invited a rewrite!]

    It seems you're a bit Forest Gump in your accidental travels; and yes, 'Asians' are Indians here (from the country) and the term 'black' includes Asians in Britain. Consequently, our term of reference to minorities -- BME (black minority ethnic) -- diverges from United States usage and experience.

    Your Kenya + Uganda reference illustrates this and another point I want to make here. I'm reading Eric Hobsbawm’s history, The rise of capitalism. He wrote this as a long-time communist (and he is now buried metres from Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery). The scepticism Hobsbawm displays toward the towering accomplishments of 19th c. economic liberalism is intriguing. Your story underscores the nature of his distrust as I see it. I suggest another outcome.

    The Liberal political party in Britain first organised to advance free movement of goods and capital. That same party later initiated a programme of social liberalism, subsequently transforming what was party policy to proud political philosophy of liberal classicism. Yet the British resisted humanitarian relocation of its minority Indian nationals from Kenya and Uganda during expatriation crises of 1969-72. That resistance, standing aside racialist immigration policy, raises a central challenge to the imperative of classical liberalism: Can free movement of goods be decoupled from free movement of its labour?

    It was classical liberalism that inspired much of US history and its insatiable demand for migrant labour. And as in England, conditions fomented by mass movement of labour rallied reforms to liberalism reshaping it a force for social good – e.g. the 14th amendment in America and its consequents promulgating civil rights, expansion of the voting franchise, the establishment of public services and universal education, the rise of unions and the 40-hour work week -- the list is too long for a short discussion.

    These are changes arguably seen as essential to western democratic ideals: polity choosing various mixtures of social and classic liberal traditions. In Europe, it became politically framed as social democracy while in the United States, the jury’s out on neoliberalism.

    In late 60s Britain, by first refusing entry to its citizens who then lived in Kenya and Uganda, politicians and public turned their backs on its liberal heritage. Their actions were eventually turned round as more saw it undercutting accepted norms of social justice and liberalism.

    This controversy was part of a great and never-ending challenge to citizens everywhere: to question the prerogative of self-interest – and in this example, to have first rejected and then allowed Kenyan and Ugandan Brits settling on their shore. It was their reexamination of principles that they undertook their final actions.

    A written and fully articulated political philosophy based in liberal economics and society can remain a force to think through challenges of governing, if only to allow ourselves to return to principles often mislaid in considering political practicalities.

    Next week’s talk: Why corporate capitalism has to change or die!


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