As a U.S. Foreign Service officer since 2000, Aaron W. Jensen has spent a fair amount of his life in spy novel-worthy hotspots like Kabul, Afghanistan, and Guangzhou, China. Currently, he's the Romanian desk officer at the State Department in Washington, D.C. But now, he's plunged himself into a hotspot that could prove the most intriguing of his career.
Jensen, who grew up in Medford and graduated from Willamette University in '96, was elected in '07 to a one-year term as the president of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies.
The organization represents gay and lesbian personnel and their families in the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service and other foreign-affairs agencies and offices in the U.S. Government. According to Jensen, about 5 percent of the 12,000 Foreign Service officers are gay and 3.5 percent are in same-sex relationships.
Jensen considers it his "responsibility" to get the higher-ups at the State Department to show initiative and bring "equality of benefits and support" to gay FSOs and their family members.
Although the State Department doesn't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, Jensen says there are few rights extended to family members of queers in the Foreign Service. In fact, pets are better provided for than the same-sex partners of FSOs (the State Department may reimburse up to $3,000 for shipping a pet to your post, but not your partner travel costs).
Just last month, the gay U.S. ambassador to Romania, Michael Guest, 50, resigned after 26 years in the Foreign Service to protest how little effort has been made to protect his partner and other gays and lesbians who join their partners overseas.
But Jensen, 34, knows changing policies regarding queer foreign service officers will be tough—especially during the Bush administration, no friend of gays and lesbians. "I am hopeful," Jensen said, "but no one has taken up the cause at a management level."
Might he be talking about his big boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice? Jensen refuses to criticize Rice. (He dismisses as "ridiculous" D.C. scuttlebutt about her ignoring the issue of unequal treatment for gay Foreign Service Officers' partners because she is gay and wants to deflect attention from that. "That's DuPont Circle bar-talk," said Jensen).
"It's just not an area of deep concern to her," Jensen says.
But it is an area of deep concern for Jensen, who just might be the right guy to shepherd this slow-moving train, considering how long it took himself to come out as a gay man. He's got patience, if not a meeting with Condi—yet. Although he joined the Foreign Service at 27, it wasn't until he was 31 and stationed in Spain that Jensen came out of the closet.
It was the gayest place I'd ever been," said Jensen. "Why wouldn't I come out there?" It would take another two years before he would have his first same-sex "date" on U.S. soil.
"This job is a gay man's fantasy," says the very single Jensen, who believes it's more fun than dangerous to be gay and a Foreign Service Officer. "I really love the lifestyle, but life will get more difficult once I settle down with a guy. That's why these policies have to change."