Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Online Extra: Political Notes: Gay state department official wins praise from LGBT leaders


Kevin Berry, left, and Sarah Blazucki, right, greet State Department official Daniel B. Baer at the NLGJA convention in Philadelphia in August. (Photo: Matthew S. Bajko)
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Daniel B. Baer, the openly gay deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. State Department, has impressed LGBT human rights leaders since being sworn in nearly two years ago.

In his diplomatic role Baer, 34, has been a voice for LGBT equality. Most often Baer is working behind the scenes, meeting privately with government officials in countries hostile to their LGBT citizens. His travels have taken him several times to Uganda, where he has held high-level talks urging lawmakers in the African country not to pass the notorious anti-homosexuality bill.

He also has worked to build connections with LGBT people on the ground in various countries. Meetings can range from having roundtable talks with activists to lunching with a transgender sex-worker in Ankara, Turkey.

Formerly an assistant professor at Georgetown and onetime faculty fellow at Harvard, Baer, who has a doctorate degree, joined State on November 23, 2009. His portfolio includes the Office of East Asian Pacific Affairs, the Office of African Affairs, the Office of International Labor, Business and Human Rights, and the Internet freedom office.

He has won praise from a number of advocates working on international issues concerning the LGBT community.

"Dan has been a fantastic ally at the State Department for the LGBT community," San Francisco resident Julie Dorf , a senior adviser at the Council for Global Equality, told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent email response to questions about Baer's performance.

Whether it is within the State Department in Washington, D.C., at the United Nations in Geneva or during diplomatic missions, Baer "has found thoughtful ways to advocate for equality," wrote Dorf, whose organization's goal is to push the United States to be a leader on the global stage for LGBT rights.

Jessica Stern, the director of programs for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, also had high praise for Baer, who was interviewed in the B.A.R.'s Out in the World column last week.

"Dan Baer's work for LGBT rights in U.S. foreign policy has been intelligent, nuanced and consistent. He is making a significant impact on the advancement of LGBT rights globally," wrote Stern in an email.

Lesbian blogger and LGBT human rights advocate Melanie Nathan, who lives in Marin, told the B.A.R. that her interactions with the African desks Baer supervises have been "gratifying" and praised the department for being "very responsive to activists, advocates, bloggers, and reporters alike."

A key concern for Nathan has been blocking passage of Uganda's law, which would broaden the criminalization of same-sex relations, including the death penalty. She said America's diplomats have done "a stellar job keeping" their eye on the homophobic bill.

"It has imparted its concern very effectively, finding the balance between honoring the sovereignty of Uganda [without] inciting further retribution against LGBT Ugandans while stating its disapproval," wrote Nathan. "The department's active involvement is further evidenced by the warning that although the bill may be seen to have died, it could reinvigorate at anytime, in current or similar form and even through other similar legislation. They are keeping a watchful eye and clearly have mechanisms for obtaining intelligence."

She did express a desire to see Baer and the State Department develop a more strategic approach to gaining better protections for LGBT people throughout Africa.

"I would urge Dr. Baer to assert his influence to take the matter one step further and for the USA to come out with a virulent strategy to impact the decriminalization of homosexuality in Uganda and the rest of Africa," wrote Nathan.

During a speech Baer gave Friday, August 26 in Philadelphia at the opening plenary of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's annual convention, he stressed that the department is careful to weigh how to approach any issue involving LGBT concerns so that it does not inflame the situation further with its response.

"Depending on what the context is, publicity can serve up a mob mentality," said Baer. "We want to make sure people on the ground are safe."

He said the department's first course of action is to reach out to its contacts on the ground within a country's LGBT community. And it also works its diplomatic channels, said Baer, with ambassadors reaching out to their government contacts most likely to help seek accountability.

"We both engage publicly and privately," said Baer, who traveled to Uganda in January 2010 and plans to visit again.

In the instance of the Ugandan bill proposal, Baer said the U.S. government has had ongoing dialogue with lawmakers and President Yoweri Museveni for two years. The work Baer and other State officials did to block the bill in 2010 were disclosed in cables obtained by WikiLeaks and released in February of this year.

"At times public pressure, I think, is important and can be effective. And at times it can provoke a backlash and be counter productive," Baer told the journalistic group.

Asked by the B.A.R. during his speech if there were any countries he would not travel to as an openly gay American diplomat, Baer said his sexual orientation has not restricted him in any way. He often travels in bulletproof cars, which is standard procedure and not due to his being gay, though he joked the vehicles are pink.

"I am more fortunate than I would be as a private citizen," Baer acknowledged. "I have never felt unsafe."

In Uganda Baer did have an opportunity to walk around. But he said it is rare that his travels offer him free time to explore the cities he is in.

"I was excited about the travel when I came into this job. But I have mostly seen the insides of airports and hotel conference rooms and not much else," said Baer. "There is not a lot of shaking hands on the streets that goes on."

In his prepared remarks he praised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her leadership on LGBT rights. During the previous administration, Baer said LGBT issues were not a priority.

Clinton, however, famously said that "gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights." Her comments mark a "significant advance," said Baer.

The day of June 17, when the United Nations adopted its first-ever resolution in support of LGBT human rights, Baer was present on the floor of the international organization.

"I couldn't predict how momentous an occasion that was. As the votes were cast, there was a buzz in the room like never before," Baer recalled. "People recognized the tide was changing and unstoppably so."

He said his bureau is developing a toolkit on LGBT issues for U.S. embassies to use to better their work on the subject. He also spoke of how important having a free press is so that journalists can report on LGBT people and the struggles they face.

Even something as simple as the New York Times and other newspapers running wedding announcements for same-sex couples and reporting on their nuptials can have an impact on the advancement of human rights.

"The protagonists in those stories were not gay people. They were, well, just people, plain and simple," said Baer. "Human rights started with the stories we tell about what it means to be human."

When asked if America's ongoing discrimination toward its own LGBT citizens dampens the message he espouses with world leaders, Baer acknowledged that it does get brought up. In those instances he points to how those issues are openly discussed and debated in the country's media.

"One of the things I most often point out is that, in this country, those kinds of problems citizens are allowed to discuss, debate, and criticize," he said. "It does come up, I get that as a response. Obviously, it would make my job easier if we were perfect."

Baer maintains an unbending faith in the progress of the nation, and can point to himself as an example.

"I am a lucky guy. A generation ago, I couldn't have been an openly gay man in my job," said Baer.

He is looking forward to the UN's panel discussion on LGBT people, slated to happen during its March session next year. And he predicted that one day America would elect an out person as president.

"I envision the U.S. will have a gay president some day and it will be a lot sooner than I would have envisioned it when I was 15," said Baer. "I think the U.S. is changing quickly and I am one of the beneficiaries of it."

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail

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