Peace Corps Celebrates Gay Pride
Washington, D.C., June 3, 2009 - Peace Corps honors the contributions of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Volunteers and employees throughout the month of June.
Peace Corps promotes an appreciation for diversity through supporting Volunteers and staff members regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, political affiliation, or sexual orientation. The agency has included sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy since 1994.
The Peace Corps has a unique mission of fostering cross-cultural understanding and experiences both in the countries we serve and in the U.S. explained Peace Corps acting Director Jody K. Olsen. The Peace Corps seeks to provide our host countries with a diverse group of Volunteers so those countries may learn about Americas diversity. In this spirit, I would like to applaud the many contributions of our gay and lesbian Volunteers and employees serving both at home and abroad. Let us all take this occasion to reflect upon how we can work toward building a more inclusive society.
This month, the Peace Corps will be participating in Pride celebrations in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Boston. The agency will also host an online information session for prospective LGBT Volunteers on June 20. Learn more by going to the Events section of the Peace Corps website.
Homosexuality is considered socially unacceptable or even illegal in some of the countries where the Peace Corps has programs. Moreover, Volunteers are subject to the laws of their country of service. Those realities can create special challenges for Peace Corps Volunteers, and Peace Corps has taken steps to address those challenges. During their three-month training process, new Volunteers take part in diversity training sessions, and many Peace Corps posts offer peer support networks for Volunteers. Volunteers learn techniques to manage cultural differences and are encouraged to support one another.
While a Volunteers sexual orientation may add additional variables to the adjustment process in-country, the Peace Corps has had numerous successful gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Volunteers who were able to overcome the challenges and serve successfully. Here are some examples:
- Returned Volunteer Ryan Wertz (Panama, 1990-94) said, "People often ask me if being gay made it more difficult to serve in the Peace Corps. In all honesty, I dont think that it did. In many of the countries where Volunteers serve, there is little tolerance for sexual diversity. All Peace Corps Volunteers need to respect the cultural norms of the people they are assigned to serve. I did not need to give up who I was as a person in order to be a successful Volunteer. However, I did need to balance my own identity with the belief systems of the people for whom I worked."
- Returned Volunteer Edwin Patout (Ukraine, 2005-07) said, "Being gay is a challenge no matter where you live. Becoming an active member of the GLBT Peace Corps support group was a great help. I decided that coming out was not a priority and focused instead on the challenges of just being a good Peace Corps Volunteer."
- Returned Volunteer and former Peace Corps staff member Rolande Lewis (Cote dIvoire, 1996-1998) explained, "When I arrived in-country, I faced definite challenges. I am a transgendered woman; however, during my service, I did not know any word for what I was. To detract attention away from my femininity, I immersed myself in Ivoirian culture as much as possible. I worked in the maternity clinic and was thoroughly accepted among the women. The Peace Corps offered me the chance to explore who I was."
- Peace Corps staff member and Returned Volunteer Kate Kuykendall (China, 1999-01) said, "Although it was sometimes challenging to balance my desire to be open and honest with the necessity to be discreet in my community, I had to consider that I was a guest in a host country and needed to respect the local values. The Peace Corps staff and my fellow Volunteers were a tremendous support in this process. My Peace Corps experience also taught me how important my sexuality is to who I am, and made me a much stronger advocate for LGBT rights both in the U.S. and abroad."
As the Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary, its service legacy continues to promote peace and friendship around the world. Historically, over 195,000 Volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries in which they have served. Applications to serve in the Peace Corps have increased 16 percent this past year, the largest boost in the last five years. Currently, 7,876 Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in 76 countries. Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.