The Winter 2015 issue of Public Diplomacy Magazine will explore Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender (LGBT) and gender issues in the field of public diplomacy. The LGBT movement is changing laws across America and influencing the agenda of international policymakers. Through the use of social media and digital platforms, education, and branding, public diplomacy has been central to the movement’s efforts to socialize, inform, and advocate.
To kick off the conversation, Public Diplomacy Magazine Editor-in-ChiefShannon Haugh and incoming Editor-in-Chief Jocelyn Coffin interviewed Osaka’s U.S. Consul General, Patrick J. Linehan. Throughout his life and career in the U.S. Foreign Service, Linehan has witnessed the LGBT movement increase in momentum, reach, and scale. Since joining the U.S. Foreign Service in 1984, he has been posted in Finland, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and Canada. Linehan lives in Osaka, Japan with his husband, Emerson Kanegusuke.
Public Diplomacy Magazine: Can you speak about the LGBT movement and how it has progressed over the years?
Patrick Linehan: Start with my age. I am 61 years old, so I was born in 1953. The year I was born, the U.S. government fired 5,000 American citizens from government service because they were gay. That phenomenon was called the “Lavender Scare”…In the 1950s, when I was born, nobody was out. By the time I was graduating from high school in 1970, the time I started to come out myself, the time I was figuring myself out, there were no role models out there. There were no gay heroes. There was almost no public discussion and the  Stonewall uprising really changed all of that. All of a sudden, it put it on the map. From Stonewall, we start to develop language: the use of the word gay, gay rights, the idea of a gay movement. The “LGBT” term comes later, but the whole concept of gay rights really stems from Stonewall…
Within one year from the Stonewall uprising, there were pride parades in many major American cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, but we did not have our first openly gay elected public figures until Harvey Milk in 1977. And then of course he was murdered in 1978, so this demonstrated how dangerous being an openly gay public figure could be. The advice Harvey gave is still the best advice out there. He told gay people, “Be out! You’ve got to come out. You got to stand up. You have to own it. If you are gay you have to say so.” He wasn’t into outing other people, but he was into encouraging other people to be themselves. After Harvey, it took almost another ten years for things to jump to the national stage. In the mid-1980s, we get the first openly gay member of Congress, Barney Frank. He wasn’t out when he first ran, but he was out by his second term. He continued to serve with dignity and honor for almost 30 years in the U.S. Congress. The movement gradually picked up steam as we got people who could speak up for it…
The next major event that led to a movement was the advent of AIDS. It gave gay people visibility in a negative way, but it also led to organized action by gay people in their own interest and defense. The next benchmark was when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage in 2004…That led to a huge backlash—we had the Federal laws like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It took us years to get rid of DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. In June 2013, less than a year ago, the Supreme Court’s decision on Edie Windsor vs. the U.S. to end DOMA was huge…We went from just lonely Massachusetts in 2004 to now about 17 states that either have same-sex marriage, marriage equality, or at least recognize other states’ marriage equality. This has all come about through a combination of political actors, court decisions, and popular movements. But really what it all comes down to is what Harvey was talking about many years ago. The most important factor is gay people themselves—owning their own identity, being proud and standing up, and fighting for rights. Visibility is crucial.
PDM: Would you say that the LGBT movement has a public diplomacy strategy?
PL: Absolutely. I think the best example of this is the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Their very organized campaigns have been extremely effective. Of course, they could not mount the campaigns without real cases. It took the perfect case, like Edie Windsor who faced tax issues when her longtime partner and then wife Thea died. She was being taxed as if her partner, her wife, was a total stranger. It took having that ideal case to go through the court system to make that legal point. HRC helped her amplify that issue through their own network. HRC is doing things to community-build and raise awareness within the community, but at the same time, reaching out to dispel myths, and to tell truths, and to make the case. Because of groups like HRC, we have seen terminology and language use change from “gay marriage” to a more accurate or understandable term: “marriage equality.” Organized groups like HRC were able to educate the public about what the issues really were. They were also able to raise money. They were able to fight political candidates [who are] against equal rights, and support candidates who are for equal rights. There are many people using sophisticated tactics to promote our movement.
PDM: It sounds like keys to the strategy have been education, advocacy, and branding.
PL. Yes, all of those. But the starting point is internal. We have to own our identity and we have to be visible. And then it is all about community-building. One of the strengths of HRC is that they have so many members, and they have a network all across the country. They don’t have as many members as say, the National Rifle Association, or the American Association of Retired Persons, but they are a recognized group on a national level that have mounted successful campaigns at the local level, the state level, and at the national level. When HRC was standing on the steps of the Supreme Court after the successful decision, who did Edie Windsor get a phone call from but President Obama. They, as a group, have recognition at the highest levels. They have been one of the most successful groups, but they are not the only one. There are many others such as PFLAG, Federal GLOBE and GLIFAA.
PDM: Have you seen social media and digital platforms playing roles in the LGBT movement?
PL: Absolutely. Social media plays all sorts of roles. Long-term education is certainly one of them, but it is particularly effective at putting out brush fires…When these campaigns—like Chik-Fil-A for example—take off, how do you quickly raise awareness about the latest atrocity or bizarreness? A good example of one of these brush fires would be the situation in Arizona, where both houses of the Arizona Legislature passed a bill stating that they were promoting religious freedom, when in fact they were authorizing blatant discrimination.
How do you get the word out? You use social media. What do you want them to do? You want the audience to use social media to put pressure on the players, including the Governor of Arizona, but also the corporate community to start spreading the word. We saw this very recently with the St. Patrick’s Day Parades in New York and Boston. The Boston Parade has been going on for 150 years and they receive a lot of corporate sponsorship from the likes of Guinness, Boston Brewing, and Heineken. And for decades the parades discriminated against gay people. They have said, “No gay organizations are allowed to march.” Then LGBT people responded, saying that “We’re Irish”…Then they say, ”You can be Irish, but you can’t be gay.” This came to a head when the corporate community recognized this as bad advertising. If the makers of Sam Adams, Heineken, and Guinness are promoting an event that is blatantly anti-marriage equality in an era when states have same-sex marriage, then that is really bad advertising for them and they pulled out. The Mayor of Boston, the Mayor of New York said they were not marching if LGBT people were being discriminated against. Mayors have marched for generations in these parades, but social media was used to raise awareness, mount a campaign, and get people to do the right thing.
PDM: The Winter Olympics in Sochi highlighted LGBT issues and human rights on an international scale. What kind of impact does a country’s stance on LGBT issues have on that country’s image and international reputation?
PL: All the persuasion in the world was not enough to encourage Uganda not to institute really horrendous legislation against LGBT people—Nigeria and Russia too. When we get to the Olympics, there is a question of how persuadable some of these countries that discriminate in the most horrendous ways really are. At the moment, not very. It didn’t keep the Olympics from happening, but it did raise the discussion. I think enough countries spoke up that the word went out. We as a nation did the right thing. We didn’t pull the plug on participating in the Olympics, but the President made a point by appointing openly gay prominent sports people to be his personal envoys to the Olympics.
PDM: You have worked in Japan for several years as the U.S. Consul General. As you discussed in your TED talk, there is enormous pressure in Japan to conform to social norms. What is the LGBT movement like in Japan, and what has been your personal experience?
PL: In Japan too, the most important factor in forward progress is people standing up and self-identifying as LGBT. Visibility is crucial. The movement is not as far ahead here in Japan as it is in the U.S., but Japan recently has had a number of firsts. Within the last three or four years, Japan had its first openly gay, publically elected officials in different wards in Tokyo. There are three councilpersons from wards in Tokyo who are quite openly gay. One woman is transgender and her website says, “She used to be he.” She is very vocal about being different and about respecting people who are different. Just last year, we had the first openly gay elected member of the upper house of Japan’s national parliament—the Diet. Japan is still in the era of firsts. When I talk to Japanese groups, I say we had our Barney Franks and we had our Harvey Milks and Japan does too. But further down the road, it takes organization. It takes consciousness-raising, and that is happening in Japan…
People are still less open than they would be in the U.S., but I have seen enormous change. When I first came to Japan in 1988, I was told routinely by everyone that, “Oh, there are no gay people in Japan.” This was told to me by my neighbors, my co-workers, and the average man on the street.
Ten years later, people were saying, “ I hear there are gay people, but I have never met one.” So when my husband Emerson and I meet people who say that, we both stick our hands out and say “Now you have, congratulations.” We found that Japan is changing, and I think it will change more quickly going forward. One thing we don’t have to deal with in Japan that we have to deal with in the United States and many other countries, are the organized groups that exist solely to fight against gay people. There are no churches or political parties that stand up against gay groups and say, “We hate gay people, gay people are the devil.” These organized opposition groups to our very existence are not here.
On the other hand, this is a “same think” country. There are very set ideas of what a family is, what the roles are for men and women. Emerson and I have attempted, in our three years here as the Consul General and spouse, to consciousness-raise just by simply by being who we are. We have done a lot of media, and I always introduce Emerson as my husband, and he introduces me as his husband. The most frequently asked question we get is: “Which one is the wife?” We say there is no wife, it’s a gay marriage: husband, husband. It is consciousness-raising again. But we have never encountered hostility, snide remarks, or negativity.
PDM: What is the future of the LGBT movement? What kind of challenges do you see ahead?
PL: The challenge is always to keep momentum and encourage people to do the right thing. So much of our progress comes from demonstrating to people how much common sense it makes and how right it is to acknowledge the equality of people who are LGBT. We are talking about equality. These are human beings we are talking about. We are not talking about people from another planet; we are your fellow human beings. We just happen to be different in one way or another, in the same way that some people are tall and other people are short, and some people are black and some people are white. We come in all shapes and sizes and we come in different sexual orientations, but we are all human beings and we are all to be valued and accorded equal human rights. We have finally gotten to the point where the chief constitutional and legal scholars of our nation have arrived at this same conclusion: that the idea of equality before the law applies to LGBT people. On the world stage, we want to exemplify what it means to do the right thing. America has always been best when we live up to the values that we espouse. We have a great Constitution, a great Bill of Rights, and when we actually live up to the values embodied in those documents, that is when we are at our best.