Global LGBT: Divine Pressure to Stay in Closet

By Eve Tahmincioglu

Wally Brewster, American ambassador to the Dominican Republic, right, with his husband, Bob Satawake. Photo Credit: New York Times

LGBT inclusion becomes an even bigger issue when people take on foreign assignments.

In countries where homophobia is still a major issue, pressure can come from a host of places to keep personal lives under wraps. One case involving a high-profile international job brought pressure from the Vatican.

In 2013, Wally Brewster, who is openly gay, took the post of United States ambassador to the Dominican Republic. And according to a New York Times article published today, the pressure he received to keep his life to himself came from the Caribbean nation’s Vatican envoy, Nuncio Jude Thaddeus Okolo.

The article stated that Okolo told Brewster:

“If you keep your private life behind the walls of your embassy, you’ll be O.K. here.” He meant that Mr. Brewster, to be an effective diplomat, would be wise to keep his husband, Bob Satawake, out of sight in a country where prejudice against gay people remains widespread.


The advice went unheeded. Mr. Brewster and Mr. Satawake, who have been together for nearly 28 years, have been out and proud in Santo Domingo, sparking a spirited debate that has galvanized the nation’s fledgling gay rights movement and outraged local leaders of the Catholic Church.

What happened with Brewster is just one example of what employees, especially high-profile ones, can face when they take on foreign assignments.

Clearly Brewster had the support of his employer, President Barack Obama. And Brewster himself was confident he could do his job as an openly gay man: “We knew the warmth of the people,” he told the Times. “We also knew this was a place where there was a lot of opportunity to make progress on human rights.”

While the increasing groundswell of large corporations taking an active role in LGBT civil rights in the United States is not evident globally, we are seeing several multinationals take a stronger stand, according to DiversityInc’s Global Diversity 2014 report. And the prevalence of LGBT employee resource groups is increasing, with 15 percent of our respondents reporting they have these groups locally, compared to only 5 percent last year.

Have Global LGBT Resource Groups
(DiversityInc Global Research)
 2014 15%
 2013 5%
 2012 2%

However, many companies tell us candidly that they do not want to confront LGBT inclusion issues in many countries. That includes most of Africa, many countries in Asia and several in Europe, including Turkey and Russia. In most of these countries, anyone found to be “engaging in homosexual acts” can be thrown in jail. Further, in Mauritania, Sudan, 12 northern states in Nigeria, the southern parts of Somalia, as well as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, homosexual acts are punishable by death.

The good news is same-gender marriage is legal in an increasing number of countries, including Belgium, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Iceland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and parts of the United States. And yet even in many of those countries, multinationals are reluctant to show visible support for LGBT employees. “It’s just not on the corporate radar yet,” one HR leader in a European country said.

So how do employers and LGBT employees make global assignments work in not-so welcoming countries? Check out our story on 7 Strategies for Global LGBT Inclusion.



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