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Fighting LGBT Discrimination, and Fighting to Stay in the Foreign Service

Krc at Vienna Pride Parade | The Press & Information Service of the Embassy of Austria in the United States
Krc at Vienna Pride Parade | The Press & Information Service of the Embassy of Austria in the United States

Up until the late 1990s, Foreign Service careers were denied to openly gay men under the pretense of security concerns. Jan Krc was one of the men who faced–and overcame–this form of prejudice. After being interrogated about his sexual orientation, Krc was fired from his job at the U.S. Information Agency. Instead of lying down and accepting his fate, Krc became embroiled in a decade-long legal battle. Krc–who came to the United States as a child and a Czechoslavkaian refugee–had a passionate desire to serve his country and work for the Foreign Service. Despite the many obstacles he faced, he never stopped pursuing this goal.  Accepting another position at the State Department, but not in the Foreign Service, Krc ultimately exhausted his legal appeals after ten years of struggle. Seizing on a technicality, he was able to reapply to the Foreign Service and went on to serve for over two decades in Russia, Turkey, and Central Europe as a public diplomacy officer. In his oral history, Krc reflects on the ups and downs of this legal drama from his unique and engaging perspective. He is ultimately optimistic about the progress that America has made and its role in promoting LGBT+ rights across the globe.

Jan Krc graduated from Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1981. He then went on to work in a wide range of locations, including Belgrade, Istanbul, Frankfurt, St. Petersburg, and Vienna. Krc finally retired in 2018, after over 30 years of working in–or fighting to work in–the Foreign Service.

Drafted by Elise Bousquette

Jan Krc’s oral history interview was conducted by Mark Tauber on May 22, 2016.

Read Jan Krc’s full oral history HERE.

Excerpts:
“I think I would have gotten an easier and friendlier reaction if I had confessed to being a KGB agent. One of the interviewers dropped his cigarette…”
President Obama signs an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity | White House Archives
President Obama signs an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity | White House Archives

Ejection from the Foreign Service: I had interviewed, while at [the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy], with the CIA, not because I really wanted to work there but as sort of a back-up or as something to do while I’m waiting for the Foreign Service… I’ll never forget the interview. Initially, it went very well. They said exactly what I thought they would say. “Oh, you have Czech and you have Russian, just the man we’re looking for to place in an analyst position. And so if you’re ready to take the polygraph test, then you’re all in. Oh and by the way are there any sensitive issues that you would want to raise with us before we go to the next step?”

I said, “Well there really aren’t any drug or alcohol issues or questionable contacts, so as long as you don’t mind my being gay, then there are no ‘sensitive’ issues to go over.” Well, I think I would have gotten an easier and friendlier reaction if I had confessed to being a KGB agent. One of the interviewers dropped his cigarette, that’s how long ago this was, and was just in shock… I never did hear back from them, nor did I ever work for the agency. So I thought, oops, maybe I shouldn’t have said that. But, you know, I was always very open about myself; I never hid anything. So I thought I did the right thing, and then two years went by and I got into the Foreign Service. So I thought, okay, fine, it must not be a problem anymore.

Well, times had not changed as much as I had hoped, and it turned out to be a big problem. The unraveling of my first Foreign Service career started when I was in Yugoslavia. While there, one of the official trips I took involved escorting an American orchestra… to Romania

And, of course, that was written up in a report and that report apparently, although I don’t have any proof of that, but I’m assuming, was shared with [the CIA]. Well, that unfortunately, started the case against me. As I discovered later, years later through the Freedom of Information Act, the date of that trip was the date of the beginning of the case, the file that the CIA started on me.

So when I ended up back in Washington… all of a sudden I got called in to a security interview regarding my recent assignment to Yugoslavia. This turned out to be a nine-hour interrogation without the benefit of an attorney even though I asked for one; I was told there was no need for that as long as I was truthful. I shouldn’t have believed them. That naïve trust in my government’s official representatives cost me my job.

… The true purpose of the investigation/interrogation was revealed early on when I was asked… ‘Have you since the age of 18 engaged in any same-gender sex?’ Not at all expecting this, it took me back, and I hesitated in answering… One of [the agents] right away said, ‘Well, you had no trouble dealing with this in your interview in Boston in 1980,’ [sic] so in other words, we know about you, even though at the time of the CIA interview, I was told that those pre-employment records would be destroyed six months after the interview; they clearly weren’t… So I realized I might as well stick with the truth since I’d already been open before. Besides being open about my sexual orientation, what the agents wanted was a written confession, signed and sealed, assuring me all along that this was the right thing to do and that there would be no problem as long as I cooperate with them. All that was clearly a lie because a few days later my ongoing assignment to Cape Town was cancelled even though I had air tickets in hand and all my home furnishings, everything was on its way to South Africa.

My HHE [household effects] was shipped out of the country, and all of a sudden here I am stranded in Washington, no job, no onward assignment, and no place to live. I had no idea of what was going on, and nobody would or could tell me anything. It’s not like somebody said, well, they found out you’re gay, so you’re out. No, no. It was nothing that direct… Anyway, it was a very difficult time [because] all of a sudden the career that I thought I was going to have started crumbling in front of my eyes. The years of preparation of graduate school and all that suddenly were meaningless, pointless, or irrelevant, and all I could see is great trouble ahead.

“This is not why we came to the United States as immigrants to be told that Big Brother made a decision about you as part of a group that they don’t like or trust.”

Fighting Back: This is not why we came to the United States as immigrants to be told that Big Brother made a decision about you as part of a group that they don’t like or trust. To simply accept that lying down was not something that I was willing to do. And so I fought back. I happened to be friendly with a longtime gay rights activist here in Washington, Frank Kameny… [H]e right away got me in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, who became very interested in my situation. Within days, the ACLU secured for me top notch legal representation…

So began a ten year legal battle that had its ups and downs. Initially, we did very well. We went before the Foreign Service Grievance Board, which is the court of first instance for officers in the Foreign Service who have a grievance against their employer…We were very lucky in that usually in discrimination cases, certainly with women or minorities and so forth, it’s very difficult to prove clearly discriminatory intent because nobody’s really crude enough or ignorant enough to simply say we don’t want to hire Jews or blacks or women.

But here we had a clear case of discrimination… backed up by a Foreign Service Officer class that came in a year or two after mine in the mid-80’s which was subpoenaed as part of my case, and the junior officers were asked what did the USIA [United States Information Agency] Director of Security, who addressed each incoming class, say about gays in the Foreign Service? And to the best recollection of a number of them — and they stated this and swore to this under oath in written form — the Director of Security, meaning the chief person behind the whole case against me, said that homosexuals (he would never use the word gay) don’t belong in the Foreign Service. His logic was sort of a Catch-22: ‘If they are closeted they are security risks because they are subject to blackmail, and if they are out of the closet they are also security risks because they are of higher susceptibility to hostile intelligence approaches.’ So, in his ‘professional’ opinion you can’t be in the closet, you can’t be out of the closet, you simply can’t be in the U.S. Foreign Service.

… it took about two years, and in the end [the Grievance Board] ruled unanimously in my favor to put me back in the Foreign Service and to clean up the record of all these nasty allegations…

“Well, [my lawyer] said to me: ‘If you’re willing to fight this, we should.’ And I said, ‘Of course I am. I don’t agree with this decision. This is outrageous.'”

The Case Drags On: The government had sixty days within which they either accept the recommendation of the Grievance Board or they appeal it… They are supposed to carry out the directives of the Grievance Board unless those directives endanger or do not conform to national security needs.

… I did not actually take this case to the federal courts, but the government did and their argument was that this decision would somehow endanger national security. All of this, of course, in retrospect looks laughable but it wasn’t for me because my victory turned into a dire defeat once we landed in a federal district court. Judge Ritchie… basically was of the opinion that whatever security said should be the final word…

Well, [my lawyer] said to me: “If you’re willing to fight this, we should.” And I said, “Of course I am. I don’t agree with this decision. This is outrageous.” And so we took it to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

… [T]hey came back in my favor 2-1 saying that basically due process was violated and they returned it back to the lower court to reconsider…

Needless to say, Judge Ritchie was not a happy camper about this decision… and so he then sat on it for two more years… and again, ruled the same way. Same thing. So, once again we… had to take it to the Court of Appeals.

And once again they sat on it for two years, naturally, and so we’re talking 1992 and again it was a 2-1 decision but this time going against me. And writing for the majority, Ginsberg, in his great wisdom, basically concluded that my homosexuality had nothing to do with the case which was astounding to anybody who looks at it because of course it has everything to do with that…

We went to the Supreme Court in the fall of ’93 and the case concluded in ’94, ten years after it began in ’84. The Court did not take on very many cases that term, and in my case it did not grant cert, meaning it didn’t take the case and so the bad decision, the second Court of Appeals decision that was not in my favor, was the one that carried the day.

“And I thought, this is crazy. I just spent at that point eight years getting kicked out of the Foreign Service, a million dollars, a lot of wasted taxpayer’s money, I might add, only to show up again and just reapply?”

A Loophole in the System: Two years before this happened, one of the lawyers… pointed out an interesting thing about the Foreign Service Act which was that if you get separated from the Foreign Service, you can’t really just show up again and reapply. That’s it, you’re done unless your separation was ruled unlawful by the Foreign Service Grievance Board which, in my case, it was.

Now, it doesn’t then go on to say that ruling has to be upheld by the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals or any federal court, it just says if the Grievance Board finds your separation unlawful, you can reapply. So they said to me, “Why don’t you reapply?” And I thought, this is crazy. I just spent at that point eight years getting kicked out of the Foreign Service, a million dollars, a lot of wasted taxpayer’s money, I might add, only to show up again and just reapply? Are you guys kidding me? They responded, “No, what do you have to lose? Do it.”

The first time… around my essay was all about… wanting to serve my country and foreign service was something I always dreamed of and so forth. Perfectly valid still, but the second time around I thought, well I’m not going to write the same thing… And one of the things they encourage you to do is to write about some significant event in your life. And I thought, well, ten year litigation with the Foreign Service is fairly significant, why not write about that?

So I did, and so they read about that. They were quite surprised, the panel, but they wished me luck and that was it.

“I find it very disturbing that you would be thinking of accusing me of collaborating with a communist regime that my family suffered under… ”

Accusations and Vindication: The reapplication started in ’91 I think. I could be off; I’d have to go back into the papers but by ’92, I was in the throes of dealing with security again, getting called in for interviews, basically harassment. At one point, they got the FBI to go after me, believe it or not.

…I had to cooperate with them, with the FBI, and so that involved taking a polygraph test…

“And they [the FBI] said, well, unfortunately you didn’t pass [the polygraph test]. I’m like, ‘What do mean I didn’t pass?’ ‘Well, there’s some areas that you were not honest about.’ And I remember this can’t be so I kind of jokingly said, ‘Well, I guess occasionally I lie about my age.’ And they said, “Well that was not it.” And I said, ‘What was it?’ And they said: ‘Knowingly giving classified information to hostile intelligence agencies.’ Needless to say, I nearly had a heart attack at this point. I said, ‘What are you talking about? Knowingly giving classified information to hostile intelligence agencies? That’s crazy!’

… So I said, ‘Well, this has gone too far’ and for the first time I felt like no more Mr. Nice Guy. I had tried to keep this civil and just in the Foreign Service. I didn’t go out to any press or anybody on the outside but I said, ‘Enough is enough. I consider these accusations and insinuations obscene. I find it very disturbing that you would be thinking of accusing me of collaborating with a communist regime that my family suffered under and that we went to great lengths to escape from. How dare you make such an accusation? This is disgusting. I’ve had enough.’

I called the Washington Post. I called a Congressman, Barney Frank… somebody who could actually pick up the phone and call the Secretary of State, which he did. And the Washington Post, of course, would listen as well. I should also point out at this point, it was just as President Clinton was elected the first time in ’92, so all of a sudden the atmosphere was changing. Finally, at last.

So as I was preparing to go public with this government harassment, suddenly I get a call back from the FBI saying, ‘Well, maybe we can do another round of the polygraph?’… And so I went back, and took the same polygraph, and all of a sudden true blue, no more allegations of handing over classified to hostile intelligence…”

So all of a sudden State Department Security basically washed their hands of the case and finally stepped out of it…That happened in the summer of ’93, and it was no coincidence that Bill Clinton was in the White House by this time. I should also add that one of the items on the one-page, short list of top priorities of the State Department transition team, the Clinton transition team in the fall of 1992, was to stop the gay-bashing and harassment of gays in the Foreign Service…

So I joined the State Department in the fall of 1993, the 69th class and it’s been great ever since. I must say I’ve had a wonderful career since then. The gay issue was no longer an issue and, there was no need to hide.

“I think it’s one of the best things that’s happened in our Foreign Service in many years.”

Moving Forward: I think it’s great to see our country… standing up for a minority that is still mistreated in many countries around the world. So, we’re not only doing outreach representing America, its democratic principles, and its tolerance, but also helping oppressed people around the world that need our help. I think it’s one of the best things that’s happened in our Foreign Service in many years.

TABLE OF CONTENTS HIGHLIGHTS

Education
     BA in European History, Wesleyan University                                                                                                     1975-1979
     MA, Tufts University                                                                                                                                                  1979-1981
Joined the Foreign Service                                                                                                                                     1982
     Belgrade, Fmr. Yugoslavia—USIA Consular Officer                                                                                            1983-1984
     Istanbul, Turkey—Consular Officer                                                                                                                         1994-1996
     St. Petersburg, Russia—Consular Officer                                                                                                               2000-2002
     Vienna, Austria—Public Affairs Officer                                                                                                                   2010-2014