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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

International News: History made at the state department; Spain’s botched stamps

June 3, 2021 Philadelphia Gay News

Ambassador Rufus Gifford

Openly gay state department nominee

President Biden is making history again — this time by expanding a new ambassador position and putting a gay man in it.

Axios and Politico report that the White House is planning to announce that gay former ambassador to Denmark under President Obama, Rufus Gifford, 46, will be the State Department’s Chief of Protocol. The position holds an ambassadorial rank and marks Biden’s first ambassador announcement outside of the career foreign service.

Gifford was a deputy campaign manager for Biden during the general election. He was the Finance Director for Obama’s presidential re-election campaign in 2012, after which he served as Ambassador to Denmark from 2013 to 2017.

As part of a never-before-seen public diplomacy strategy, the telegenic Gifford was the subject of the documentary series “I Am the Ambassador.” The documentary TV series about his life as an ambassador ran for two seasons in Denmark and won several awards. It also streamed on Netflix.

On January 16, 2017, Gifford was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog by Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark for his “meritorious service to the Kingdom of Denmark.”

Gifford is married to Dr. Stephen DeVincent, a veterinarian. The couple married in 2015 in a ceremony at Copenhagen City Hall in Copenhagen, Denmark. Gifford ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2018 in his home state of Massachusetts.

In a thread on Twitter, Gifford spoke about the nomination. He began by wishing everyone a “Happy Pride,” then saying, “Pride month is always a bit emotional and this month even more so. Those of you who know me know I keep a photo of my childhood self close. A kid and a teenager who was sad, awkward, decidedly unstylish, chubby, occasionally bullied, never thought he would find love & never believed he would amount to anything. All this & the fight for happiness has made me who I am. It’s why I keep the photo close. To never forget.”

He continued, “Well, this morning — 35 years later — that same kid found himself unexpectedly on the cover of the Washington Post Style section following a nomination by the President of the United States.”

Gifford closed, noting, “Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and hug my younger self, letting him know that as hard as it is and regardless of the tears shed, that the fight is worth it. It would have meant everything for this kid to hear that.”

His final words, accompanied by emojis of an American flag, a rainbow flag and a red heart, were, “Love to you all.”

The Chief of Protocol is responsible for advising the president, vice president and secretary of state on matters of national and international diplomatic protocol. The Chief of Protocol holds the rank of Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State, arranges itineraries for foreign dignitaries visiting the U.S. and accompanies the president on all official international travel.

Additionally, the office is responsible for accrediting foreign diplomats and publishing the list of foreign consular offices in the U.S., organizing ceremonies for treaty signings, conducting ambassadorial swearing-in and state arrival ceremonies, and maintaining Blair House, the official guest house for state visitors.

The Washington Post reported that “with America’s image abroad badly in need of repair, longtime friends say Gifford personifies a return to civility and cooperation,” and quoted Democratic political consultant Stephanie Cutter saying “I think Rufus sees himself as the first embrace. He’s the first impression that world leaders will get from this administration. And it’s a pretty good first impression.”

The appointment is likely to be announced on June 4.

Spain botches commemorative stamps

Spain wanted to highlight racial inequality as a way to honor Black Lives Matter by issuing a series of commemorative stamps with varying skin colors. The effort backfired so spectacularly that the stamps are being withdrawn.

On May 25, Correos España unveiled the set of four “equality stamps”: a pale, €1.60 one, a slightly darker €1.50 one, a brown €0.80 one, and a black €0.70 one.

According to Correos España, the Spanish postal service, the initiative was developed in collaboration with the national SOS Racismo federation. It was launched on the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd to “help highlight enduring inequalities.”

“At Correos, we believe a person’s value shouldn’t have any color, which is why we’re launching Equality Stamps, a collection of stamps in which the darker the color of the stamp, the less its value,” the service said in a tweet. “That’s a reflection of a painful and unfair reality that shouldn’t exist.”

But anti-racism activists were outraged, with the blowback intense and immediate.

The Madrid branch of SOS Racismo issued a statement which read in part, “[This] unfortunate campaign shows how necessary it is to create a better anti-racist understanding in Spain.”

They said, “Racism isn’t just about skin color; it’s a systemic and historical issue that was built to privilege some sectors of society and demean others.”

Moha Gerehou, a Spanish author who is Black and whose parents are Gambian immigrants, is the author of a new book about racism in Spain. He is also a former president of SOS Racismo Madrid. Gerehou said on Twitter that the stamps were “an insurmountable contradiction. A campaign that launches stamps with a different value depending on the color in order to show the equal value of our lives — the message is an absolute disaster.”

He said, “At the end of the day, an anti-racism campaign has put out a clearly racist message.”

SOS Racismo defended the stamps as “a very visual way to denounce the racism that thousands of people suffer in the Spanish state.”

The postal service said on Twitter that the intent had been to “give voice to a generation devoted to equal rights and diversity.”

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