LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 1998
Some Perspective for Gay Couples Considering thePeace Corps
- by Joe Terteling, RPCV
Joe Terteling, former volunteer in Sri Lanka, gay man, and former Peace Corps recruiter in Seattle,gives his views of questions most fre-quently asked by gay domestic partnersconsidering Peace Corps. He offerssuggestions and undermines some myths.
I fear domestic partners consideringPeace Corps are down on their luck for anumber of reasons.Peace Corps doesn’t accept unmarriedcouples of whatever gender combination.Go figure. But even if Peace Corps did,the first strike against gay/lesbiandomestic partners serving would be thesame difficulty Peace Corps has in placingmarried couples overseas. Marriedcouples have a notoriously difficult timelanding a volunteer assignment, becausePeace Corps must find some village on theplanet with two official Peace Corps jobswaiting, one for which each spouse isqualified, and with housing for the coupleavailable in the same location. Althoughmeeting the job and housing criteria maysound easy, it isn’t. Couples applying toPeace Corps endure a wait easily twice aslong as do individual applicants - if anassignment ever comes. Even spousespossessing red-hot degrees or experiencein, say, agronomy and nursing, are goingnowhere with Peace Corps unless somecountry has need of a couple possessingthese skills.Unable to serve, gay couples frequentlyponder ways around the marriage barrier.Here are common schemes I’ve heardrepeatedly from gay couples, andoccasionally from unmarried straightcouples, too.
We’ll both secretly apply for thePeace Corps at the same time, hopingwe’ll be placed together.
Please dismissany dream of being assigned in the sameplace; much less the same country; muchless the same hemisphere. If you’ve gotdifferent skills and interests and educa-tional backgrounds, you’d be matched todifferent jobs. Some countries ask forcertain skills, others don’t. Differentprograms start at different times. Programsget canceled. A volunteer pulled out of one country due to instability may bereassigned to the job “promised” to you:so you get bumped to a program leavingthree months from now to Kazakhstan.Meanwhile your lover has a ticket forEcuador in her hand.
Our love is so strong we can serve asvolunteers in different places.
I watchedDonna and Alan, old sweethearts, servein Sri Lanka and Kenya, respectively. Inthe first year Donna visited him in Kenya.He visited her in Sri Lanka the next.They’re now raising kids in Pennsylva-nia. But I imagine two years on differentcontinents might strain any relationship.
I’ll just do Peace Corps while mylover waits for me back at the condo.
Keep in mind that people of whateversexual orientation in romantic relation-ships of whatever sort are statisticallymore likely to quit Peace Corps and comehome early if they’ve left a love behind.It’s a human thing.
I’ll secretly fly my lover over onceI’m settled in my village.
I can’trecommend this approach due to lack of a job for your partner, lack of Peace Corpspreparatory training and health care,possible social stigma, unavailability of housing, and the like. Every anecdote Iknow of a volunteer importing a loverends in disaster. My friend Maggiebrought her lover Richard to Nepal. Theywere married there, as the striking photosof Maggie in a red sari and dripping withgold jewelry attest. But Richard left aftera few months. They soon divorced.Another thing that can happen is that anintimate relationship can impedelanguage and culture acquisition. Insteadof “getting into the culture” the partnersspend more time “getting into eachother.” And sometimes one partner bondswith the culture, and the other doesn’t.Until Peace Corps accepts gaydomestic partners, you do have avenuesto working abroad, but you’ll have toresearch each thoroughly.
Ask your nearest Peace Corpsrecruiting office for its most recent listof alternative international agenciesdoing development and volunteer workabroad.
There are many dozens of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) doingremarkable work overseas. Ask the PeaceCorps office about volunteering for theUnited Nations. Consider short jauntswith organizations like Habitat forHumanity, thereby building up yourresume of overseas experience. Check thelibrary for books on how to work abroad.
Consider working overseas for agay-friendly corporation which willsupport you both.Bone up on a language together,travel to a place interesting to youwhere its spoken, and look together forsome serious long-term volunteer work.
The South Pacific might be ideal, wherepeople are usually less shackled withsexual stigma than here. Our LGB RPCVMentor Program can put you in touchwith former volunteers who worked inparts of the world that interest you.
Attempt In-Country Admission.
This is a real long shot, but possible.People wishing to be placed in aparticular country can travel there andpetition the Country Director, but successdepends on positions available, yourskills, availability of language and/orcultural training, available sites, yourmedical histories, discretionary PeaceCorps Country budget, and many otherdetails. In other words, you’d have to beextremely lucky, and the couple (gay,straight, or any combination) would needa wad of cash to live on while they waitto see if it works out. But strange thingshappen, even in the Peace Corps.I regret the dour overview, but theseare the realities as I see them. There areoccasional stories of gay domesticpartners assigned to different places in thesame country and their impassionedweekend meetings, and there are anec-dotes of gay volunteers who somehowpartner-up in remote and isolated areas.But these happy tales seem much theexception.I think it’s vital for gay domesticpartners interested in Peace Corps to let
Even spouses possess-ing red-hot degrees orexperience in, say,agronomy and nursing,are going nowhere withPeace Corps unlesssome country has needof a couple possessingthese skills.
Continued on page 4