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05_98

05_98

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LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 1998 
1
NewsLetter
May 1998In This Issue
u
Peace Corps Grows
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“Out” in Paraguay
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Gay Partners & PC
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Australian Letter
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Mentor Program
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Resources fro LGBs
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Gay Pride Events
T
he May newsletter focuses on issues asked about at Gay Pride events
q
DanRael describes coming out to a close friend in a reluctant culture
q
JoeTerteling has his say about the Peace Corps/Gay Domestic Partner issue
q
Volunteering in Thailand with his partner is described by Michael Tatham
q
KevinSouza updates us on the Mentor Program
q
More resources for LGB volunteers calledfor by Mike Learned
q
Details about the Gay Pride events
Opportunities With Peace Corps’ Growth
If the current $270 million PeaceCorps budget request is approved byCongress, Peace Corps will begin tobuild capability to have 10,000volunteers around the world by 2001.In a recent interview, Peace CorpsDirector, Mark Gearan, spoke abouthis expansion plans. “I think someparts of the world would proportion-ately grow more: Central Asia, theCaucasus, Africa, and our newcountry entries in Haiti, South Africa,Jordan, Bangladesh, andMozambique.” Gearan discusses theneed to plan and implement overtime. Recruitment of volunteers is animportant part of his planningstrategy. “That over the next twoyears we recruit comprehensively andmake sure that the program quality ishigh...” Gearan discusses the kinds of work/projects that lie ahead. “Thework of our volunteers - whether it’stechnology, environmental protection,or HIV-AIDS education - must go on.This budget proposal simply means50 percent more volunteers will beout there doing more of the work.”Again this summer lesbian, gayand bisexual returned Peace Corpsvolunteers will participate in GayPride events around the country. Wewill help staff Peace Corps Informa-tion/Recruiting tables at severallocations and march in at least oneparade. Last year tables at theAtlanta, Boston, Long Beach and SanFrancisco parades turned into verysuccessful Peace Corps recruitingevents. With Peace Corps’ proposedgrowth there are more opportunitiesfor interesting and important PeaceCorps assignments. Part of ourpurpose, as an organization is tocommunicate these opportunities andencourage lesbians, gay men andbisexuals to consider the Peace Corpsexperience.This issue focuses on many of thequestions we get at the Gay Prideevents from people interested in thePeace Corps (usually more womenthan men). Once they get over thesurprise of seeing the Peace Corpsthere, they ask questions about theexperience of lesbian and gayvolunteers within the Peace Corpsand on their assignments overseas.Sexual orientation is one of thecriteria identified in Peace Corps’equal employment opportunity policy,and there is wide participation of openly gay people at all levels of thePeace Corps. We need volunteers tohelp staff the tables and answerquestions. Call or e-mail the contactsin this issue if you’re going to be atone of these parades or festivals andwould like to help.One of the most frequently askedquestions deals with the ability of lesbian or gay domestic partners toserve together in the Peace Corps.Peace Corps will only assign legallymarried couples. This has been policysince 1961. We find this policydiscriminatory and out-of-date. Of course it also affects unmarriedheterosexual couples, family mem-bers, business partners, and friendswho could effectively serve together.While we recognize the difficultyin finding the right assignment andlocation for any couple, we think allcouples should be on equal footing.Two of our articles deal with thisissue.
“The work of ourvolunteers - whether it’stechnology, environmen-tal protection, or HIV-AIDS education - mustgo on.” - Mark Gearan
 
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 1998 
2
My Esteemed Friend and Compadre
- by Dan Rael, RPCV 
During most of my Peace Corps servicein Paraguay, I was still living under theillusion that somehow I would actuallyturn out to be straight. I had a very visiblegirlfriend, another volunteer, but shortlyafter her time was up and with the end of my assignment rapidly approaching, Icame to realize that I could not go onliving my charade.About five months before I was toreturn home, I discovered that anothervolunteer, and a good friend, was alesbian. She had lived most of her lifeprior to Peace Corps “out” and decidedshe simply wasn’t going to stay in thecloset any longer, at least within thePeace Corps community in Paraguay. Iinvited myself to her house one day, onthe other side of the country, supposedlyto help her out with a bee keepingproject. That night while we wereenjoying a good meal under candle light, I“came out” to her. It was to me, like itseems to be for most people - suddenly acrack appeared in that huge wall that wasalways in front of me, and cool, clear,clean water began to gush through overme. That was it. I knew I could never goback in the closet. Within the next twomonths or so I don’t think there was avolunteer in the entire country who didn’tknow I was gay, and it was really great. Ihooked up with a support network of gayand lesbian volunteers that I quicklybecame a part of.Back at my site things were different. Ididn’t see how I could possibly come outto these people with whom I had becomeso close. They had met my girlfriend (Ikept a photo of her in my little house), andwere certain that when I returned home wewould get married. I was sure theywouldn’t understand, and at any rate, Ididn’t want to jeopardize my safety or thework that I had already accomplished.Those last few months were verytumultuous. It felt so good to be outwithin the Peace Corps community, that itwas hard for me to return to the work atmy site. I had also met a great guy, avolunteer who had arrived a year after Idid, and we would time our visits to thecapital to coincide. On the other hand mytime in Paraguay was rapidly windingdown and I had formed some really strongfriendships with people in my community,and I wanted to spend time with them aswell.My Paraguayan counterpart and I hadbecome close friends. He and I workedtogether with ten groups of farmers on avariety of projects ranging from latrinebuilding to bee keeping. He’d come by inhis jeep, pick me up and we would go andmeet with one or two of the groups andtalk about whatever the topic of the daywas. I also came to know his family well,and was extremely honored when theyasked me to be the godfather to theirnewborn daughter. I accepted. Thisrelationship is akin to uncle in theirculture and is not to be taken lightly. Iwould become my friend’s
compadre
(co-father, sharing some of his paternalresponsibilities). I spent more of my freetime than ever with my new
compadre
and his family.Now I was gay. I felt guilty visitingthem, knowing that I was hiding my trueself from them, but I knew I couldn’t tellthem. I figured that I would just wait untilthat day when I flew away, and let thethousands of miles hide me nicely. Wecould carry on the relationship via letters,where I could easily veil the true facts of my life. When I returned to the U.S., Icontinued the “coming out” blitz that Ibegan in South America, proceedingthrough my friends, brothers, sisters andparents within a month of my return.For over a year I carried on just like Iplanned with my old friend and
compadre
back in South America. We wrote eachother fairly often. I would describe nearlyeverything happening in my life, nearlyeverything. I also kept in touch with thatvolunteer I had met shortly after comingout, and we made plans for a rendezvousand beach vacation in Brazil. I was tomeet him back in Paraguay and we wouldproceed from there. I felt extremely guiltyfor not letting my
compadre
know that Iwas back, but I convinced myself thatthere was no easy way to explain why Iwas there, and why I was only staying aday or two.We traded a few more letters, and Icame to realize that I couldn’t continue tohide such an important part of my life. Itwasn’t fair to either of us. I wrote myusual long letter, explaining my new jobin San Francisco, talking about the city,and even made mention of my “room-mate” (the volunteer I had met inParaguay), who had recently returned tothe U.S. I then attached another letter,where I explained that I couldn’t hide the“reality” of my life from him anymore. Itold him that I was gay, and that myfriends and family had accepted it withoutexception, and that they supported me inmy new relationship.I believed that our friendship hadprobably ended then, but I figured that itwas better for the truth to be said. Timeseemed to prove me right. A year went by,a year and a half, with no word. I guessedthe he had probably had the “godfather-ship” annulled somehow, and had a newone appointed. Then one day a letterarrived. It had been more than a year and ahalf since I’d sent my letter. It took meawhile to open it.
 My esteemed friend and compadre Dan, After a short time of silence, I would like to break this barrier of silence that has existed between us since your last letter telling me your “reality.” It was abucket of cold water. It scared me. I laughed. I was angry. I cried, and later I reasoned. I much admire your valor, your sincerity with yourself and with me. Youknow Dan that in my culture, it is verystrange to have friends with this lifestyle,and it is very sad to have relatives and  friends like you. I have thought muchabout your “reality,” and in the end eachof us is the owner of his own life. I spokewith many people about you, especiallyother Peace Corps volunteers, and theytell me that it is normal, and later I spokewith my eldest daughter. She blushed and was quite embarrassed. But we havespoken quite a bit, and she also accepted  your “reality.” Next I spoke with my wife.She cried. I had to explain many things,and also she accepted everything. It cost me a lot of time to convince them, but in
Within the next twomonths or so I don’tthink there was a volun-teer in the entire countrywho didn’t know I wasgay, and it was reallygreat.
Continued on page 4
 
LGB RPCV NewsLetter - May 1998 
3
Some Perspective for Gay Couples Considering thePeace Corps
- by Joe Terteling, RPCV 
 Editor’s note:
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

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