Bryan Dalton ‘81 and husband Anandaroopa with their beloved dog, Devi, who they rescued from the street in Bucharest. Devi spent more than 15 years with her family until she passed in 2020.

Alumni Interview: Five Things That Matter with Bryan Dalton '81

by Meredith Morin
Bryan Dalton ’81 knew early on that he wanted a career abroad. His family moved to Manchester, Vermont from California in 1972 when he was in fourth grade. At Burr and Burton, Bryan found that his talent and interest lay in “the power of language,” encouraged by Harvey Dorfman in English, and the strong world language department. He graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 1985 and served as an intern with the non-governmental organization Africare in Niamey, Niger. After a year’s stint as a temp worker living with his parents, from 1987-2015 Bryan was a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department, serving in Mexico, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Washington DC (first in the Africa Bureau, later dealing with international parental child abductions), New York City (International Visitor Leadership Program), Romania, and India, and in Bulgaria as Deputy Chief of Mission.
Throughout his life and career, Bryan felt the tension of what he called a cloud of not being able to be yourself, navigating the dicey waters of the early years working for the State Department during a time of secrecy and open hostility that surrounded him and anyone who was gay, lesbian, bisexual or gender non-conforming. In 1991, Bryan was unceremoniously outed by a colleague, which set him on a course of advocacy for equal rights for LGBTQ personnel in the U.S. State Department. He helped co-found Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) in 1992. As of its 30th anniversary this year, GLIFAA now has more than 1,200 members across a dozen federal agencies addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The history of GLIFAA describes the first meetings at members’ homes:  “Worry hung in the air, as those present knew that the State Department’s security office was investigating personnel thought to be gay and driving them out of government service.”
On a personal level, Bryan was motivated in his advocacy work with GLIFAA to provide protections and normal privileges to same-sex partners and spouses of State Department personnel. Bryan’s husband, Anandaroopa, a graduate of Berkeley and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former investment banker, was excluded from diplomatic protections and from language and other training that opposite-sex spouse routinely enjoyed, even as he made the same sacrifices of lost career opportunities to join Bryan on foreign postings. He was essentially invisible to the U.S. government until they could legally marry in 2013, after 21 years together.
Bryan said. “As soon as it was legal for us to marry, I was in a rush to make it happen, so if anything happened to me, he would get the survivor benefits that any of my colleagues’ spouses would get. I had all the protection of the fancy building behind me. I had a role, responsibilities, and protections, but he had none of that.”
In 2017, Bryan’s life came full circle, as he moved back to the Northshire with Anandaroopa “to live among the birds and trees.”
  1. You helped found GLIFAA in 1992 - what was the landscape like at the State Department in 1992? What precipitated your vision to create GLIFAA?
I entered the foreign service in the closet, and I stayed there until I was outed four years later. That was terrifying, then clarifying, then empowering. I got an email from the security office asking if I could help with the background peer check of a colleague. When I got there, they closed the door, flashed their badges, and put a statement in front of me to sign that I was under investigation for ‘suitability of service,’ based on my ‘lifestyle.’ It so happened that, one week before, another gay federal employee advised me that, if I ever faced such an investigation, I had the right to representation. In the shock of the moment, I used that advice to stop the surprise interrogation and ran to our labor representation office, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). They were brilliant from the beginning, introducing me to others who had been through the same thing. 

My case galvanized a group of gay employees trying to change things. This was the end of Bush 1, in late 1991 and early 1992. Change was in the air then right before Clinton was elected. I went shopping for lawyers or advocates to help me, finally – and luckily - choosing Frank Kameny, a hero of the gay liberation movement who had been advising gay employees in the government since the 1950s when he was fired from the government for being gay. The security office wanted to talk to my family to confirm my assertion that I was out. The point of that was to see if I could be blackmailed. There were two camps in the State Department security apparatus then - those who thought you are inherently blackmailable because you’re gay, and those who said, ‘It depends… are you out? Are you living an honorable lifestyle? Are you not trolling at bus stops and molesting children?’ which is something one of my colleagues was actually asked. I was, fortunately, one of the last people who was asked such homophobic and degrading questions. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Oh, there are some people who will always hate me for being this way. Oh, there’s a very small number of those people who will do something about it. And, oh, and there’s a very small number of those people who will actually hurt me. I can deal with that!’ Putting it into that perspective took it from being the cloud that I felt since I was small, that everything signaled that you could not be yourself. You could not be out. Having that realization helped me see the threat in front of me, and it was actually small. And, meanwhile, the support that came out of the woodwork was incredible. Luckily, my parents, sister, and extended family never wavered in their love and support, and I have had really good friends, including many in Manchester.
My parents were brilliant champions fighting the Department in my defense. They became public advocates, with my mother, Louise, becoming the Upper Midwest representative for Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), appearing with my father, Wayne, an ordained minister, in talks with local civic and church groups. Meanwhile, colleagues and I formed GLIFAA. At our first meeting, everyone was afraid to be seen. By the second meeting, many present were ready to picket the front gate of the State Department. It has gotten better and better since then, though progress is not always linear.
  1. What are some challenges of creating equity on the world stage as you have with GLIFAA?
The primary challenge was always inside our government system, itself. First, we had to push for equal treatment within the State Department, when family pets were granted more standing than same-sex partners in the travel and foreign lodging that are fundamental to work in the foreign service.  But then, unless our government backs us up with foreign governments, then we are vulnerable. For the past decade or so, GLIFAA and the State Department have been tracking which foreign governments extend full diplomatic protections to our same-sex spouses as we do to those of their diplomatic staff assigned to the U.S. Serving in a hazardous post may be career-enhancing for the employee, but if your family or you are going to be at risk for who you are, you don’t go there. I felt a definite chilling effect when George W. Bush came into power. Suddenly, out people went back into the closet, and people stopped talking as much, and we kind of went into a holding pattern. Still, it was Bush’s first Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who left in place the protections for LGBT staff and partners that we had convinced Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, to implement. And it was Condoleeza Rice, who served after Powell, who was the first Secretary of State to meet our group, and then-President of GLIFAA Bob Gilchrist, now the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania. At the time, we were, like, ‘Thank you for not abusing or ignoring us,’ which today sounds absurd. The politics at the top have a definite effect on the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ people. 
  1. What were you involved in/interested in at Burr and Burton? What was it like back in 1981 as a student?
Burr & Burton gave me a strong foundation in the power of language - in English, Latin, German, and French. Ed Latz, Tom Hunt, Shirley Spence, and Rochelle Weinberg’s German and French tutelage made it easier and fun to build professional fluency in those languages, and later Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Romanian, and Bulgarian as was necessary for my work over 28 years in the U.S. State Department and in U.S. Embassies abroad. Learning at BBS felt well grounded in the scientific process and in creativity, and built the tools and space to work alone and in teams. It was great fun staging “The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the Old Gym. I was primarily involved in academics and homework, which allowed me to avoid the social challenges of being gay and in the closet. I don’t remember feeling lonely or isolated - I had good friends, some of whom time proved were also gay. I made myself busy doing programmatic things, which bore fruit, but I also see a price tag to that. I didn’t integrate things. I kept pushing further and further. When the pushing stops being the thing, it kind of all implodes. I outran my fears for years until they undermined me. I was fearful of speaking up to powerful individual people. I could talk up to the system, but, when it was my boss telling me to do something unreasonable, I wasn’t pushing back. When I was a student at BBS, I’m afraid that, in my insecurity, I sometimes came off as snobby. I felt less than for who I was, soI tried to achieve more and more, and get validation that way. Also, we moved to the area when I was nine, so I felt somewhat like an outsider on the Manchester Elementary School playground and would try to compensate with knowledge and big words. I’ve had the good fortune to get to know some of my former classmates as adults and realize that we all were going through things back then. I think it’s important for schools like Burr and Burton to ask ‘who is being marginalized? Who is wanting in but not making it? Are we doing everything we can, so no one else has to waste energy trying not to be themself?’
  1. Your advocacy work with GLIFAA seems so large and impactful - how did you choose what to focus on?
We just did what was possible at different points, and made progress where we could. I know that I shrank back from more than I could have done. I didn’t speak up when I could have, including for my husband. He was targeted at times with homophobic behavior and speech, inside U.S. missions as well as outside. My choice not to give the attacks more fuel by engaging them directly left him vulnerable. Other opportunities had a more positive impact. Some months after I spoke as an out-gay U.S. diplomat on the stage of the 2013 Pride Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, my husband and I were waiting in line for pizza in a small Bulgarian town. Two young women students at the local college came up to say that seeing that speech on TV gave them encouragement.
We did a lot of advocacy for equal treatment of LGBTQ people in India. The U.S. Consul General in Chennai (the city in south India where we were posted), was an old friend and colleague who saw the importance of expanding safe spaces for LGBTQ people. Anandaroopa and I sat down with the editorial staff of the premier English-language newspaper in India, called The Hindu. We explained what equal rights for LGBTQ people meant, the history and legality of it, and they gave us very good coverage of those issues from then on. Anandaroopa was good with the media, so he used that to expand the space, such as when news photographers featured us as a couple in the local papers. He pulled together disparate parts of the gay community in Chennai. Within a few months, he helped create the first Gay Pride event there in 2009. Coinciding with President Obama and then-Secretary of State Clinton lifting most barriers to including families of LGBTQ personnel in the life and protections of the U.S. Government, Chennai Pride was a very big deal and it continues now 15 years later. Inside the State Department, we continued to expand, and now there’s a GLIFAA representative affiliate at almost every U.S. diplomatic post abroad. The issues have really evolved. It used to be gay white males worried for their jobs. Now, it’s the parents of trans kids worried for their kids and needing help advocating with the bureaucracy and the health infrastructure. It’s GLIFAA trying to honestly address internalized phobias and racism in its own ranks. It’s helping the Department work with foreign governments to ensure LGBTQ personnel are safe and integral to the work of the diplomatic mission.
  1. Do you have any advice for current students?
I don’t want to frame this as advice, but: try to be aware of your fears and how they play into what you’re doing. If you can’t sort it out on your own and resolve those fears, see if there’s someone who can help you with that - someone in your family, a friend, someone you meet gaming, or maybe a teacher. A few years back, Anandaroopa and I had the privilege to meet the students and faculty of 韦德买球网站’s GLOW Club (Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever), and hear how this group and others were giving people safer space at school. It blows my closeted 1981 mind that, in 2022, I have a husband who has taught yoga to 韦德买球网站 students with Julie Fifield this year in the yoga studio that was Betty Pelz’s Chemistry classroom.  
Fear is a powerful force. It has motivated me, but also diminished me and skewed my career and some relationships. It drove me to channel every effort into achievements in areas where I was strong but undermined those very efforts when I didn’t have a strong capacity to say no and push back. I never told anyone I was gay until my freshman year of college when I told one friend from Manchester. As I told more friends and my family, of course, most of them already knew. For a long time, I didn’t know how you would do both - be an out gay man and be a diplomat. But, I really lucked into coming out when equality was suddenly happening faster, though there’s still a long way to go. I was not alone. I had help. We were a tiny group of people fighting against the American government on the principle that you should be able to do your job and be gay at the same time. And, we won.
Book recommendations:
Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington
By James Kirchick
Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the US Foreign Service (chapter by Anandaroopa titled Just a Gay Spouse)
By Harry W. Kopp, John K. Naland

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