It wasn't long ago that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women couldn't get security clearance from the CIA. Now the national spy agency is actively recruiting them.
The CIA and Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday night will sponsor a community-wide networking event at the LGBT Visitor Center in South Beach.
"This is the first one ever," said Michael Barber, the CIA's LGBT Community Outreach and Liaison program manager. "This is the first of what I hope will be similarly networking events with LGBT chambers across the nation." A second networker is scheduled for Thursday night in Orlando.
Barber -- "a straight ally" -- along with gay CIA employees Engineering Development Chief Bill French and Technical Information Officer Tracey Ballard, will speak to prospective employees about the benefits of joining the agency.
"I look at my job as informing and educating about the CIA's mission. And in the LGBT community, debunking those myths," Barber said, referring to the widely held assumption that gay people are unwelcome.
In 1989, a federal appeals court found evidence that the CIA routinely denied security clearances to gay people.
"There was a history of discrimination against LGBT persons in the federal government," Ballard said. "The process was extremely difficult for LGBT people to get security clearance prior to 1995."
That year President Bill Clinton signed an executive order stating "the United States Government does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability of sexual orientation in granting access to classified information."
Clinton's order opened the door to gay employees coming out at the CIA, said Ballard, who in 1996 founded ANGLE (Agency Network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Employees and Allies), an agency-sanctioned employee group.
ANGLE, which Ballard still co-chairs, has more than 230 "known members," she said.
"There were a number of LGBT people at the agency prior to 1996," Ballard said. "We've always been there. But at that point of time, a small handful of us began finding each other and talking. We did informal networking among ourselves."
The presidential order "allowed our LGBT officers to be more comfortable in the workplace and to be themselves," she said. "It allowed conversations among our peers. True conversations. We didn't' have to hide anymore. That's a cultural shift, to allow our peers to be seen as equal, based upon the work they do."
More than 50 people have signed up for the free networker. Many are bringing resumes "and seriously thinking of the CIA for employment," chamber President Steve Adkins said.
The CIA proposed the networker. "They obviously had a lot of LGBT employees," Adkins said. "They want to make sure we know their stories and, in addition, make people aware that they're an open and inclusive employer. Who knew?"
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