Part 4 of SFGN’s series on LGBT life at the CIA
Hovering just above the parade route was an all too familiar sight for Chris.
“You see that drone over there?,” he asked, motioning in the direction of the iconic art deco hotels that line Miami Beach’s famed Ocean Drive.
Sure enough, just in front of the Palace steps, appeared a small aircraft. It was a GPS enabled quadcopter being used for videotaping purposes as the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade flowed outside the Palace, a bar known for its popular drag shows.
Chris, a Central Intelligence Agency officer, agreed to speak to SFGN on the condition we only disclose his first name. He was in South Florida in an outreach role so that the LGBT people know they can serve openly at the agency and pursue careers in government intelligence work as their true, authentic selves -- free of discrimination.
In our interview, Chris, a 40-year-old gay man, stressed that working for the nation is not as rosy as depicted by Hollywood. The drone flying over Ocean Drive, for example, is vastly different than the ones deployed in Yemen or Pakistan.
“Everybody thinks it’s flashy from the movies, but there’s a real human side to it because we know people who gave their life to keep the country safe and secure,” Chris said.
Charles, another CIA agent interviewed by SFGN, said intelligence work is stressful with long hours and there are times when sleep is hard to come by.
“We are the government’s think tank,” said Charles, a 36-year-old gay man. “Our customer is the President.”
Both Charles and Chris said the atmosphere at CIA has greatly improved for LGBT employees.
“Inclusion sparks creativity…innovative breakthroughs,” Charles said. “We want everybody to feel comfortable at work.”
In terms of transgender issues, CIA leads the way in the U.S. intelligence community in providing a safe and understanding work climate, Charles said. There have been CIA employees who have undergone gender transition while working at the agency, confirmed Lyssa Asbill, CIA spokeswoman.
“The agency renovated all of the bathrooms to make them gender neutral,” she said. “This employee’s transition went incredibly smooth.”
Having an employee resource group like ANGLE (Agency Network for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees and Allies), helps LGBT employees become comfortable and open up to colleagues, Charles said.
“Some of the other agencies aren’t quite at that level,” Charles said. “We see it as our duty to help them get there.”
While establishing a cohesive work environment is important, the over-arching goal of the CIA is keeping the nation safe and secure. How that is achieved is through honesty and integrity and often times unknown to the general population.
“We serve in silence,” Asbill said. “It is a choice to join the agency and we only hire people with great integrity. We may have just did something spectacular to stop a terrorist attack, but if it’s classified then you will not know we just did something spectacular.”
This level of secrecy often frustrates members of the press and leads to a market of shadowy spy novels. Asbill says the agency never uses the word “spy” and is actively working to improve its public perception. Reaching out to SFGN and attending gay prides across the country are the first steps.
“The best ways to change narratives is one-on-one interactions with people overseas,” she said.