Church And Political Leaders In Dominican Republic Call For Removal Of Openly Gay U.S. Ambassador
President Obama with James Brewster
By PATRICK GOODENOUGH/SPECIAL TO THE V.I. FREE PRESS
SANTO DOMINGO — A little over two years after Obama campaign bundler and LGBT advocate James “Wally” Brewster arrived in the Dominican Republic, accompanied by his spouse, Bob Satawake, to assume his duties as U.S. ambassador, calls are growing in the conservative country for his recall.
Church leaders, politicians and education officials in the Caribbean island nation are clamoring for his removal, and a petition was lodged with the White House this week accusing him of promoting an “LGBT agenda inconsistent with the Christian cultural values and tradition of the Dominican Republic.”
Brewster was not the first openly gay man appointed as a U.S. ambassador – President Obama nominated no fewer than five in 2013 alone. But while others were accredited to Western countries with liberal views on homosexuality he was named envoy to a developing nation, 95 percent of whose 10 million people are Roman Catholic.
Brewster, who according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics bundled at least $500,000 for Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, is a former National LGBT co-chair for the Democratic National Committee.
Even before he was confirmed, a Catholic bishop on the island said the move demonstrated “a lack of sensitivity, of respect by the United States.”
The same day Brewster was sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden in November 2013, he and his long-time partner Satawake held a wedding ceremony in Washington.
The couple frequently appear at official events together Dominican Republic.
“Ambassador James Brewster and his husband Mr. Bob Satawake hosted a luncheon at their residence for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month in the United States,” reads a caption on a photo currently on the front page of the embassy website.
The White House “We the People” petition calling for Brewster’s removal received more than 25,000 signatures within three days of being posted this week – more than a quarter of the 100,000 required in a 30-day period to earn a formal response from the administration.
It called on the administration to recall Brewster “for primarily promoting in his official duties an LGBT agenda inconsistent with the Christian cultural values and tradition of the Dominican Republic.”
The petition also mentioned other concerns, including the formation last week of an LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and the fact that the ambassador “involves his spouse” in official duties, such as school visits.
“Though we have proved to be a tolerant country, we deem this agenda disrespectful to the culture and traditions of most Dominican families,” it said.
(Rival petitions on the White House site in support of Brewster are carrying around 2,000 and 250 signatures as of early Friday.)
Asked about the White House petition Wednesday, State Department spokesman John Kirby said he had not seen it.
A day later, National Security Advisor Susan Rice on her Twitter account described Brewster as “an outstanding public servant. His credentials, integrity & dedication are unsurpassed.”
“We will not tolerate bigotry against Amb. Brewster or any of our reps. Overseas,” Rice tweeted. “Will cont. to promote universal human rights globally.”
Some church leaders are calling for Brewster to go.
“We ask the government, which is responsible for complying with and enforcing Dominican Republic’s laws and the constitution, to expel and declare the U.S. diplomat persona non grata,” the Rev. Osvaldo Torres, head of a federation of pastors in the northern Cibao region, was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
He accused Brewster of violating article 55 of the country’s constitution, which upholds marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The following day, Dominican Teachers Association president Eduardo Hidalgo asked the country’s education ministry to bar Brewster from visiting public or private schools with Satawake, saying the rights of children should be protected.
The March 2 launch by Brewster of an LGBT Chamber of Commerce added fresh controversy.
At the event, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s mission director for the Dominican Republic was quoted in local media as telling reporters that USAID would be spending $1 million to bolster the LGBT community in the Dominican Republic. The reports suggested that Alexandria Panehal had said the funds would also benefit political candidates supportive of the LGBT agenda. (The country holds elections in May.)
In response to the reports the embassy in a statement two days later said it wanted to clarify Panehal’s comments, stressing that the U.S. government “does not fund any political party or candidate in the current election process, here in Dominican Republic or anywhere else in the world. Any published reports to the contrary are incorrect.”
Meanwhile political figures on the right and left are speaking out.
Pelegrin Castillo, presidential candidate for the center-right National Progressive Force (FNP) party, was quoted as saying that under the guise of defending the rights of minorities Brewster “has a business agenda to convert Santo Domingo into the Caribbean’s gay paradise.”
On the left, the United Left Movement (MIU), in a statement marked by anti-U.S. rhetoric, accused Brewster of using his office as “convenient camouflage” to promote his personal agenda, and accused USAID of meddling in the country’s internal affairs. MIU secretary-general Miguel Mejia said the ambassador deserved to be declared persona non grata.
Speaking at an International Day of Zero Discrimination event last week, Brewster said, “I believe that one of my duties as ambassador is to help advance the tolerance of and respect for marginalized groups and an appreciation for diversity.
“I try to accomplish this through our U.S. Embassy programs and through my own personal example,” he added.
The Obama administration has made promotion of LGBT issues a foreign policy priority, and in June 2011 it co-sponsored at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva the first-ever resolution on the human rights of LGBT people.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called LGBT rights “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our times,” and last year Secretary of State John Kerry named Randy Berry as the first U.S. envoy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.
In 2014 a senior State Department official who is himself gay cautioned of a backlash in religiously or culturally conservative countries to the administration’s push.
“There are times and places where I believe we need to temper our idealism with at least a certain degree of realpolitik,” said Richard Hoagland. “In our desire to do good, we should never forget the terribly important maxim, ‘First do no harm.’”