During a U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the U.S. Department of State’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, on the festival.
- RUBIO: “How would promoting a drag queen film festival in Portugal advance our national interest? And how much taxpayer money was spent putting on this film festival?”
- ABERCOMBIE-WINSTANLEY: “Thank you for the question, Senator…. I do not know.”
See below for highlights and watch the video here.
RUBIO: Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley, the president’s Executive Order 13985 provides a list of underserved communities and it mandates that executive agencies seek to promote equitable, fair, and impartial outcomes for those communities. And I, too, believe not only is diversity our strength as a country but if, in fact, our workforce does not reflect our population, then it merits an inquiry into what the impediments [are]. Are there any artificial impediments that are leading to that outcome?
And in the list of the underserved communities are groups that have historically faced discrimination in this country on the basis of their race, their religion, their gender. But it also includes a list of other groups: first-generation college students, which I happen to be, people with limited English-speaking ability, immigrants, the elderly, former convicts, people from rural areas, military spouses, single parents. All good groups—I’m just curious, if we include all the people that have been discriminated against historically, plus all of these other groups, who is not an underserved community?
ABERCROMBIE-WINSTANLEY: Thank you for your question, Senator. I can tell you that my office looks at this two ways…. Our responsibility is focused on those groups who have been historically underrepresented in the Department of State who are protected classes. And so that is a more narrow list of people, the first group that you mentioned.
The reality is, as we work to remove barriers to those groups, we are, in fact, leveling the playing field for every group. We’re focused on making merit-based decisions, so removing those artificial barriers. So when we do things like ensure that people can interview for the Department of State via a virtual technique, while it might indeed help groups that are in the center of the country or from families that can’t afford a thousand-dollar plane ticket to fly to San Francisco or Washington, D.C., it’s also going to touch on other groups of people who also have that problem. So in that way, we are able to hit a wide variety [of inequities].
RUBIO: And I understand. But when you add to that—and I know you didn’t write the executive order—but what I’m saying is that when “underserved communities” expands to include all these other groups, which are all—I understand the struggles, the challenges of each of these groups individually—it just seems like we’ve really narrowed the pool of people who we do not consider underserved to a very narrow category of people. Which obviously begs the question, do we keep a list of, for example, the religious affiliations of all the employees? Do we keep a list of everybody’s ethnicity?
ABERCOMBIE-WINSTANLEY: We collect limited information on demographic information. And we have a number of employee organizations that group around many of these other characteristics that you’ve mentioned, whether it be singles at State, working parents at State, veterans. None of those are protected classes per say, but they do have issues that employees talk about, work with our HR or global talent management to ensure that they have a level playing field and the ability to serve to the best of their ability when they’re in the department.
RUBIO: I guess my point is I don’t know how we can possibly make these efforts to help this broad array of individual groups that have been defined as underserved without collecting information about all of these topics. Are they the first to go to college in their family? What’s their religion? What’s their race? How well do they speak English? Are they immigrants? That’s the point I’m trying to make. We’re collecting a lot of information.
My time is short. I did want to ask you, I’m curious how U.S. interests were advanced by promoting a film festival in Portugal that that highlighted Minyan, which is a film about a 17 year-old boy who has sexual relations with an adult bartender, and Saint-Narcisse, which is a film about incestuous twins. How would promoting a drag queen film festival in Portugal advance our national interest? And how much taxpayer money was spent putting on this film festival?
ABERCOMBIE-WINSTANLEY: Thank you for the question, Senator. I will take it back to get an answer for you. I do not know.
RUBIO: You’re not familiar with this?
ABERCOMBIE-WINSTANLEY: I am not.
RUBIO: So you don’t know how much we spend or how many State Department employees work [for these festivals?] You’re just not familiar with the topic?
ABERCOMBIE-WINSTANLEY: I’m not familiar with those films or that festival.
RUBIO: Okay. Thank you.
COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN MENENDEZ: Do you handle festivals as part of your portfolio?
ABERCOMBIE-WINSTANLEY: I do not.
RUBIO: Mr. Chairman, that’s not the point. The point is—
MENENDEZ: The point is I want to clarify for the record that she does not handle festivals. It’s a legitimate question, and I look forward for her to get back—
RUBIO: She handles diversity and equity issues, [and this festival] was part of a diversity and equity initiative.
MENENDEZ: But that initiative isn’t necessarily one that is diversity and equity. It may have been—
RUBIO: Actually it was advertised as such, Mr. Chairman. It was advertised as such.