By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. spy agencies will publicly celebrate their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees and encourage new LGBT recruits at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas next week, the office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said on Friday.
In a presentation titled "America's LGBT Spies: Secret Agents of Change," three serving intelligence officers will describe their own experiences as publicly gay individuals working for agencies once known for clannishness, paranoia and bigotry.
While individual spy agencies have sometimes made presentations or statements publicly welcoming gay employees, next week's presentation will be the first time the U.S. intelligence community as a whole will do so.
In a circular promoting next week's event, ODNI said that in years past spies were "forced to stay closeted to keep their jobs," but over the years employees' "personal struggles and pioneering efforts ... have paved the way for a culture of inclusion."
The circular says the current director of national intelligence, retired General James Clapper, is "a self-declared LGBT ally." While Clapper himself will not attend the Austin event, it will be introduced by Stephanie O'Sullivan, Clapper's principal deputy.
In her opening remarks, O'Sullivan is planning to note that the public embrace of LGBT rights and employees by U.S. spy agencies follows a declaration by Stonewall, a leading British gay rights group, that rated MI5, Britain's ultra-secretive domestic intelligence service as the UK's most gay-friendly employer.
In a telephone interview with Reuters on Friday, Katrina Gossman, a senior FBI special agent in the science and technology branch of ODNI, said that in 2004 she became the first FBI employee to marry her partner under Massachusetts' gay marriage law. She said the FBI initially extended her and her partner full marriage benefits, only to rescind them because of a bill passed by Congress.
But Gossman, who led FBI efforts to handle and analyze key video evidence collected at the scene of the Boston Marathon bombing, said she helped to change the FBI's internal policies and eventually the law that interfered with her and her partners' benefits was rescinded.
Other speakers at the Austin conference will be Kris Gill, an official of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and Tracey Ballard, a 30-year Central Intelligence Agency veteran. Ballard, who said little about her work, said she had come out and been accepted at the CIA as long ago as 1988.
(This version of the story corrects paragraphs 7 and 8 spelling to Gossman instead of Goffman.)
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Rohde, Kevin Drawbaugh and Steve Orlofsky)