NEWS / CONTEXT

U.S. Ambassador David Huebner Talks About the Importance of Social Media
Karen Ocamb
12/21/2012

Time magazine named President Barack Obama its “Person of the Year,” and in an interesting interview, Obama revealed that he’s proud of his contributions to the LGBT movement—and that he discusses LGBT issues with his daughters in their private time.
   
“One of the things that I’m very proud of during my first four years is I think I’ve helped to solidify this incredibly rapid transformation in people’s attitudes around LGBT issues—how we think about gays and lesbians and transgender persons,” Obama told Time. “A lot of that just has to do with the fact that if you talk to Malia, the idea of making an anti-gay remark at her school is just unimaginable. They just don’t get that.”
   
Obama is expected to make more good LGBT appointments in his second term as he re-shuffles his administration. On Dec. 21, Obama announced his nomination of Sen. John Kerry as Secretary of State to replace the retiring Hillary Clinton. But before she goes, it should be noted that—thanks in large part to Clinton—the State Department has been a leader in human rights and recognition of LGBT rights.
   
Among those doing important diplomatic work—albeit generally without the headlines—is a brilliant gay attorney from Los Angeles, David Huebner, who’s been serving as America’s ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa since 2009. Huebner, who many LGBT Angelenos know from his work with GLAAD, attended the recent Victory Institute’s LGBT Leadership Conference in San Diego, where he talked about the importance of effective leadership and how “very effective human rights leadership percolates upward, not just downward.” Huebner talked to Frontiers about his innovative use of social media as a tool for such engagement in his post at the U.S. embassy in Wellington, New Zealand.
   
“I’m very focused on current tools of communication. Diplomacy is simply communication and persuasion,” Huebner said. “There’s no reason to keep using 19th century tools. So what we’ve done in Wellington is build what I think might be the most vibrant social media platform in the State Department. I blog, myself. We have a sports blog. We’re about to roll out a science diplomacy blog. We have multiple Facebook and Twitter feeds—but that’s the just the start of it. We’re experimenting with Instagram and Pinterest and several other platforms to see if they actually can be used for diplomatic communication.”
   
The result has been amazing. Huebner gets 150,000 unique hits each time he posts something on his blog. “We are now communicating with hundreds of thousands of people who in the past would never have gotten anywhere near an American embassy, would never have seen any American embassy messaging. ... Most of those new constituents—those new consumers are people under the age 30, or they’re from minority groups who would never otherwise be included. So the social media is part of our larger, whole society outreach program.”
   
Huebner said that his use of social media is being watched by other embassies. “We’re not treating social media as a separate program or as a purely social program. We’re integrating all of our programs together,” he said. Huebner uses the blog to promote tourism and educational opportunities at different American universities, and is “experimenting with it as a tool of commercial promotion, as a tool of human rights promotion. I did a series, for example, on trafficking in persons. And we are seeing effects ... [which] leads to changes in attitudes.”
   
Social media also has significant practical uses.  During the big February 2011 earthquake, a diplomatic team was in Christ Church for a conference. “For hours, the telephone lines were down and there was no way to communicate. What we ended up doing was using Twitter very effectively to locate missing Americans, to communicate information. So we use our Twitter, in particular, for emergency broadcasting of information.” In fact, Huebner used Twitter to locate Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State under President Reagan, who had wandered off.
   
Huebner’s longtime partner, Dr. Duane McWaine, lives with him and has assumed the duties of the diplomatic spouse. “Duane accompanies me on trips when there’s a function with a spouse; in Wellington, he accompanies me to all our events. We interact for what we are, which is a couple that just passed its 23rd wedding anniversary. And I find that even people who might have different political views on that bundle of issues are accepting of a visible, approachable, successful couple that happens to be composed of two men,” Huebner said.
   
“I see the LGBT community in a transition from it being an exceptional circumstance to being the gay Speaker of the House in a statehouse or the gay ambassador or the gay Senator, and rapidly toward a position where Tammy Baldwin is just a highly effective Senator who happens to be a lesbian. Where John Pérez is a highly effective Speaker of the [California] Assembly who just happens to be gay,” Huebner said. “And that’s where I see us heading. And that’s a great place for all Americans, because it means our best and brightest—whatever their demographic, whatever their orientation, whatever race or gender—are contributing to the advancement of the country.”


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