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US Appointing Gay Diplomat To Defend LGBT Communities Overseas

(CBS SF) -- The United States is close to hiring a gay diplomat to promote LGBT rights abroad.

Secretary of State John Kerry plans to appoint a foreign services officer to strengthen U.S. efforts in addressing discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay and transgender communities overseas.

The move preempts legislation sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey and California Rep. Alan Lowenthal that called for the creation of a special LGBT rights envoy.

Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said they are currently vetting openly gay candidates with a decision likely to come by the end of February.

The U.S. doesn't take a position on same-sex marriage in other countries, but the State Department has a history of advocating for LGBT rights. Kerry released a statement last year condemning Uganda's anti-homosexual legislation which later became law in the country. He also worked with local groups to discourage Eastern European media from negatively portraying gay people.

In August 2013, the State Department began processing visa applications from same-sex spouses the same way it handles those from heterosexual spouses after the US Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act.

LGBT activist and San Francisco resident James Hormel was the first openly gay man to represent the United States after he was appointed as Ambassador to Luxembourg by Former President Bill Clinton in 1999.

The State Departments recognizes it can be dangerous for LGBT persons to travel internationally. On its website, the Department lists safety tips for traveling internationally, especially to the 70-some counties where consensual same-sex activity remains illegal with punishments ranging from jail time to death.

The website advises LGBT travelers to educate themselves about these laws in addition to general attitudes toward the LGBT community.

"If you experience difficulties, don't be afraid to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate," the website says. "Seriously, there are consular officers available 24/7 at every embassy who provide emergency assistance to Americans. It's what we do. We won't pass judgment on you, and we will protect your privacy."

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