In just a few short weeks, Ted Osius will arrive in Hanoi, settle into an elegant colonial home, and begin a job that is his “dream come true” as the new US Ambassador to Vietnam. Following an illustrious 25-year career in the Foreign Service, Mr. Osius was officially sworn in to the role on December 10th by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Although his postings have spanned Asia, Oisus’s work in Vietnam has arguably been some of his most important. In 1995, when Vietnam and America first normalized relations, Ted was part of the diplomatic team that helped accomplish it. The next year, he was integral in setting up the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. He also managed to find the time to bike 1,200 miles from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, a feat quite impressive in itself! It’s all well and good to set up an embassy, but you don’t really experience Vietnam until you’ve been around on a bike and experienced all the thrills, tumbles, and terror that entails.*
While all this may seem like run-of-the-mill news, Osius’s appointment has received quite a bit of press. He is the first openly gay US Ambassador to Asia, which is a position he didn’t always think possible. Speaking at his swearing-in ceremony, he noted that, twenty-two years ago, when he co-founded GLIFAA [Gay and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs agencies] to end discrimination against LGBT personnel, “we had to keep our member list secret or risk losing our jobs.” Osius is now married to Clayton Bond, a fellow Foreign Service officer, but adds that when they met, “we didn’t expect that we could marry, that we could raise children or that we could represent our country at the highest levels.” As of this week, all those seemingly unreachable desires have become a reality.
As two-way trade between Vietnam and the US has grown from US $451 million in 1995 to nearly $30 billion in 2013, Osius will certainly be center stage in continuing the increasingly important partnership between the two nations. Though Osius’ primary role is as ambassador, he is aware of the potential positive impact his role as an openly gay ambassador may have in Vietnam. Describing his family, he told Washington magazine Blade, “I will show up with the family that looks like mine. My husband’s African America; our son is brown, he’s Latino. I’m white. We have this modern family.” He also added, “We have this kind of unique opportunity to influence the dialogue. I think we’ll encourage some people.” Not excited yet?? Then let Ted do the talking. Watch this video where he introduces himself in tiếng Việt.
*To get a first-hand account of the grueling journey by bike from Vietnam top to bottom, check out Andrew Pham’s critically acclaimed Catfish and Mandala.