U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James "Wally" Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, have been at the center of controversy since even before Brewster was sworn into his post by Vice President Joe Biden in late 2013.
Prior to Brewster's taking his position, anti-LGBT religious and intellectual figures throughout the Dominican Republic voiced harsh objections to the appointment, Brewster is one of six openly gay U.S. diplomats. Brewster and Satawake, both Chicago businessmen who were key money bundlers for President Obama, were married the same day that Brewster was sworn in.
Brewster said that while the criticism is difficult, he and Satawake try to keep it in perspective.
"It's like with anyplace where there's social evolution going on," he said. "There is continued discrimination and intolerance, specifically from the religious groups that have insulated people. Whenever they know the worlda world they've controlled, and marginalized groups of people withinis changing, they come out and try to use every bullying tactic that's possible. What's being done, with Bob and I at the center, is an easy attack."
Those attacks on their characters have only intensified in recent months. On March 14, a group of Catholic bishops asked the Dominican Republic's government to oust Brewster.
Earlier in the month, an anonymous petition, posted to the White House's website, said that Brewster promotes "an LGBT agenda inconsistent with the Christian cultural values and tradition of the Dominican Republic" in his official duties. Among the protesters' objections are Brewster's support of an LGBT Chamber of Commerce, as well as his inclusion of Satawake in official duties.
Satawake said the past two weeks have at least "set forth a great conversation here, as to what the policy is of the United States is, and what the duties of an ambassador actually entail, even though sometimes our positions are met with anger and hostility. At the end of the day, these are conversations that are very necessary, and we're comfortable being met with an opposing view."
But Brewster thinks that the people of the Dominican Republic are largely "more open and tolerant than those who are screaming the loudest right now," and said there is a culture of tolerance that has been ready, but not able, to flourish. The protesters, he added, are "trying to hold on to history and the past, and they're doing everything they can to push people away who are willing to stand up and say, 'This is who we are as a people and we don't want to be represented this way.' …I have great hope for the Dominican Republic, that this is just part of that struggle that we all go through at times."
"There is a very large 'silent majority' here who doesn't speak out in the media, but goes about their day-to-day business in support of human rights, specifically the LGBT community here in the country," Satawake said.
Brewster described the Dominican Republic's LGBT community as one beginning to find a voice and a place in the nation. "Like in the United States, there are different segments [that make up the] community. There's a very active and strong transgender communityvery organizedand we see them continuing to build strength between organizations. They are more vocal. There are now LGBT candidates on the ballot, for the first time in the history of the Dominican Republic. We also see high-level business leaders, that have been in couples for many years, being much more out and vocal, as well as their families."
The controversy takes attention away from the accomplishments of his embassy's staff, which includes being part of a new extradition treaty with the Dominican Republic, which has not yet been ratified, and aiding in the implementation of a new 911 system, according to Brewster, who also noted efforts to assist residents with disabilities as well as Haitian immigrants.
"Human rights will always be a priority for this administration, just as the environment and trade is," he said. "To have this overshadow that work is just another tactic that marginalizes and minimizes the value that someone, and the embassy, has."
Satawake is heavily involved in the work of the embassy, according to Brewster, who added, "The families of diplomats are part of the diplomatic team. He and I have worked side-by-side. Every event I go to in the evenings, he has been at my side. But he also does his own work on behalf of the embassy."
That work revolves around humanitarian issues in the Dominican Republic, Satawake said. "Ninety percent of my activity involves visiting communities of impoverished people. I visit various NGO's and learn about their projects, and see how I can help facilitate their continued work. Most recently, I was approached by the U.N. representative here; we're working on a project for this fall, related to violence against women and the rate of child pregnancy in this country."
The White House and State Department are backing Brewster and Satawake. In a March 10 statement, released a few days after the petition was launched, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said, "President Obama chose Ambassador Brewster to represent the United States government in the Dominican Republic because of his outstanding credentials, integrity and dedication to the advancing the interests of this country. He has the full support of this president, this White House and the entire U.S. government and I know he will continue to advocate tirelessly for the interests of the United States in the Dominican Republic."
"I never questioned my support from the White House or the State Department," said Brewster, who said he also appreciated ongoing support from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky. "So we know that, even though we're at the center of all this attention, that the President of the United States has our back and so does the administration. So we're going to keep doing our job."