Can an Outty to Inney keep a secret?
February 26, 2007 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Is being a transsexual a guaranteed denial for an Australian security clearance? I'm a 15-year post-op MtF.

On the personal and professional front, I have always treated my history on a "Don't ask, don't tell" basis. But, neither have I overtly tried to keep it a secret. I have simply tried to keep it from becoming nothing more than a mildly interesting part of my background.

I am being asked to join a project at a government agency. The position I would hold requires a governmental security clearance. I received the official background packet and have been reading through it all day.

Basically, and I knew this as soon as I was told of the clearance requirement, it will require that I 'out' myself. Minimally needing to explicitly discuss my history with many friends that would need to be listed as referee's so as there would be no confusion if contacted during the vetting process.

There are potentially other issues in my and my family's circumstances that could nix getting the clearance. But aside from those considerations, does anyone in the hive mind have experience or know whether being TS is an automatic black-ball? I've been through this once in the US around 20 years ago and didn't make it. I've always assumed they knew more about my issues at the time than I did.

For what it's worth, I'm from the US but a resident of the Antipodeon continent.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up within a high security culture in the US. I can't speak on the issue professionally or with knowledge of Australian rules and regs, but from a strick security perspective - when I read the above what I read is that you switched idenities a long time ago. That's a problem because I'd expect the same from a sleeper agent who embedded a long time ago. Does that sound outrageous? Yes, but the point is the flag has been raised (literally, your application would get flagged) and is it easier to authenticate you or just move on to the next applicant? Some rules are put in place knowing some innocents will loose out but it is best for the greater good (i.e. fail-safe vs. fail-open). I don't know enough to say if such a thing exists in Australia, or with respect to your gender change.

If you "out" yourself to them from the get go you'd have a better chance of getting around the flag and they might even be able to work with you to protect your wishes by, for instance, interviewing references from pre-op, but might incur discrimination or some other problem. For instance, certain US agencies prohibit people who have taken drugs (beyond nicotine and alcohol), mentioned their app to any friends, or have certain personalities, because they are more likely to double agent or whatever. Again, I simply don't know if a gender change would fall under such a list. What surprises me most is they offered this in the first place. National origin was #1 on the list, and not even just the applicant but his or her SO, friends, past travel, etc. Maybe that speaks a bit towards how stringently the Aussies are applying "the list"?

It's worth running past someone on their side, maybe an ombudsman if they have one. It's weird because chatting about it from this perspective you get a me vs. leviathan thing when most of the folks in these orgs are actually quite nice, intelligent, and open minded. They have to be do what they do, and you sound like you'd fit in. Best wishes.
posted by jwells at 10:33 AM on February 26, 2007

Also not pertinent to Australia, but for what it's worth while in the military here in the US I worked with an MtF on base - she had the same security clearance as the rest of us.
posted by matty at 10:56 AM on February 26, 2007

From what little I know about clearances (in the US), it seems like one huge question they have is, "are you open to blackmail?" Therefore, if you have a gambling addiction, drug addiction, secret penchant for hookers, etc., then you are likely to get turned down not for being a bad person, but for being someone who could get blackmailed. In your case, it seems like being upfront about it right off the bat will help make it clear that you have no problem with your past, and it's not something you feel you need to hush up - therefore, you're not at risk for getting blackmailed.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:04 AM on February 26, 2007

I think selfmedicating has an excellent point: if they're anything like the security investigators in the U.S., what they're going to be most interested in is not your personal or sex life per se, but whether there's anything there that would make you an obvious target of extortion or blackmail. Thus, I would think that if it seems like something you're embarrassed or prefer that your coworkers not know about, they're going to be more concerned than if you're out about it. It's tough to blackmail someone with something that's common knowledge.

I can't speak to the overt discrimination angle, though; I would guess that has a lot to do with how transsexuals are perceived in Australia in general.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:29 PM on February 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've been interviewed as a reference for a friend's security clearance application (Australian Department of Defence), and my assessment of the pattern of questions tends to line up with what selfmedicating suggests above.

They were questions about sexual fidelity (to his wife), past relationships, homosexuality, money problems, alcoholism, gambling, drug use... you get the picture. Long interview. Over an hour. Very invasive.

Nothing suggested that being ts was an 'automatic' black ball, but knowing the Defence Department, it wouldn't surprise me in the least.
posted by Ritchie at 5:53 PM on February 26, 2007

I don't know about the main issue, but I do know you have to be a citizen, not just a resident.
posted by Lucie at 7:07 PM on February 26, 2007

Could you ask the advice of any Australian queer rights groups? One place that comes to mind in the U.S. (for possible referrals) is the wonderful Queer Immigrant Rights Project.

Like selfmedicating. I think at least in the U.S. they're looking for *hidden* (i.e. blackmail-worthy) issues. A potential problem for you is that theirs is a rules-based, logic-based process and they will be looking for concrete answers in addition to just your own personal claims.

In the few situations where I've wanted to demonstrate for various reasons that I'm "openly" biseuxual, I've been able to point to over a decade of public action: leading student queer groups and bi projects, writing articles, and otherwise *documentably* being open about my life. I've always felt lucky that I happen to have this history but uneasy that it's "required" before certain people will take at face value my simple statement of who I am and that it's no secret.

Similarly, in your case they unfortunately expect to see something other than your word, since they may personally (and/or officially) consider your transition something that's likely to be a secret unless you can show otherwise. So it may be useful to consider whether, in addition to being clear with your friends, there's anything even more public you're comfortable with doing. It's a tough situation; in a healthy society you would not have to prove yourself, but my layperson's instinct says they may well expect you to in this context.
posted by allterrainbrain at 11:29 PM on February 26, 2007

(Since this is a general audience, I probably should clarify that I recommend asking queer groups because at this point most major U.S. queer rights groups are also a useful resource for trans rights -- not because trans = queer.)
posted by allterrainbrain at 11:35 PM on February 26, 2007

AFAIK, not having a security clearance in Australia, but having friends and family with one, that shouldn't theoretically be any problem at all. If it is, there may be Anti-Discrimination Law matters, but these would be denied by the vetter.

Not being a citizen may be a bigger hurdle, but I'm sure you know more about that than me.
posted by wilful at 6:16 PM on February 27, 2007

I work for the Australian Government in the Protective Security arena. The manual describing what a security clearance should determine is the Protective Security Manual (PSM). Within it there is no reference to sexual orientation as being a reason for not granting a clearance. However (isn't there always one) you must be able to be shown (to different levels of confidence depending on the level of clearance) to be loyal, reliable, trustworthy and mature.

For what it is worth I have worked with transsexuals who have held the highest level of clearance.

It is important to note that you will not be able to hide your sexuality during the process and attempting to do so will probably not be conducive to you being found either reliable or mature.

Good luck. and feel free to e-mail me if you would like more information.
posted by dangerousdan at 2:07 AM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

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