Profile | Hammad B. Hammad, Foreign Service Officer and ISD Rusk Fellow

“Diversity in the field is essential.”

Over the next few weeks, we will profile each of our incoming fellows in The Diplomatic Pouch.

For the first interview, ISD editor Alistair Somerville sat down with one of our mid-career Rusk Fellows, Hammad Hammad.

Hammad with other diplomats at the Pride parade in Mexico City in 2018 (left) and at the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement in 2015 (right). (Image: Hammad Hammad)

Alistair: Tell us about your path to the Foreign Service. What led you to become a diplomat?

Hammad: My path to the Foreign Service was definitely not traditional in any sense. I grew up near Ramallah, in the West Bank, and my family moved back to the United States when I was 16, shortly before 9/11. Being here during that time has definitely shaped my view of the world, and my interest in foreign affairs. My family has Palestinian roots but my mom was born in Brazil and my parents met and got married California, so my upbringing was very international.

I studied in the SFS at Georgetown but was not planning to enter the Foreign Service after graduation — instead, I moved to the Netherlands on a Fulbright award to do research. Along with a few friends, I started an NGO, Inspire Dreams, which came out of an entrepreneurship class we took at Georgetown, so I also worked on that for a few years with funds from Oxfam and the Clinton Global Initiative. But eventually I studied at the Fletcher School at Tufts as a Rangel Fellow and began my career after graduate school.

The Rangel Fellowship program really helped me find my way into the Foreign Service, providing mentorship and advice, internships overseas in Tanzania and in the White House, while helping me pay for graduate school.

When I was in the Netherlands, I experienced racism that I didn’t expect to find in Europe. People wondered why I didn’t look like a “typical” American. In part, I was inspired to join the Foreign Service to prove that there was no typical American, and the best way to do that was to represent my country abroad.

Hammad at the Mexican Presidential Palace
Organizing an official visit at the Mexican Presidential Palace (Image: Hammad Hammad)

Alistair: Where has your diplomatic career taken you so far, and what have been the most rewarding and challenging postings?

Hammad: Being a gay Arab-American diplomat representing the United States abroad has been the most rewarding as well as most challenging aspect of my work. Because of my background and life experiences, I feel I have been able to connect with a wide range of audiences. I have tried to use my position to shape U.S. government policies that take into account the most vulnerable — whether migrants or LGBT youth in Mexico or political prisoners in Venezuela — to ensure our policy formation does not occur in a vacuum. My work in Libya on economic and commercial issues was also extremely rewarding, working with Libyans intent on shaping a better future for themselves. I’ll be continuing this work by helping to create simulation materials on the situation in Libya for ISD.

Alistair: You are also a Georgetown alum, and now you’re back. Did you always think you’d return some day? What are you looking forward to most about the fellowship?

Hammad: Absolutely! I loved my Georgetown experience, and it is here where I discovered my voice as an advocate inside and outside the classroom for the marginalized. Whether studying with Professors Stephen, Porterfield, Schneider, or Father Kemp, I found Georgetown to be a springboard for changing the world at large. Returning to the Hilltop to gain, share, and learn new skills and tools will allow me to become a better diplomat and I am most looking forward to working with students and encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones.

Cucuta, Colombia at the Venezuela-Colombia border during an official visit in 2019
Cucuta, Colombia at the Venezuela-Colombia border during an official visit in 2019 (Image: Hammad Hammad)

Alistair: You’ll be working on ISD’s Diverse Diplomacy series this year. In this virtual time, where would you like to take the series this year?

Hammad: I’m very excited to be part of the ISD Diverse Diplomacy series! It is more important than ever to elevate the voices of diverse members of the State Department team, so that future generations of officers know what kind of organization they are joining and that there is a place for them. While virtual events are not ideal, my colleague, Rusk Fellow Heera Kamboj, and I plan to bring in officers posted overseas and hope the virtual platform will allow for an even larger audience.

Hammad was himself featured in ISD’s Diverse Diplomacy Leaders series last year.

Alistair: You are on this year’s Out in National Security Leadership List. What does it mean to you to be part of this distinguished group?

Hammad: It’s a huge honor and I hope inspires those who identify as LGBT+ to pursue careers in international affairs. Diversity in the field is essential for policy leaders to be able to consider alternate viewpoints before making major decisions. This list helps to bring visibility to LGBT leaders in national security, and helps to set an example and provide role models for those interested in careers in this space. It also provides mentorship and networking opportunities for us as young leaders. I am also excited to be Vice President for State of GLIFAA to continue to work on these issues.

In the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of Foreign Service Officers were forced to resign for their sexual orientation. Even up to the 1990s, you would have lost your security clearance for being openly gay in the Foreign Service. So we’ve come a long way since then, but there is still a lot more work to do.

Alistair: Post-ISD, what does life look like for an FSO? What do you want to get out of the next few years of your career?

Hammad: I hope to be able to apply the knowledge gained in the Rusk fellowship to pursue a leadership role at a U.S. embassy abroad, and to continue to work with the ISD on the important work of studying and shaping the future of diplomatic statecraft.

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The Diplomatic Pouch features insights and commentary on global challenges and the evolving demands of diplomatic statecraft. Views are those of the authors and not necessarily the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy or Georgetown University. Visit isd.georgetown.edu for more.

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