The only out lesbian in the US Congress has challenged the country’s Secretary of State about unequal treatment of lesbian and gay staff in her department.

In December a former US ambassador left his post at the State Department after criticising Condoleezza Rice’s treatment of gay people.

Michael E Guest retired after more than 26 years as a form of protest against regulations that he considered as unfair to same-sex partners of foreign service officers.

The 50-year-old, who is openly gay, served as US ambassador to Romania when President Bush took office.

Since his return home in 2004, he has appealed directly to the US Secretary of State Rice to end gay discrimination.

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, from Wisconsin, wrote to Secretary Rice last week, joined by Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrat colleagues Howard Berman and Gary Ackerman:

“We have followed with great interest and concern the media coverage of the workplace inequities facing gays and lesbians in the US Department of State,” they wrote.

“As in the case of former Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, the inequitable treatment of gay and lesbian Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and their partners should not be allowed to lead highly qualified employees to leave the State Department at a time when their service is needed more than ever.

“Many of these inequities could clearly be remedied through your leadership as Secretary, without legislative changes.

“We write to highlight basic and common-sense policy changes that beg your prompt attention and ask that you act to make eliminating inequities facing gays and lesbians at the State Department a priority.”

Mr Guest was the first out gay person to be confirmed by the Senate to an ambassadorial post.

“For the past three years, I’ve urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees,” he said during a speech in Washington in December.

According to Guest, under the current regulations only a US State Department’s spouse can claim several rights which are denied to unmarried partners and same-sex partners.

These include issues such as the lack of training for same-sex partners to recognise terrorist threats, the lack of medical care and the need to pay for one’s own transportation when one’s partner is on duty.

Guest said that these issue could have been solved simply with Ms Rice’s signature, but his pleas had never received any attention.

Congresswoman Baldwin and her colleagues have asked Secretary Rice to institute changes in State Department policy regarding gay and lesbian Foreign Service Officers’ partners that would put them on an equal footing with married couples.