Posted at 9:33 AM
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to the Open for Business Agenda.
Guest blog post by Ryan Rhodes, Senior Advisor, Enforcement and Compliance, International Trade Administration
“Public service is a good and noble profession, one worthy of our lives.”
I first heard that expression from U.S. Senator Jean Carnahan during her 2002 farewell speech to the United States Senate, quoting Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson, then a presidential candidate, went on to say that “for no other way can you improve the lives of so many.” For me, public service became a passion while attending Southeast Missouri State University, when I volunteered at a local civic center’s after-school program. While there, I learned that doing something bigger than yourself can have a positive impact on the future. I’ve kept that experience in mind as I have charted my career in public service. From the U.S. Senate to the U.S. Department of Commerce, I’ve seen firsthand how shaping public policy can improve the lives of others.
Although my passion for government led me from a small town in southwestern Missouri to Washington, DC, working for Senator Carnahan’s office, provided a clear focus on how I wanted to build my life and my career. Senator Carnahan was an exceptional role-model for what it meant to put the well-being of others before yourself. After her husband Governor Mel Carnahan of Missouri died in a plane crash and posthumously won the election for the U.S. Senate, Jean Carnahan agreed to an appointment to the Senate seat. This was not a role she wanted, but she believed in what she and her husband hoped to accomplish in the U.S. Senate, and she also cared deeply about the future of Missouri and the United States. She had experienced so painfully what Adlai Stevenson had said about public service being worthy of our lives. But while her husband’s life was cut short, she made history as the first woman senator from Missouri, and passed legislation that improved education standards for millions of students across the country.
After my work with political campaigns and graduating from American University Washington College of Law, I joined the Department of Commerce as an appointee of the Obama Administration. I currently work for Enforcement and Compliance at the International Trade Administration, the division that enforces the United States trade remedy laws and ensures that U.S. firms and workers are provided an equal opportunity to compete on a level playing field with their foreign competition. This work gives me a unique perspective on the Commerce Department’s Open for Business agenda, and each day, I see the direct impact it has on U.S. businesses and workers – from the steel industry to furniture manufacturers. These are everyday Americans who are fighting to compete – to be given a fair shake and treated the same as everyone else. My colleagues and I strive daily to ensure that United States’ trading partners meet their international obligations for a fair and open global trading system. When you hear that a factory remained open, or workers were not laid off because of the work that your organization has done, it reminds you that this stuff matters – that someone’s well-being is impacted by your actions. That is why I have committed to public service and will continue to work so that everyday people’s lives are improved.
June is recognized around the world as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. Throughout the month, the LGBT community celebrates its individualism and exceptionalism, and promotes the message of equal opportunity for all citizens of the United States. The LGBT community has taught me the value of accepting all lives and cultures, and my many experiences in public service have shown me my worth was not defined as being gay. I never believed as a young kid growing up in rural Missouri that I would ever be so plainly open about being gay. Luckily, my family and friends have been completely supportive, and I have experienced a country changing how it views the LGBT community. The evolution is made plain when I see my young nieces and nephews think nothing of two women or men together. They simply see people that care about each other.
While we continue to strive for equality and respect, we are eager to express our appreciation to those who have supported us along the way, and to welcome with open arms those who are slowly but surely accepting the LGBT community as an integral part of American society. Two weeks ago our country witnessed yet again another horrific tragedy. Following the attack in Orlando, I was sadly reminded that we still face individuals who do not accept LGBT people for who they are. But through this senseless act that hurt and cut short the lives of so many loved ones, I am reminded of how wonderful the American people are – caring, thoughtful, generous and accepting. Our country has shown through simple kindness that the LGBT community is part of America – that we deserve equal recognition and equal opportunity. For that, I am grateful.
I feel fortunate to have worked and to continue to work for public service organizations, such as the Department of Commerce, that recognize my contribution to the organization and welcome me as a member of the LGBT community. I have learned while working at Commerce that it doesn’t matter who you are, so long as you work hard and get things done. I see the similarities in the work of my organization and that of the LGBT community – both strive to improve the lives of others and provide equal footing for those who want a fair shake. I am thankful to have met exceptional people in my public service career and personal life who sacrifice their well-being above others, such as Jean Carnahan, who have worked to make things a little better for everyone and have helped make me a better person too. The advice I would give a young LGBT person considering their future in public service is: First, be open about who you are. Second, work hard and champion your passions. And finally, remember that there are a lot of people rooting for your success.