In 2013, Wally Brewster answered an unexpected call from Air Force One, in which President Barack Obama extended the opportunity to become U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Ambassador Brewster was honored to serve his country – and to be the first openly gay Ambassador to serve the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere. But when he took that initial phone call, he says he had no idea how challenging his journey would become.

Ambassador Brewster was the guest speaker at Womble Bond Dickinson’s Pride Month event on June 20. His presentation to the firm was organized by WBD Pride, the firm’s LGBTQIA+ affinity group. The discussion took place live in WBD’s Raleigh office and was livestreamed across the firm’s other U.S. offices. Attorneys Tara Cho and Mason Freeman serve as Co-Chairs of WBD Pride. Former Raleigh Partner Jill Walters, a long-time friend of Ambassador Brewster, also was instrumental in connecting Ambassador Brewster with the firm. 

The Dominican Republic is a heavily Catholic nation and when Ambassador Brewster’s appointment was announced, a prominent Catholic Cardinal voiced his opposition to the U.S. sending a gay ambassador in vile and vulgar terms. 

“What this did was create a conversation in the country, because this opposition was so rabid coming from a leader,” Ambassador Brewster said. “It didn’t discourage us, my husband and I. I always leaned back on my faith. I’m a strong Christian and I believe my God is one of love, not hate.”

Still, the situation made Ambassador Brewster and his family wonder if they should reconsider the appointment, given the hostility. But one day, he opened the newspaper and saw a photo of LGBTQIA+ citizens in the Dominican Republic rallying in support of his appointment. 

“They didn’t know that I was even going to see this,” Ambassador Brewster said. But seeing that picture lifted his spirts and made him realize that he needed to take the job.

“You never know who is watching and how you might be making an impact."

Wally Brewster, Former U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic

“But then the question became, ‘How do we deal with the daily attacks?’” he asked. Ambassador Brewster said his strategy was to build positive relationships with people who were receptive and to stay respectful but strong in the face of adversity. He held roundtable discussions with the local LGBTQIA+ community, for example, and made sure they were included in U.S. Embassy events. He was the first Ambassador from any nation to attend Pride Month celebrations in the Dominican Republic.

“We were very out and proud,” he said.

Ambassador Brewster also took care of business as U.S. Ambassador. In that role, he promoted strong bilateral relations between the Dominican Republic and the U.S. He also was a powerful voice for human rights and anti-corruption efforts.

He said he received strong support from the Obama Administration, both in public and behind the scenes. So did prominent politicians, celebrities and other ambassadors in the Dominican Republic. But he said the most powerful support came from LGBTQIA+ citizens in the Dominican Republic who found hope in knowing that a member of their community was in such a trusted, influential position. 

“You never know who is watching and how you might be making an impact," Ambassador Brewster said.

Still, he said much more work remains to be done, noting that many Caribbean nations have anti-LGBTQIA+ laws on the books. Ambassador Brewster said it is particularly important that the U.S. is a leader on LGBTQIA+ rights because “other countries follow our lead.”

Wally Brewster joined WBD Pride, the firm’s LGBTQIA+ affinity group, to speak about his experiences as the first openly gay ambassador to serve the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere.

Wally Brewster speaks to WBD Pride.

Ambassador Wally Brewster stands with longtime friend and Raleigh Partner Jill Walters