Tracey Ballard

Breaking Through Cultural Barriers to Serve Her Country

Tracey knew when she joined the CIA in the 1980s that being openly gay could cost her job. But she took the risk, based on her passion for the work and to preserve her own integrity.

A lot was changing for the LGBT community in America in the mid-1980s. However, Federal law still stated that government agencies could not hire homosexuals. At the time, the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) polygraph examination included a question asking about the officer’s sexual orientation. LGBT employees faced a difficult decision: to lie about their personal lives or face being fired or pushed out.

Tracey Ballard knew all of this when she joined the CIA but decided that her passion for the work, the Agency, and the mission outweighed the risks. When the time came for her background investigation, she stood up and came out to the Agency. Tracey faced backlash from other employees and even thought about leaving the Agency, but she didn’t back down. She knew she had the skills to do her job and a strong commitment to serving her country as an intelligence officer, so she stayed.

Over the next ten years, Tracey learned that there were other LGBT employees at the agency who were afraid to be truly open about themselves. She began researching policies about their rights. In 1995, President Clinton signed a new executive order stating that employees could no longer be denied access to classified information based on sexual orientation.

The following year, Tracey started ANGLE—a platform to advocate for and discuss LGBT issues. To her surprise, she found out she had support even at the highest levels of the CIA. The CIA Director met with her to see what he could do to further ANGLE’s cause and included ANGLE in the discussion when the CIA updated its LGBT policies. Through the work of Tracey and ANGLE, the CIA became a more inclusive work environment, welcoming employees of all backgrounds into the organization.

“There were so many that came before me that… served their country well, but they did so closeted. Nobody else has to go through that when they join our agency, and that’s really important to me.”

Read more about diversity in the IC on Medium. Learn more about the history of ANGLE in the documentary ANGLE of Ascent, produced by the CIA. Learn more about the CIA.