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Bob Satawake talks debut book, career path, ambassador husband
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2019-09-08

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When Bob Satawake arrived in the Dominican Republic in 2013 alongside his newly appointed U.S. ambassador husband Wally Brewster, his life changed forever.

Satawake made history as the first gay diplomatic spouse of a U.S. ambassador and that posed some challenges that he outlined in his recently released debut book, Breaking Protocol: Forging a Path Beyond Diplomacy.

"I was very blessed to have engaged with a very experienced editor and one that I was able to emotionally connect with," Satawake told Windy City Times. "She was incredible at helping me guide my thoughts and organize them into a sequence that made sense. There is not a successful writer on this earth that does not have an extraordinary editor standing behind them. I was very blessed to have had one of the best."

Satawake decided to write the book because he wanted the public to see what happens behind the scenes with ambassador's families.

"What the general public does not see is the sacrifices families and specifically spouses make to ensure the success of their notable partners," said Satawake. "When we first arrived, my husband was told that I should be kept behind closed doors and he would do just fine in the world of diplomacy. Part of that was because we were a gay couple and this person did not feel it was appropriate for me to be seen in public, but there was also the element that I was a spouse, and spouses are not to be seen or heard in the world of diplomacy.

"We did not heed that advice and it created huge hurdles. Because my husband was not a career diplomat, I was able to write this book and I did so for the mostly women spouses of career diplomats who would love to speak out but cannot."

"I am proud to see the success of my husband's book," said Brewster. "Many people focused on my challenges as an openly gay ambassador, but did not think of how it also impacted my husband. Our journey has been blessed but as with others, filled with roadblocks we had to navigate. I hope the book provides inspiration to all that read it."

Satawake said it was important for him to record what it was like to serve in a country that still has no protections for LGBT people. He wrote about the whirlwind surrounding Brewster's 2013 swearing-in ceremony and their wedding immediately afterword so he could receive government health insurance and be recognized as a diplomat's spouse by the Dominican Republic and State Department. He said these were uncharted waters they were wading in due to their history-making status in the U.S. diplomatic world. They served until President Barack Obama's second term ended in January 2017.

According to Satawake, one of most palpable things that happened while they were in the Dominican Republic was when they woke up and to the news of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

"The Organization of American States ( OAS ) member states were meeting in the Dominican Republic the next morning and there were protests planned by Catholic and Evangelical churches that day against the LGBTQI community," Satawake told Windy City Times. "They were upset the OAS was introducing a resolution in support of global equality. Instead of cancelling the protest, the churches went forward protesting the equality of our community while they were still removing bodies from Pulse. Some of the deceased were Dominican, but that was of no concern."

Satawake and Brewster decided to display a memoriam to Pulse in the foyer of the ambassador's residence as an outward sign of solidarity to the victims and their families and friends while also sending a message to anti-LGBT groups in the country.

Politics and public policy has been a part of Satawake's life since he was a young teenager growing up in Oklahoma and Brewster's ambassadorship provided him an opportunity to help marginalized and poor communities in the Dominican Republic.

Satawake wrote about his involvement with human rights initiatives and public health policies as a senior policy advisor where he, among other things, launched three USAID LGBT projects in the Dominican Republic that are self sustaining and still moving forward—the LGBT Chamber of Commerce in association with the U.S. LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Tolerance through Tourism in association with COIN and the LGBT Candidate Initiative in association with the Victory Fund.

Before the couple set off for the Dominican Republic, they lived in Chicago during 2000-13. Satawake spent many years in real estate as a realtor for Sotheby's International Realty and as managing partner for the Chicago Luxury Group until he dissolved the company to go to the Dominican Republic. Currently, he is Insignias Global senior vice president for global affairs and principal consultant; he works with clients who are seeking commercial opportunities in foreign countries or foreign companies who want to do business with the United States.

Recently, Satawake received a master's level global business diploma at Oxford and is looking to work in the diversity and inclusion sector or in global government relations.

Along with writing the book and finishing his Oxford degree, Satawake has done speaking/lecturing engagements across the United States and other countries in recent years.

Satawake said his favorite part is "engaging with my community, learning from their experiences and understanding what is most important to them."

One of the things Satawake wants to resume is his philanthropic work. He was previously a BUILD and Victory Fund board member and Equal Voices for NDI chairperson.

When asked what else Satawake wanted to tease from the book he said, "There are times I can be less than diplomatic and sometimes the truth is hard to hear but you will have to read the book to learn about those hurdles."

Satawake's book tour begins Wed., Sept. 18, 6-8 p.m. at the new Knoll Showroom 811 W. Fulton Market, with another Chicago event Thursday, Sept. 19, that Jennifer Ames, of Engel and Volkers, will host; the location is TBA. Other tour locations will include Dallas, District of Columbia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Houston. See bobsatawake.com/ for book tour RSVP information.


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