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GLBT Troops Excluded From the Equal Opportunity Program?

Friday Apr 17, 2015

Today, the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), the nation's largest organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) military spouses and their families, highlighted that although Indiana may have recently been in the nation's crosshairs over a battle encompassing non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, there's another sector of society that lacks these protections that is being completely overlooked. Its members number over 2.5 million, and they're the very people trusted to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all Americans: the United States military.

Most people assume that with the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) in September 2011, the LGBT community achieved full equality in the military. This is not the case. The repeal only applied to LGB service members, and it meant that they could serve openly without fear of being discharged. It did not, however, mean that they were protected from discrimination.

"All service members and their families deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. "It's baffling that nearly four years after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, gay and lesbian troops are still not protected in the military's non-discrimination policy and equal opportunity program. Service members and their families who feel they have been discriminated against sometimes have no substantive and effective way to address it because they are excluded from the program. In fact, when our members have turned to their chain of command for help in some instances of discrimination, they have been told there is nothing that can be done."

In a memo from the Under Secretary of Defense to all military branches dated January 2011, it was made clear that with DADT repeal, "Sexual orientation [would] not be considered along with race, color, religion, sex, and national origin as a class under the Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) program." Though it's been more than four years since that memo, nothing has changed. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members still are not protected in the military's non-discrimination policy and equal opportunity program, and transgender service members are banned from serving openly.

This all wouldn't be so surprising if it weren't for the fact that civilians and contractors working for the federal government already have sexual orientation and gender identity protection. That means every LGBT employee of the federal government is provided protection from discrimination, except those serving in the military. How ironic, considering they're the ones sworn to protect such freedom.

Even more astonishing is the fact that although the Department of Defense (DoD) is currently updating this outdated MEO program, they will not include sexual orientation as a protected category. This is in spite of the fact that the Human Goals Charter, a source document for the MEO policy, was updated last year to state that the government must make "...military service in the Department of Defense a model of equal opportunity for all regardless of race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin." The Charter, updated in April 2014, was signed by the Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Air Force, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense, to name a few. Its language couldn't be clearer, yet somehow the new MEO policy will not follow suit.

On March 18 of this year, during a lecture from the Commandant of the Marine Corps at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, a brave Corporal asked why the new MEO policy would continue to exclude sexual orientation, almost four years after DADT repeal. The Commandant, General Joseph Dunford, replied that all Marines deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and as such there is no need to add protected categories to ensure such treatment.

Aside from the fact that this statement obviates the need for an MEO program altogether, to hope that service members do the right thing rather than provide everyone equal protection from discrimination outright is not an acceptable solution.

Twelve days later, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter seemingly contradicted General Dunford by saying, "[W]e're going to keep making sure that anyone who's able and willing to serve their country has the full and equal opportunity to do so. Whether you're a man or woman, gay, lesbian or straight, no matter what walk of life your family comes from." With that statement Secretary Carter set a precedent, and the new MEO policy will determine if the DoD's actions match its leader's words. Or it could just follow Governor Pence's example: sign the MEO policy as is and worry about the fallout later.


For more information about the American Military Partner Association and LGBT military families, please visit our home on the web at www.MilitaryPartners.org.

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