On Tuesday Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Pentagon will include LGBT troops in its equal opportunity employment protection policy. The announcement ends the long campaign to include sexual orientation in the Defense Department's protection from discrimination, which already includes race, sex and religion.
Carter said that the Pentagon has "completed the process" to ensure that LGBT employees are not discriminated against and have the proper channels of investigation if there is a complaint. He also noted that there have been efforts to guarantee that LGBT families receive equal benefits. "Discrimination of any kind has no place in America's armed forces," Carter said.
Carter announced the development at the Pentagon's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride event after rumors about the change swirled earlier this month. Carter is the first defense secretary to speak at the event, which coincides with LGBT pride month, since it began at the DOD in 2012.
He said at the event:
We need to be a meritocracy. We need to focus relentlessly on our mission, which means the thing that matters most about a person is what they can contribute to national defense. This is a commitment we must continually renew.
According to The Washington Blade, the change came about after a year long internal review of the Pentagon's Military Equal Opportunity Policy. According to the paper, the efforts to make the change were waning until Army Under Secretary Brad Carson took his position in April.
In late May, a group of bipartisan senators wrote to Carter asking him to implement protections from discrimination for LGBT troops. The letter from the 23 senators praised steps like the 2011 repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, but urged the Pentagon to take do more to protects its LGBT troops.
The repeal of DADT represented great progress toward eradicating a significant barrier to formal equality, but the military is not yet an equitable environment for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members. The absence of formal equal opportunity protections not only undermines foundational American principles of fairness and equality, it also presents an unneeded risk to national security by negatively impacting the morale and readiness of our all-volunteer force.
Still, there was no mention of specific protections for transgender military personnel. According to USA Today, the military can still oust transgender troops, but in the Army and Air Force, senior civilian officials must approve the dismissal, adding an additional hurdle to potential discrimination.
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