Metro Weekly

Defense Department adds sexual orientation as protected class

Policy change allows gay service members to file equal opportunity complaints

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense, via Wikimedia Commons.)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter – Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced a policy change benefitting openly LGB service members on Tuesday at a Department of Defense Pride event.

“We must start from a position of inclusivity, not exclusivity,” Carter said to Stars and Stripes, a newspaper that reports on the U.S. military. “Anything less is not just plain wrong; it’s bad defense policy, and puts our future strength at risk.”

Under the policy change, which adds sexual orientation as one of several protected classes under the DOD’s nondiscrimination policy — including race, gender and religion — LGB service members who feel they have been discriminated or retaliated against can file an equal opportunity complaint and seek a remedy for any unfair actions taken against them. That opportunity previously existed only for civilian employees of the Department of Defense, but not to troops, even after the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy four years ago. 

The policy change does not apply to transgender people, who are currently banned from serving openly in military. LGBT groups praised the policy change, but noted that it did not go far enough to cover the whole community.

“This is incredibly important and welcome news for our service members and their families,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, in a statement. “This long overdue and critical change to the military equal opportunity program will help ensure that LGB service members are treated fairly with the dignity and respect they deserve. We again urge Secretary Carter to also order a full and comprehensive review to update the outdated regulations that prevent transgender service members from serving openly and honestly. It’s just as important to our LGBT military families that these same protections be extended based on gender identity.”

“We appreciate the leadership of Secretary Carter in advancing this unfinished business of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, which is an important step to ensure LGB service members are treated equally,” added David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign. “To reach our goal of full LGBT equality in the military, it’s also crucially important that the ban on transgender service members be lifted by updating outdated regulations that prevent them from serving openly and honestly. Secretary Carter should implement these vital changes and also extend these same non-discrimination protections to the estimated 15,500 transgender troops currently serving in silence.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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