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AFMC Command News

Commentary: LGBTQ+ Representation and the military

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nathan D. Brault
  • Tinker LGBTQ+ Pride Council

The military has a long standing reputation with the LGBTQ+ community, while the story has a rough beginning, the modern era holds many opportunities and achievements that we have been fighting for the past few decades.

The rocky history begins with the need for more military personnel in the advent of WWII and the introduction of vetting people’s sexuality based upon stereotypes during initial enlistment, but if a member were to hide that aspect of themselves only to be found out while already enlisted in the ranks of the US military they would then receive a dishonorable discharge. This practice leads directly to 1982 where a Department of Defense policy was instated to say, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” This led to an average of 1,500 discharges annually. The rationale behind this was that “Gays and Lesbians” were deemed too much of a security risk to keep around. However, in 1988, a joint report between the DOD and the Defense Personnel Security Research and Education Center came to the conclusion that this reasoning had no ground to stand upon. This was the beginning of moving in the right direction, small steps are necessary for big leaps down the line. In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” into policy. It still barred openly gay individuals from enlisting, but it also prohibited the harassment and “outing” of suspected military members still in the closet. This was where it was left for 17 years.

In 2011, President Barack Obama repealed the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, allowing members of the U.S. armed services to be open and out while also serving their country. Just a few years later, in 2015, we saw the full federal legalization of gay marriage as well as a statement from the Secretary of Defense announcing that the Military Equal Opportunity policy would now include gay and lesbian service members. Along with this new policy, the Secretary of Defense issued a directive stating that no service member would be allowed to be discharged on the basis of gender identity without it first being routed and approved by the Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Even with these strides, we still had many hurdles in front of us.

In July 2017, President Donald Trump issued a statement that said “…the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This was done with reference to the potential for increased medical costs that it would take in order to accommodate transgender service members. Moving into December 2017, a federal judge goes against the president’s ban. Then in March 2018, the sitting president recants his statement, and revises it to instead state “transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances.” This was the policy from 2018-2021, when only five days after taking office, President Joseph Biden signed an executive order to lift the ban on transgender military service members. The order stated that the “All-Volunteer force thrives when it is composed of diverse Americans who can meet the rigorous standards of military service and an inclusive military strengthens our national security.” By the end of that year, the use of pronouns in e-mail signature blocks was authorized by “The Tongue and Quill.”

We have come such a long way in a short time, but there is still much work to be done and progress to be made within and around our armed forces to this day. It is only through a message of coming together and understanding one another that we can break down the barriers that separate us and band together to make an even stronger, unified force!

Happy Pride!