Pentagon to Give Gay, Lesbian, and Bi Troops Workplace Protections

Pentagon to Give Gay, Lesbian, and Bi Troops Workplace Protections

Pentagon-to-Add-Non-Discrimination-ProtectionsX400According to the Washington Blade, an update to the Military Equal Opportunity Policy, or MEO — which has never before included sexual orientation as a protected class — could be made final as soon as the end of this month.

A senior Defense Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the LGBT newspaper that the Department will submit a revision that would add the words "sexual orientation" to the military's nondiscrimination policy, ensuring that members of the military cannot be discriminated against for their sexual orientation. The anonymous official told the Blade the change will be submitted to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter this week for his review and final approval.

According to the Blade, the change follows an internal review of the MEO, which the official said took approximately a year. As it stands, the MEO policy includes race, color, religion, age, physical or mental disability, sex and national origin as protected classes. However, service members currently have no recourse for antigay discrimination, outside of filing a complaint with their chain of command.

LGBT advocates have long been calling for a change to the policy, asking that it include sexual orientation. The American Military Partner Association , the nation’s largest organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender military families, urged Secretary Carter to take immediate action.

"This is incredibly important and welcome news for our service members and their families," said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. "This long overdue and critical change to the military equality 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"We again urge Secretary Carter to also order a full and comprehensive review to update the outdated regulations that prevent transgender service members from serving openly and honestly,” Broadway-Mack continued. "It's just as important to our LGBT military families that these same protections be extended based on gender identity."

According to the Blade, the official said the Pentagon didn’t evaluate gender identity as part of the update, but is “looking at what further updates may be appropriate as it continues to consider transgender policy writ large.”

Transgender people are prohibited from serving openly in the military under DOD Instruction 6130.03, which calls for separation of service members who undergo gender reassignment or have “psychosexual conditions” that include “transvestitism or transsexualism,” outdated terms no longer in use by medical professionals to describe transgender men and women.

A Pentagon spokesman told The Advocate last month that it has launched a "routine, periodic review of the‎ Department's medical accession policy, DoDI 6130.03 in February 2015." But despite pressure from activists within the ranks and in Washington, the Pentagon confirmed that the review currently under way "is not a specific review of the Department's transgender policy."

The LGB-inclusive changes come despite the Department's 2010 report on issues related to lifting the ban on open service by LGB Americans known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which urged officials not to include sexual orientation in the Military Equal Opportunity Policy.

“We do not recommend that sexual orientation be placed alongside race, color, religion, sex, and national origin as a class eligible for various diversity programs, tracking initiatives and complaint resolution processes under the Military Equal Opportunity Program,” the 2010 report stated. “We believe that doing so could produce a sense, rightly or wrongly, that gay men and lesbians are being elevated to a special status as a ‘protected class’ and will receive special treatment. In a new environment in which gay and lesbian service members can be open about their sexual orientation, we believe they will be accepted more readily if the military community understand that they are simply being permitted equal footing with everyone else.”

The senior defense official told the Blade the “thinking of the department has evolved” since the time the Pentagon was first considering lifting DADT, with leadership realizing that codifying sexual orientation in MEO policy would benefit not just service members, but the Pentagon, as well.

This has been reposted from The Advocate.