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Senators ask DoD for equal opportunity policies for LGB servicemembers
From press releases
2015-05-21

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Press release from the office of U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Chris Murphy ( D-Conn. ) and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin ( D-Wis. ) led a bipartisan group of 22 senators in calling on U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to update the equal opportunity policies across the U.S. Department of Defense ( DoD ) and military services to prevent discrimination, harassment, or intimidation of service members based on sexual orientation.

In their letter, the senators explained that the 2011 repeal of the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy enabled service members to serve openly without the fear of being discharged, but failed to include binding protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members in Equal Opportunity Programs. The senators noted that under Army, Navy, and Air Force regulations, only race, color, religion, sex, and national origin are protected under equal opportunity policies, and requested that Carter amend the policies to include sexual orientation as a protected category.

"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. Conversely, an environment in which all service members can defend their country with honor and personal integrity, and without fear of discrimination, strengthens the bonds of shared sacrifice and maintains good order and discipline,"wrote the Senators.

In addition to Murphy and Baldwin, the letter was also signed by the following senators: U.S. Senators Chris Coons ( D-Del. ), Amy Klobuchar ( D-Minn. ), Bernie Sanders ( I-Vt. ), Brian Schatz ( D-Hawai'i ), Gary Peters ( D-Mich ), Elizabeth Warren ( D-Mass. ), Cory Booker ( D-N.J. ), Ben Cardin ( D-Md. ), Barbara Boxer ( D-Calif. ), Dianne Feinstein ( D-Calif. ), Maria Cantwell ( D-Wash. ), Dick Durbin ( D-Ill. ), Al Franken ( D-Minn. ), Barbara Mikulski ( D-Md. ), Richard Blumenthal ( D-Conn. ), Kirsten Gillibrand ( D-N.Y. ), Bob Menendez ( D-N.J. ), Jeanne Shaheen ( D-N.H. ), Martin Heinrich ( D-N.M. ), and Susan Collins ( R-Maine ).

The full text of the letter is below:

The Honorable Ashton Carter

Secretary of Defense 1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1300

Dear Secretary Carter,

We are writing to strongly urge you to update the equal opportunity policies across the Department of Defense ( DoD ) and military services to prevent discrimination, harassment, or intimidation of service members based on sexual orientation. In the three and a half years since the end of the discriminatory policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ( DADT ), the military services have failed to include binding protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members in Equal Opportunity Programs. The need to correct this failure becomes even clearer in the context of DoD's 2014 Human Goals Charter, the Department's cornerstone document governing the fair treatment of people, which states that DoD will "strive to 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."

Formal equal opportunity policy in the military provides no protection or redress for service members who find themselves victims of sexual harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation. 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. Conversely, an environment in which all service members can defend their country with honor and personal integrity, and without fear of discrimination, strengthens the bonds of shared sacrifice and maintains good order and discipline.

While DoD has made great strides toward ensuring equal opportunity for its civilian workforce, based on sexual orientation, equal opportunity policies for the military continue to lag behind. Under Army, Navy, and Air Force policies, only race, color, religion, sex, and national origin are protected under equal opportunity policies by all three services. We ask that you carefully reexamine your current policies ( Air Force Instruction 36-2706, SECNAV Instruction 5350.16A, and Army Regulation 600-20 ) and amend them to include sexual orientation as a protected category.

We have the finest men and women serving in uniform and they all deserve equal respect and a safe working environment. It is long past time that the military services enact comprehensive reforms to protect all of our men and women from any discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Thank you again for your service and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin

U.S. Senator Chris Coons

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz

U.S. Senator Gary Peters

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren

U.S. Senator Cory Booker

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

U.S. Senator Al Franken

U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

U.S. Senator Susan Collins

Statement from The American Military Partner Association:

WASHINGTON - Today, BuzzFeed News broke the news that numerous Senators have signed a bi-partisan letter strongly urging Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to update the military "equal opportunity policies across the Department of Defense (DoD) and Military Services to prevent discrimination, harassment or intimidation of service members based on sexual orientation." The American Military Partner Association (AMPA), the nation's largest organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) military families, praised the letter and urged Secretary Carter to take immediate action.

"All service members, regardless of their sexual orientation, deserve to be able to serve our nation in an environment free from discrimination and harassment," said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack."For the sake of fairness, equality, and ensuring our troops are able to focus on the mission first, we again urge Secretary Carter to take action in updating the military's non-discrimination protections and equal opportunity program for our service members. Extending these vitally important non-discrimination protections to gay and lesbian troops will take us one step closer to the goal of full LGBT military equality."

"AMPA also continues to call on Secretary Carter to implement a full and comprehensive review of the outdated regulations that prevent transgender service members from serving openly and honestly," added Broadway.

AMPA has long advocated for these important changes to be made. 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 harassment and discrimination, nor were they provided access to the military equal opportunity program in order to address harassment or discrimination. The repeal failed to include binding non-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members in the military equal opportunity programs.

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 are still not protected in the military's non-discrimination policy and equal opportunity program, and transgender service members are banned from serving openly.

On March 30, 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated, "[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." Adding sexual orientation to the military equal opportunity program would go a long way in fulfilling that promise.

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

The American Military Partner Association, a non-profit and non-partisan organization, is the nation's largest organization for the partners, spouses, families, and allies of America's LGBT service members and veterans. Based in Washington DC, AMPA is committed to education, advocacy, and support for our modern military families."

'


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