Every June, LGBT Pride Month is a time to celebrate our diversity and remember historical moments in our fight for full equality. It’s a time to remember the tipping points in the LGBT equal rights movement, like the 1969 Stonewall Riots, or the fall of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It’s also a time to honor leaders such as Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay people elected to public office, and Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case who successfully overturned a section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. There are countless other individuals and events that have been catalysts for the LGBT equal rights movement, and in June, we celebrate them all.
Unfortunately there is a long history of discrimination against LGBT people in the military, and it was not until Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign that acceptance of gay and lesbian servicemembers was addressed. President Clinton had pledged to end the ban on gay and lesbian service members, however, the unsuccessful attempt resulted in the passage by Congress of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law. From 1993 to 2011, gay, lesbian, and bisexual troops were prevented from serving openly under DADT, inflicting profound damage on our servicemembers and their families. Over 12,000 servicemembers were discharged under DADT alone (that doesn’t even include those who were discharged because of their orientation before DADT) and most deemed dishonorable.
Thanks to the leadership of President Obama and countless LGBT equality advocates, during 2010 with ongoing legal battles challenging DOMA and a Pentagon study revealing that “military service members regarded gays in the military as a low risk to armed forces’ ability and effectiveness,” the climate was ready for long awaited change. After much debate and a filibuster, on December 18, 2010, the Senate voted to repeal DADT, and the ban was finally officially lifted the following year.
In 2012, the Department of Defense (DoD) first observed June as LGBT Pride Month in order to highlight diversity and enhance the inclusion of all servicemembers, including those who are lesbian, gay, and bisexual. However, under current DoD guidelines, transgender servicemembers remain barred by outdated regulations from serving openly in the military. But with an estimated 15,000 transgender people currently serving in the military and over 134,000 transgender veterans, it is imperative that we recognize the service of our transgender brothers and sisters as we celebrate LGBT Pride Month and continue to advocate for their freedom to serve authentically.
Thankfully, the outdated regulations that prevent transgender troops from serving openly and authentically will hopefully soon be changed. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated, “transgender men and women in uniform have been there with us, even as they often had to serve in silence alongside their fellow comrades in arms.” With so many eagerly anticipating it’s outcome, the DoD is currently working to review and update the outdated regulations so that transgender service members can finally serve openly as their authentic selves.
With delays in the ongoing DoD review process, and legislation being introduced around the country specifically targeting transgender people, the fight for equality is far from over — and visibility of transgender servicemembers and veterans is vital in that fight. That’s what makes projects like TransMilitary, a media project committed to transgender visibility, so important. TransMilitary is currently producing a documentary, “TransMilitary: Ending the ban on transgender service” which emphasizes the reality of life for transgender servicemembers.
Laila Ireland, an AMPA member and transgender Army veteran who is featured in the documentary, said, “Diversity and inclusivity [in the military] is imperative. Many organizations claim to be diverse and inclusive by having a few women or culturally diverse individuals in positions of power just for the sake of satisfying the principle of diversity in the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. It’s neither the ideal situation or even the acceptable situation, as organizations have to be driven by values instead of being driven by profit. In order to be successful, it is a need to practice value-based management and incorporate diversity and inclusion as a guiding principle for absolute success and harmonious cohesiveness. Being diverse and inclusive guarantees a greater platform for success. We’ve seen that with exclusion comes segregation, misguided opinions, and faulty conclusions which lead to absolute corruption and failure.”
At AMPA, we believe diversity and inclusion, in society as a whole as well as in the military, are incredibly important. As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month, let’s remember all those who have come before us and remain committed to being agents of change for fairness and equality.