The Pentagon issued Monday a new declaration of its goals for human rights, and although the document affirms for the first time inclusion of gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, it omits any reference of either transgender troops or civilian workers.
The document, known as the Department of Defense Human Goals Charter, sets forth principles for the Pentagon to “create a culture of inclusion” in the U.S. armed forces — both on the military and the civilian side. Although the document sets goals for the department, it doesn’t necessarily reflect a change in policy or law.
The Human Goals Charter was signed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other top leaders military at 3:30 Eastern Time during a ceremony at the Pentagon.
“The defense of the nation requires a well-trained volunteer force comprised of active and reserve military members and civilian personnel,” the document says. “We gain a strategic advantage through the diversity of our total force and create a culture of inclusion where individuals are drawn to serve, are valued, and actively contribute to the overall mission success.”
During the signing ceremony, Hagel touted the progress the Pentagon in integrating openly gay people in the military since repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.
“I’m proud that the language of the charter has been updated to reflect the contributions of gay and lesbian military personnel, who now serve openly and proudly across America’s armed services,” Hagel said.
Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Jessica Wright said the Pentagon has made “fundamental changes” in its views on sexual orientation, including the extension of spousal benefits to the same-sex spouses of military and civilian personnel.
In a section of the document that lays out the process for “attainment of these goals,” the term sexual orientation is included on both the military and civilian side.
The charter includes sexual orientation as a category in which the military will strive to be a “model of equal opportunity.” The term “sexual orientation” is also included in a section that describes ways “to provide equity in civilian employment.”
But there is no reference to gender identity. Transgender people are barred from service in the military because of medical regulations, despite growing efforts among LGBT advocates to push for openly transgender service.
Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said “gender identity” wasn’t included in the section for civilian workers because it would fall under the category of “sex” in the charter.
“The Department did not specifically list ‘gender identity’ in the civilian equal employment opportunity section of the Human Goals document because discrimination against a transgender individual could be covered as a form of prohibited ‘sex discrimination,’ which is listed in the charter,” Christensen said.
Regarding the absence of “gender identity” from the military service portion of the document, Christensen said “there are no plans to change” to change the policy on transgender service.
“The Department considers that service members must serve in austere environments, many of which make necessary and ongoing treatments related to sex reassignment and many other conditions untenable,” Christensen said. “Policies on military personnel and health care regarding transgender members are intended to meet the needs of the services, which include the ability to deploy to and serve in austere environments with limited (and perhaps no) access to medical care for prolonged periods on little or no notice.”
The document is intended to be a forceful statement because it’s signed by all top leaders at the Pentagon. The Human Goals Charter was signed by the defense secretary; the deputy defense secretary; the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the vice chair; each of the four military service chiefs; each of three service secretaries; the chief of the National Guard Bureau; and the Pentagon’s director of administration and management.
Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partner Association, gave the charter a mixed review, praising the gay-inclusive components, but saying more should be done in terms of non-discrimination.
“We applaud the Secretary of Defense and the Administration for identifying these important goals to build stronger and more inclusive command climates throughout the Department of Defense,” Peters said. “However, we call upon the Secretary and the Administration to take swift action in changing the official DoD Non-Discrimination Policy and the Military Equal Opportunity Program to include sexual orientation as a protected class for uniformed troops against unlawful prejudice and discrimination.”
Currently, service members have no recourse for anti-gay discrimination outside of their chain of command. LGBT advocates have been pushing for the enactment of an explicit non-discrimination protections for gay members of the armed forces within the Military Equal Opportunity Program.
Peters also took note of the absence of gender identity from any section of the charter.
“We also look forward to the day when the Human Goals Charter addresses gender identity and our transgender service members are no longer forced to serve in silence,” Peters said.
The last time a Human Goals Charter was signed under the Defense Department was in 1998 under then-Defense Secretary William Cohen. At the time, when openly gay troops were barred from service under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the charter omitted any reference to “sexual orientation” under a section related to inclusion in the military. However, sexual orientation was included in the component the civilian workforce.
For his part, Hagel admitted — without any identifying any particular task — more work is necessary to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans serving or working for the U.S. armed forces.
“While there has been much progress made, all of us know there’s still more work to be done,” Hagel said. “We must reinforce a culture of accountability, dignity and respect across DOD and for all people. That is a top priority for all of us. Every person who serves our country in uniform has stepped forward with courage and commitment. Their patriotism, their willingness to serve their country and their qualifications to do so, that’s what matters. Nothing else.”