The Pentagon is preparing to update its Military Equal Opportunity Policy to include sexual orientation as a protected class and the change could be made final as soon as the end of next month, the Washington Blade has learned.
A senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed late Friday the Defense Department is planning to update the Military Equal Opportunity Policy to add the words “sexual orientation” as part of the non-discrimination policy.
The proposed change is set to be delivered as early as the middle of next week to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for his review and final approval, the official said. Each of the military services has already agreed to the change, the official said.
The planned change follows an internal review at the Pentagon of the Military Equal Opportunity Policy, which the official said lasted about 12 months. Efforts to include sexual orientation in the revision were languishing, but were re-energized after the appointment in April of Brad Carson as under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, the official said.
The Military Equal Opportunity Policy identifies classes of service members that should be protected from discrimination to allow them to rise to highest level or responsibility possible. As it stands, the Military Equal Opportunity Policy includes race, color, religion, age, physical or mental disability, sex and national origin. However, service members as of right now have no recourse for anti-gay discrimination outside of their chain of command.
LGBT advocates have been calling for an updated change to the policy to include sexual orientation. Prior to this planned revision, defense officials have said the Pentagon had no plans to make an update, but that it has a general policy of treating all service members fairly.
Last week, a bipartisan group of 22 senators wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to urge him to include sexual orientation in the Military Equal Opportunity Policy following “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, which enabled gays to serve in the U.S. military openly.
Although the Military Equal Opportunity Policy will be updated to include sexual orientation, 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.
By including sexual orientation in the Military Equal Opportunity, the Pentagon is in line with its Human Goals Charter, an aspirational document updated in April 2014 that identifies sexual orientation as an area in which the U.S. armed forces seeks to “create a culture of inclusion.”
The Pentagon plans to make this change even though the department’s 2010 report on issues related to lifting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” urges 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 report states. “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.”
In response to that line in the report, the senior defense official said the “thinking of the department has evolved” since the time the Pentagon was considering lifting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and has realized that codifying sexual orientation in the policy would benefit not just service members, but the Pentagon.”