A group of eight House Democrats led by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) is seeking answers from the Pentagon on the absence of any recognition of June as Pride month for the first time since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal certification in 2011.
In a letter dated June 28 to Defense Secretary James Mattis, House Democrats expressed concern about lack of formal recognition of Pride this year, saying the Pentagon is “backing away from supporting and celebrating” LGBT service members and Defense Department employees.
“The absence of demonstrative support from DOD leadership at events like these can have
the effect of isolating our LGBT service members and employees,” the letter says. “The Department of Defense cannot and must not retreat when it comes to ensuring Americans’ ability to share in our country’s promise, nor when it comes to truly living up to our founding ideals.”
Joining Brown in signing the letters were Reps. Robert Brady (Pa.), Susan Davis (Calif.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Donald Norcross (N.J.), Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) and Salud Carbajal (Calif.). Each of these Democrats serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
The Pentagon issued no formal recognition of Pride for the first time since 2011, when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was certified and gay people could serve openly in the U.S. military for the first time. Last year, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Anthony Kurta, a holdover from the Obama administration, issued a memo recognizing Pride month.
That position is now held by Robert Wilkie, whom President Trump has nominated as secretary of Veterans Affairs. His nomination remains pending before the U.S. Senate.
Although the Pentagon issued no memo recognizing Pride, it did hold an official event earlier this month recognizing the occasion for LGBT service members and Pentagon employees. Brown was the keynote speaker.
The tension was palpable at the event as participants celebrated Pride, which came amid continuing efforts from Trump and the Defense Department to ban transgender people from the military.
Meanwhile, although at least two senior Pentagon leaders — Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey and Vee Penrod — were in attendance, none were recognized on stage, nor did any senior leader address the crowd.
The House Democrats pose three questions to Mattis on the absence of recognition of Pride and senior Pentagon leaders from the stage at the Pride event:
1. Please explain the decision made by the Pentagon’s Personnel and Readiness Office to not issue a memo celebrating the contributions of LGBT Americans, as it has done in years past. Please also identify the office, agency or person responsible for determining when DOD will issue memos celebrating or highlighting cultural groups or achievements.
2. What role, if any, did Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Robert L. Wilkie play in making the decision not to issue a memo celebrating Pride Month?
3. We were disappointed to learn that none of DOD’s leadership would be participating in DOD’s annual Pride event. Please explain why Department of Defense leadership declined, during DOD’s annual Pride event on Monday, June 11, 2018, to speak to their fellow service members and employees?
The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Pentagon seeking comment on the letter.