The U.S. Coast Guard with little fanfare has added protections based on sexual orientation to its equal opportunity policy, prompting new calls for the Pentagon to do the same with other branches of the military.
The guidance, made public Thursday morning by the American Military Partners Association and dated Oct. 13, says “sexual orientation and genetic information” are now included as part of equal opportunity and anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policy statements within the Coast Guard. The guidance is signed at the bottom by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp.
“We must continue to uphold our core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty which underlie our excellence in mission execution, good order and discipline, and morale,” Papp writes. “Maintaining workplaces that are free from harassment and discrimination is essential to our readiness and to ensure we remain, Semper Paratus, Always Ready.”
Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partners Association, commended Papp for taking action to protect gay members of the coast guard and said the Pentagon should make similar policy for other branches of the armed forces.
“We urge the Secretary of Defense to do the same in order to ensure all uniformed service members are protected from unjust discrimination, not just those in the Coast Guard,” Peters said. “While Department of Defense civilian employees are protected, the DoD has yet to add orientation to its non-discrimination policy for uniformed troops. This lack of inclusion has a direct impact on not only the service member’s ability to serve openly and honestly without fear of harassment, but their spouse and family as well.”
LGBT advocates have been pushing for the enactment of an explicit non-discrimination protections for gay members of the armed forces even before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Currently, service members have no recourse for anti-gay discrimination outside of their chain of command.
In response to calls for an explicit non-discrimination policy, the Pentagon has consistently said it treats all service members with respect without committing to a new policy.
Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, responded to the renewed calls by pointing to Pentagon guidance during the process of lifting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” stating sexual orientation won’t “be considered along with race, color, religion, sex, and national origin as a class under the Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) program.”
Christensen added that the reason for the difference between the Coast Guard and the Pentagon is the Coast Guard isn’t structured in the same way as other military services. The Coast Guard, he said, doesn’t have an Inspector General system like the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
“Simply put: DoD directs discrimination cases on the basis of sexual orientation to be handled by the DoD IG system,” Christensen said. “As such, DoD does not include sexual orientation as part of our Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) program.”
Unlike other branches of the military, the Coast Guard operates under the Department of Homeland Security and is subject to different policy. Nonetheless, the Coast Guard often implements policy similar to the Pentagon’s.
For example, after former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced at the start of this year the Pentagon would extend partner benefits for service members in same-sex relationships, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano followed immediately with a statement saying the Coast Guard would do the same.
One advocate for enacting an explicit non-discrimination policy for troops based on sexual orientation is Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning, who espoused the idea during an interview with the Washington Blade in May.
“Speaking personally, I always think it’s important to have non-discrimination policies codified to include everyone,” Fanning said. “The military, because it has a chain of command, has a different attitude about this and a different way to try to go about protecting airmen, sailors, soldiers, Marines — but Eric Fanning? Yes. I personally like to see these things in writing and codified.”
Additionally, the Coast Guard guidance says nothing about adding gender identity to equal opportunity and anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policy statements as transgender advocates are pushing for openly transgender service in the armed forces.
Brynn Tannehill, director of advocacy for the LGBT military group SPART*A, commended the Coast Guard for adding the protections, but said the service is unable to change transgender policy because it’s “modeled after that of the DoD’s.”
“We believe that it is time to revisit these outdated policies,” Tannehill said. “The SPART*A Transgender Chapter has members who are part of the Coast Guard. The existing medical policies on transgender Coast Guard service are every bit as harmful to them as DADT was to lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, and have nothing to do with their actual ability and desire to serve.”