Today, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense strongly urging him to update equal opportunity policies across the Department of Defense “to prevent discrimination, harassment or intimidation of service members based on sexual orientation” – an important step the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, has repeatedly called for. Today HRC thanked the Senators for their call to action and highlighted five steps the Obama Administration can take immediately in both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to advance fairness and equality for our nation’s LGBT service members and veterans who continue to face unique challenges and discrimination even after the successful repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).
Today’s highlights are a first in a series focused on HRC’s 2015 Blueprint for Positive Change – a series of actions the administration can take to change the lives of LGBT Americans for the better. This first release highlights five specific areas that would make an immediate difference in the lives of our nation’s heroes who happen to be LGBT, including: revising restrictions on transgender individuals serving in the military; including non-discrimination protections for service members based on sexual orientation; ensuring transgender veterans have full access to transition related care; providing increased VA cultural competency training for service providers; and providing a blanket waiver to same-sex couples to ensure access to veteran’s burial rights regardless of state of residency.
“Since the overwhelmingly successful repeal of the discriminatory DADT policy, we’ve seen tremendous progress within both the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs for LGB service members, LGBT veterans, and their families, but there is clearly still important and significant progress to be made,” said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “We urge the Administration to continue the President’s legacy of profound progress for the LGBT community by updating the outdated regulations and policies - like the barriers for transgender service and equal opportunity programs - that continue to harm our nation’s LGBT service members and veterans.”
Five actions the Obama Administration can take immediately to improve the lives of LGBT service members and veterans include:
Department of Defense
· Revise Restrictions on Transgender Individuals Serving in the Military
There are approximately 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense (DOD) the largest employer of transgender people in America. These courageous service members are forced to serve in silence by DOD medical regulations prohibiting their service and requiring their separation from the military if discovered. These regulations are outdated and out of step with current medical practice. Unlike the statutory ban that interfered with lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members from serving (known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) the ban on transgender military service is regulatory and only requires action by the Department of Defense to update. The Secretary of Defense should immediately direct the chief medical personnel in each service branch to update their medical regulations, which would pave the way for transgender military service. In addition, the Secretary of Defense should issue regulations that extend non-discrimination protections to transgender service members.
· Include Non-Discrimination Protections for Service Members Based on Sexual Orientation
Today’s bipartisan letter from U.S. Senators to the Secretary of Defense calls for this action, saying “The absence of formal equal opportunity protections [based on sexual orientation] not only undermines foundational American principles of fairness and equality, it also presents an unneeded risk to national security by negatively impacting the morale and readiness of our all-volunteer force.” Civilian Department of Defense employees may file a complaint for discrimination based on their sexual orientation. The regulations also prohibit retaliation of any kind for filing a complaint. Unfortunately, this same protection has not been extended to the uniform services, leaving many LGB service members with limited options for addressing incidents of discrimination and harassment for themselves and actions against their families. Service members also deserve these core protections. The Secretary of Defense should issue regulations that extend non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation in the military equal opportunity program.
Department of Veterans Affairs
· Ensure Transgender Veterans Have Full Access to Transition Related Care
Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not provide the full range of medically necessary care to transgender veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs should revise its regulations to ensure transgender veterans have access to all medically necessary services and treatments for transition related care.
· Provide Increased Cultural Competency Training for Service Providers
Long-term discrimination by the federal government against LGBT service members has left many LGBT veterans hesitant that their needs will be met with care and attention, or has left them with the misunderstanding that they are not entitled to government services. The Department of Veterans Affairs should provide cultural competency training to service providers to ensure LGBT veterans are comfortable coming out to their service providers and to ensure LGBT veterans are receiving respectful, appropriate care.
· Provide a Blanket Waiver to Same-Sex Couples to Ensure Access to Veterans’ Burial Rights Regardless of State of Residency
Burial rights for the spouse of a veteran are determined by the validity of the marriage in the state of residence. Many same-sex couples continue to live in states that fail to recognize their marriages, and sadly, some veterans passed away before marriage equality arrived in their home state. Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs is making determinations about whether the same-sex spouse of a veteran in a non-marriage equality state can be buried in a national cemetery on a case-by-case basis. The Department of Veterans Affairs should provide a blanket waiver to same-sex couples to ensure access to veterans’ burial rights regardless of the state of the couples’ residency.
The entire 2015 Blueprint for Positive Change can be found here.