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Top defense and military officials waded into politics on Wednesday, slamming “anti-LGBTQ” legislation at an official Department of Defense Pride Month event at the Pentagon.
“LGBTQ plus and other diverse communities are under attack, just because they are different. Hate for hate’s sake,” top DOD civilian official for personnel Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. said at the ceremony. “But we must stick together, and we must be prepared to confront any such challenge directly.”
Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, chief operations officer for the U.S. Space Force, suggested “anti-LGBTQ+” legislation is “dangerous” for service members:
Transformational cultural change requires leadership from the top and we do not have time to wait. Since January of this year, more than 400 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been introduced at the state level. That number is rising and demonstrates a trend that could be dangerous for service members, their families, and the readiness of the force as a whole.
While Cisneros is a Biden administration political appointee, Burt’s comments were unusual in that general officers typically try to avoid weighing in on politics to avoid tarnishing the apolitical reputation of the military at large.
Rebeccah Heinrichs, senior fellow at Hudson Institute and member of the National Independent Panel on Military Service and Readiness, commented on Burt’s remarks: “100% inappropriate @SpaceForceDoD.”
100% inappropriate @SpaceForceDoD
— Rebeccah Heinrichs (@RLHeinrichs) June 7, 2023
Burt also suggested that a service member’s “personal circumstances” factors into command assignments:
When I look at potential candidates, say for Squadron command, I strive to match the right person to the right job. I consider their job performance and relevant experience first. However, I also look at their personal circumstances. And their family is also an important factor. If a good match for a job does not feel safe being themselves and performing at their highest potential at a given location or if their family could be denied critical health care due to the laws in that state. I am compelled to consider a different candidate and perhaps less qualified.
Other speakers at the official event, although not military officials, also made overtly political comments.
Rudy Coots, a senior civilian employee and chair of DOD Pride, said at the event, “Drag isn’t dangerous. It’s entertainment. If you’re a fan, I say tip your local drag queen. If you’re not a fan, don’t go, but don’t deprive us of the opportunity to enjoy something that is part of LGBTQ culture and really at this point, part of American culture.”
Coots’s comment came just days after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin effectively banned drag shows at military bases, under pressure from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).
And Dixon Osborne, a former DOD official and currently executive director for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, explicitly slammed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which Democrats have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The parental rights bill bans teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to third grade.
“Today, we see a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ legislation,” he said. “A bipartisan majority of Floridians thinks ‘Don’t Say Gay’ is a good bill, just as the majority of Americans thought Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was good policy. I submit that many Floridians don’t understand the dire consequences of Don’t Say Gay, for parents, for teachers, for kids, for librarians, just as the American public did not understand the dire consequences of Don’t Tell. We had to make the case.”
The Biden Pentagon has come under scrutiny by Republicans in Congress who argue they are focusing too much on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” instead of military readiness. Senate Republicans last year found that the Biden Pentagon spent nearly six million “man hours” on DEI training in one year.
Pentagon leaders have argued that the time is less than what troops spend on other warfighting skills.
However, at the event Burt argued that “diversity and inclusion” enhanced warfighting.
“Diversity and inclusion are both force multipliers and warfighting imperatives that enable our competitive advantage against adversaries,” she argued. “We must be able to draw from the best and brightest talent across our nation to develop and retain a force comprised of backgrounds, experiences and skill sets as diverse as the challenges we face as a nation.”
The event ended with a transgender service member arguing that transgender troops would die if they were not supported.
While the DOD does not have statistics on the number of transgender troops who currently serve, the now-defunct Palm Center estimated a total of 14,700 transgender individuals were serving in the military in 2018, at a time when 2.5 million served, or about 0.6%.
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