Airmen and family members pose on the flight line at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., after a Pride Month flyby on June 26, 2020.

Airmen and family members pose on the flight line at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., after a Pride Month flyby on June 26, 2020. U.S. Air Force / Senior Airman Leala Marquez

I’m Thankful for American Troops – All of Them

The right-wing war on American LGBTQ+ troops and diversity in the military is getting worse. Maybe it’s time Pentagon leaders defend their own.

America’s right-wingers are on a rampage against LGBTQ+ people, who, by one count, account for nearly one in eight U.S. active duty troops.

The hateful speech from politicians and talking heads has risen along with violence against LGBTQ+ people and legislation designed to isolate them. Some lawmakers are trying to pin a “weakening” of the U.S. military on its support for diversity in the ranks.

Is the Pentagon going to do a damn thing about it? Should they?

For the past several months, as trans hate has become a go-to topic for partisan politicians, I have asked DOD leaders in public and private a few simple questions. Is the right wing correct? Are Americans avoiding or leaving military service because of the wave of “woke” diversity and inclusion measures the Biden administration has foisted on the military (and that senior military brass have eagerly accepted)? Do defense leaders have data to support or disprove that assertion? If not, why not?

The answers have been dissatisfying. Even amid a recruiting shortfall, Pentagon leaders with long and detailed knowledge about why and when young adults join or avoid signing up for the military say they don’t really know how or whether wokeism affects things. (Though the Army’s top recruiter said last month that the effect seems to be about zero.) 

But off the record, some of the brass say the far-right figures who peddle anti-LGBTQ+ hate—celebrities like Tucker Carlson, powerful senators like Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and also-rans like Mike Pompeo—are engaging in naked wedge-issue politicking. 

Because trans hate is a political issue, Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville demurred and Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder bristled this fall when asked to lay out the Pentagon’s official positions on “wokism” attacks. But extremist violence against Americans is a national-security problem. And when it involves active duty troops, one would think it would be a Pentagon problem, as well.  

Despite the right’s trans-hate campaign, Americans are overwhelmingly on the side of the military when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Voters nationwide this month mostly rejected trans-hate spewing candidates and elected a record-number of LBGTQ+ candidates for public office. But after winning control of the House, GOP officeholders are not even waiting for the next Congress in January to show they mean to launch more assaults on human rights.

This week, Rubio, the ranking Republican of the Senate intelligence committee, launched the latest assault with a “Woke Warfighters” report. He also signed up new supporters for a bill to eliminate the Pentagon’s year-old chief diversity officer position. “Woke policies should have no place in our military,” tweeted co-sponsor Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., once a reported short-lister to be defense secretary.

Pentagon officials love to say there is no more important resource than people. So it’s perplexing that senior military leaders—however desperate to keep politics out of the military in the wake of the Trump years—see the right-wing attack on “woke” policies as a political issue to avoid, not a threat it must confront. There are plenty of concerns to discuss about the federal government’s undoubtedly imperfect wave of diversity and inclusion efforts. But the angry war on wokism is also an attack on service members and their families. It fuels hate crimes. And the victims include U.S. troops.

The rhetorical assault on LGBTQ+ service members bullies a group that is already sexually assaulted by their peers and superiors at far higher rates than the average.

“Service members who identify as LGB or who do not indicate that they identify as heterosexual represented only 12 percent of the active component population in 2018, but accounted for approximately 43 percent of all sexually assaulted service members in that year,” RAND found.

Why would young LGBTQ+ Americans consider putting their life on the line for their country, when the military itself won’t stick its neck out to protect them? 

If Pentagon leaders believe in their hearts that diversity and inclusion is an essential and valued characteristic of the armed forces, and that anti-woke extremists crusaders are wrong, it's time they say so. Americans are hearing waves of verbal attacks on U.S. troops, demonizing the entire military as weak-and-woke, but even after this week’s Colorado Springs shooting, the Pentagon appears indifferent. Military leaders are smart enough to shoot down nonsense while keeping their noses clean of political mud. 

If Army veteran Rich Fierro and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James can take down a shooter spraying bullets at a gay club in Colorado, perhaps the brass could step up for their own troops.