The Defense Department on Wednesday held a major ceremony marking LGBT Pride month, though Pentagon leaders remain are under intense fire for upholding a Trump-era ban on flying the rainbow flag at military bases.
At Wednesday’s event, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hailed diversity and inclusion in the armed forces. He said that the military has come a long way in the 10 years since its “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed.
“I know you are especially proud this month, and rightfully so. I’m proud, too — proud every month and every day to call you my teammates and to serve alongside you,” Mr. Austin said during his speech at the LGBT event in the Pentagon.
“Today we commemorate 10 years since the repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and we welcome a new generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardians and Marines openly and proudly serving their country,” he said. “Today we can recognize and honor their contributions rather than questioning their ability to serve.”
But Mr. Austin and other top military leaders have taken heat from LGBT advocacy groups for keeping in place a controversial 2020 ban on flying the Pride flag at armed forces installations around the world. The ban was put in place as part of a much broader policy that prohibited the flying of any non-official flags at military bases.
That policy, implemented by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, was designed to outlaw the flying of the Confederate flag. But the rule did not specifically single out the Confederate symbol and instead instituted a much broader ban that swept up the LGBT Pride flag.
Despite intense pressure, Pentagon officials said the ban will remain in place.
“After some careful consideration, the department will maintain the existing policy from July of 2020 regarding the display or depiction of unofficial flags. So, there won’t be an exception made this month for the Pride flag,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters last week.
“This in no way reflects any lack of respect or admiration for people of the LGBTQ+ community, personnel in and out of uniform who serve in this department,” he said. “This was really more about the potential for an exception … the potential for other challenges that could arise from that exception, that specific exception. And it was really about that than anything else.”
That explanation did little to satisfy critics.
“It’s another statement that our service isn’t as important as everyone else’s,” Jennifer Dane, CEO and executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, told CNN. “It’s a small thing that matters, especially during Pride month.”