Pentagon Does Right by Trans People — Can Corporate America Be Next?

Pentagon Does Right By Trans People

Throughout our history, LGBT service members have fought valiantly and selflessly for this country. Sadly, prejudice and institutionalized homophobia meant that these brave troops had to hide who they are and choose between being their fully authentic selves and serving this nation. When "don’t ask, don’t tell" was repealed, I celebrated and continued to advocate for transgender inclusion. Gender identity and expression should not be a barrier for service or employment anywhere in the world.

Out & Equal applauds Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter for taking this momentous step toward equality for transgender Americans. I am so thrilled that the oldest government agency, the Department of Defense, has recognized the valuable contributions of transgender service members to our country’s security and has lifted the ban on transgender service. 

For the past 20 years, I have worked with the world’s largest corporations to create diverse and inclusive workplaces. After years of partnership with Out & Equal, the top four U.S. defense contractors, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, and Boeing all include gender identity and expression in their nondiscrimination policies, and all have a steadfast commitment to global LGBT workplace equality.  I am proud of their leadership and applaud the Department of Defense for joining these companies in a commitment to full LGBT inclusion.

Recognizing that military service and private employment are very different, there are nevertheless similarities in both workplaces that stand out. In his announcement, Secretary Carter makes the business case for LGBT diversity in the military — specifically around recruitment and retention of top service members. His three-pronged argument for lifting the ban is similar to what Out & Equal teaches corporate leaders.

First, the DOD recognizes that it is impossible to recruit top talent and remain the finest fighting force if barriers to participation exist. Private employers likewise recognize that inclusive recruitment strategies result in more competitive talent pools.

Second, Secretary Carter emphasizes that there are already transgender people serving in uniform. Lifting the ban will not only ensure the recruitment of top talent, it will also help retain existing talent. Last week the DOD sent a message to trans service members — we see you and recognize your contributions. In order to retain top employees or, in this case, service members, employers need to ensure equitable treatment, including access to health benefits. They must also ensure discrimination-free workplaces where employees can bring their full selves to work.

Finally, Secretary Carter recognizes that lifting the ban is a matter of principle. The DOD now joins other branches of government as well as countless private employers in officially recognizing that LGBT service members and employees have the same rights and opportunities as other Americans and that discrimination based on gender identity and expression is not a reflection of our nation’s inclusive values.

I want to personally thank Secretary Carter for this meaningful movement toward inclusion and progress — last week’s decision will make the Department of Defense stronger and our entire country safer.

Selisse Berry
SELISSE BERRY is the founding executive director of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. Follow her on Twitter @Selisse_Berry.

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