U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed an order that will prohibit military bases from flying flags other than the U.S. flag, state flags, and military-related flags.
Under the new guideline, LGBTQ+ groups affiliated with the military will not be allowed to display the rainbow flag at any time, even during Pride Month. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ service members are no longer permitted to display the flag in their workspaces.
A memo sent by Esper explains that the flag guidance applies to “work places, common access areas, and public areas,” which also include school houses, office buildings, naval vessels, break room and common areas in barracks, reports the Washington Blade. Individual rooms/dorms are not listed as places where the ban is in effect.
The new guidance was initially put in place to remove symbols of the Confederacy, but Esper's guidance took it several steps further to include the Pride flag, the Black Lives Matter flag, and other symbols that are not directly related to the American flag, flags of U.S. states, territories, and the District of Columbia, military flags, and those of allies.
“The flags we fly must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols,” Esper wrote in a memo.
The move goes directly against Donald Trump’s opposition to removing Confederate symbols and statues as well as renaming military bases named after racist leaders and officers known for supporting slavery.
Since the guideline was announced over the weekend, the Department of Defense has received criticism from various figures about the gravity of banning symbols of peace and love, like the Pride flag — including from Vice President Joe Biden, who is this year's Democratic presidential nominee.
“Banning the Confederate flag from military installations was long overdue,” Biden stated on Twitter. “Banning the LGBTQ Pride flag — the very symbol of diversity and inclusion — is undeniably wrong. The Pentagon should ensure it is authorized, or as President, I will.”
“We were shocked to learn DOD’s new policy on the public display of flags bans the Rainbow Pride Flag from DOD workplaces,” Rudy Coots, president of Department of Defense Pride, the department’s LGBTQ+ resource group, told the Blade. “Banning the Rainbow Pride Flag will have the opposite effect of the policy’s intended purpose of improving morale, cohesion, and readiness. For LGBT soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and civilians protecting our nation each and every day, and their allies, the flag is a joyous symbol of hope, acceptance, and accomplishment that should continue to be displayed proudly.”
According to the Blade, each year since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was lifted in 2011, the Pentagon has hosted Pride events in June, though this year's event was canceled due to the pandemic.
“It’s absolutely outrageous that Defense Secretary Mark Esper would ban the Pride flag — the very symbol of inclusion and diversity,” said Jennifer Dane, interim executive director for the Modern Military Association of America. “In what universe is it OK to turn an opportunity to ban a racist symbol like the Confederate flag into an opportunity to ban the symbol of diversity? This decision sends an alarming message to LGBTQ service members, their families and future recruits.”
Dane concluded, “If Secretary Esper refuses to reconsider, we call on members of Congress to take action.”