While the LGBTQ+ Pride flag is flying at many U.S. government agencies and embassies under President Joe Biden’s administration, the Department of Defense’s ban on the flags at military bases is staying in place.
Mark Esper, secretary of Defense under Donald Trump, last year set a policy allowing only the U.S. flag, state and territory flags, military service flags, the prisoners of war and missing in action flag, and certain others to be displayed at military bases. The department will maintain that policy, DOD Press Secretary John Kirby said at a news briefing Friday. He said the decision came because of concerns that there might be challenges to the policy if the department made an exception for the Pride flag, with demands for any number of other flags to be flown.
“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,” Kirby said in response to a reporter’s question. “We’re proud of them. I mentioned that on Monday, that the secretary’s pride and respect and admiration for the service that they render to their country. This was really more … about the potential for other challenges that could arise from that exception — that specific exception, and it was really about that [more] than anything else.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the whole department have “full respect and admiration” for the service of LGBTQ+ personnel, Kirby added at the press briefing. Austin is set to attend a departmental Pride Month event this week. Austin also “encourages all commands to likewise find ways to recognize the service and contributions of the LGBTQ+ community in defense of this nation,” Kirby said in a statement, according to NBC News.
The policy Esper adopted was designed to prevent the Confederate flag from being displayed at military bases, without specifically mentioning it. Many of Trump’s supporters have embraced that symbol of white supremacy. But in enumerating the flags that could be flown, it excluded numerous others.
Biden, while running for president, had called for the Pride flag to be allowed at military installations. His administration has, among other pro-LGBTQ+ actions, lifted Trump’s restrictions on the flag’s display at embassies and encouraged them to fly it.
The Modern Military Association of America, which represents LGBTQ+ troops, has called on the Defense Department to allow the Pride flag, in a tweet and interviews.
Excluding the flag is “another statement that our service isn’t as important as everyone else’s,” MMAA Executive Director Jennifer Dane told CNN. “It’s a small thing that matters, especially during Pride Month.”
The Pride flag is a symbol of “diversity and inclusion — exactly what the Department of Defense should be striving for,” she added.