LGBT groups scold Pentagon delay on transgender policy changes

LGBT groups scold Pentagon delay on transgender policy changes
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Groups that advocate for LGBT rights in the military are slamming the Pentagon for celebrating Pride Month while not letting transgender troops serve openly.

The Pentagon held an event Wednesday in honor of LGBT Pride Month. Advocates commended the Defense Department for the progress it’s made on LGBT rights but expressed disappointment that the department has yet to solidify changes to its transgender policy.

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“The continued delay in lifting the ban on open service for transgender service members is frustrating and deeply disappointing for so many of our families,” President Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, said in a statement Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced last July that he intends to lift the ban on transgender troops serving openly after a working group studies the effects. The working group was supposed to finish after six months, and reports at the time indicated that a final announcement would be made by May.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters this week that Carter would make an announcement “soon.”

“There continues to be progress on that front, even in the last few days,” he said at a briefing Monday.

“There has been progress in terms of trying to consider how to move forward here and resolve this issue in the fashion that he first outlined several months ago. And I can tell you that there have been significant conversations within the building on that front. And we expect the secretary, as he said recently, to be able to announce something soon.”

At Wednesday’s event, keynote speaker Navy Secretary Ray Mabus highlighted the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” five years ago but acknowledged that more needs to be done.

“Although it took way too long for policy to match reality, and while there’s still work to be done, we’ve made a lot of progress toward achieving DoD Pride’s goal of ensuring that all members of the Department of Defense are empowered to support its mission in an inclusive workplace free of discrimination,” he said.

Broadway-Mack called Wednesday’s event important but lamented the delay in changing the military’s transgender policy.

“It's been almost a year since Secretary Carter made the historic announcement that the Pentagon would lift the ban, yet transgender service members and their families are still in limbo,” Broadway-Mack said. “These heroes have earned the right to be able to serve as their authentic selves, and we must ensure that happens.”

Sue Fulton, a former Army officer who heads military LGBT group Servicemembers, Partners, and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPARTA), said transgender troops continue to wait for changes even as progress is made for gay troops.

“But the Pentagon Pride theme is not ‘Gay Pride,’ ” she wrote in a commentary for LGBT magazine The Advocate.

"It’s ‘LGBT Pride.’ It’s been almost a year since Defense Secretary Ash Carter stopped discharging transgender service members and announced a review of the Pentagon’s policy, expecting resolution in six months. We at SPARTA, along with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Palm Center, have answered every question posed to us. We’ve addressed every scenario. And still we wait.”

Fulton chose not to attend Wednesday’s event for the first time since it started in 2012 because of the lack of action, she wrote.

“I will continue to fight on for my transgender brothers and sisters in uniform,” she wrote, “because we leave no one behind.”