Defense

Dems demand answers on Pentagon not recognizing Pride Month

A group of House Armed Services Committee Democrats is demanding answers from the Pentagon on why it is "backing away" from its annual Pride celebration.

"We write to express our concern that Pentagon leadership is backing away from supporting and celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) service members and Department of Defense (DoD) employees," the eight Democrats wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis. "The fight for dignity and inclusion for LGBT individuals in our Armed Forces should remain a steadfast priority for the Department of Defense."

The letter was organized by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.).

This year, for the first time since the 2011 repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the Pentagon did not issue a memo officially recognizing June as Pride Month. Without the official recognition, the Pentagon's Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity did not issue posters and other materials to mark the occasion as it has done in the past.

The Pentagon's LGBT employee group did hold its annual celebration earlier this month. No senior official was on stage, though Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey and Vee Penrod, acting secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, attended.

The low-key celebration came as the Trump administration's attempt to ban transgender service members continues to be fought in court.

In their letter, the Democrats ask Mattis why the Pentagon's Personnel and Readiness Office did not issue a memo for Pride Month and why no Pentagon leadership spoke during the Pride event.

The lawmakers also zeroed in on Robert Wilkie, the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness who has been nominated to become Veteran Affairs secretary. A Washington Post story this week described his history of defending his controversial bosses, including those who maligned gay people.

Wilkie at his confirmation hearing this week said he would "absolutely" commit to serving all veterans regardless of race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

In their letter, the Democrats asked Mattis what role, if any, Wilkie played in the decision to not recognize Pride Month.

"The absence of demonstrative support from DOD leadership at events like these can have the effect of isolating our LGBT service members and employees," they wrote. "The Department of Defense cannot and must not retreat when it comes to ensuring Americans' ability to share in our country's promise, nor when it comes to truly living up to our founding ideals."

The letter was co-signed by Democratic Reps. Robert Brady (Pa.), Susan Davis (Calif.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), Beto O'Rourke (Texas), Donald Norcross (N.J.), Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) and Salud Carbajal (Calif.).

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