Defense

Democrats demand Esper explicitly ban Confederate flag and allow Pride, Native Nations flags

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More than two dozen Democrats are demanding Defense Secretary Mark Esper allow service members to fly LGBT Pride and Native Nation flags, which were banned when Esper issued a broad flag policy that was intended to target the Confederate battle flag.

“We ask that you immediately revise the new policy on flag display, explicitly ban the Confederate battle flag, and ensure that service members can express support for diversity and inclusion through the display of sovereign Native Nations and LGBTQ Pride flags,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Esper released Friday.

The letter was organized by Democratic Reps. Anthony Brown (Md.), Jackie Speier (Calif.) and Chris Pappas (N.H.) and co-signed by 31 other House Democrats.

Asked for comment on the letter, Pentagon spokesperson Jessica Maxwell told The Hill that “as with all congressional correspondence, we will respond directly to the authors of the letter.”

At issue is a policy Esper released earlier this month as military leaders clamored for a ban on the Confederate flag after symbols and tributes to the Confederacy became a flashpoint of nationwide protests against racial injustices and police violence.

The new policy does not explicitly ban the Confederate flag. Rather, it specifies which flags are allowed, a list that does not include the Confederate banner, effectively banning it.

The policy attempts to walk a fine line between removing a symbol that stokes racial tensions and not drawing the ire of President Trump, who has defended the display of the flag as a free speech issue.

But because the policy is broad, it also bans other flags that service members like to display, such as sports teams’ flags and the Jolly Roger pirate flag.

Advocates have also raised the alarm the policy hits the LGBT Pride flag.

In their letter, the Democrats raised concern about both the Pride flag and Native Nations flags, which they said “support diversity and inclusion.” For the Pride flag, specifically, an implicit ban “only serves to create a discriminatory environment for LGBTQ service members,” they added.

“While we applaud the department for taking steps to remove the Confederate battle flag from our military bases, the action unnecessarily avoids a clear rebuke of this oppressive symbol while simultaneously limiting how service members can freely express themselves in line with our values,” they wrote.

The lawmakers also highlighted support in the military and Congress for an explicit ban of the Confederate flag. Before Esper’s new policy, the Marines had banned the flag, and the Navy said it would follow suit.

The House also included in its version of the annual defense policy bill a ban on the Confederate flag at all Pentagon property.

“The department must have the strength and courage to be able to simultaneously stand against a symbol of hate and oppression in the Confederate battle flag while allowing the display of support for civil rights, equity and justice,” the lawmakers wrote. “We do not honor or display the Parteiflagge of Nazi Germany on our military bases, and any decision on the Confederate battle flag must likewise be unequivocal: it must be banned outright.”

Updated at 2:33 p.m.

Tags Anthony Brown Chris Pappas Donald Trump Jackie Speier Mark Esper

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