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Employment Nondiscrimination Is an LGBT Military Issue, Too

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"I don't know what we're going to do when I get reassigned. My partner
has to find a new job if he wants to come with me. He's not covered by
TRICARE [military health insurance]. Right now he works for a company
where he can't be fired for being gay -- but there's no guarantee he
can find that at my next duty station."
--Air Force officer

"Don't get me wrong: I'm thrilled that 'don't ask, don't tell' is
gone. And I don't feel like I have a right to complain; it's just that
the practical logistics of taking care of a family, which the military
insists I don't have, makes it really hard."
--Navy petty officer

Earlier this month OutServe members gathered in Washington, D.C. for
the first "Capital Summit: Our Families Matter." The timing couldn't
have been more perfect for a summit focused on gay and lesbian
military spouses and partners. In the wake of President Obama's
historic statement in favor of marriage equality -- specifically
mentioning the service of gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, airmen,
and Marines -- we are optimistic about the future, but there is still a
lot of work to do.

Non-government organizations, such as the National Military Family
Association, Red Cross, Give an Hour, and Blue Star Families, attended
the summit to make their support and resources available to partners
and families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) service
members.

But the government offers almost nothing.

Also, last week, an organization committed to banning workplace and
career discrimination, Freedom to Work, was on Capitol Hill, fighting
for employment nondiscrimination. Specifically, the organization was
urging Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or
ENDA, and was advocating for President Obama to sign an executive order
banning federal contractors from discrimination based on sexual
orientation or gender identity.

Although ENDA would not affect
military personnel, it still is a critical issue to LGBT service
members. Even though a majority of LGBT military personnel
serve on active duty, many serve in reservist or national guard
status, which means their main employment is outside the military,
leaving them vulnerable to being fired simply for being gay. No
servicemember who chooses to serve their nation should have to feel
like they are at risk for losing their job because of who they are.

Even more vulnerable than the servicemember themselves is the family.
The military reassigns its active duty personnel every few years, so a
partner who has a job in a company or state with protections can only
hope that, upon moving, they can find a new job where they don't have to hide their
same-sex spouse. Federal contractors employ many people on or close to
military bases, so our partners -- who have to get jobs because our
benefits don't cover them -- are eager to land these jobs. Our veterans
also want to work for contractors, but because of a lack of LGBT
workplace protections, federal employers can still fire people just
because they're gay or transgender, regardless of how well they do
their jobs.

A new study from the Williams Institute shows that an executive order
prohibiting workplace discrimination could protect up to 16.5 million
American workers
, many of whom are servicemembers outside active duty
and their spouses, in dire need of providing for their families.

Integrity and respect for all are core military values. Fairness in
employment is an American value. The president's personal statement on
marriage, and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," are great steps
toward those values, toward treating people equally and fairly. But we
are not honoring our families if we don't continue to fight for them, recognize their sacrifices, and provide them with the support --
and the jobs -- that they need. Let's make no mistake, this is am LGBT
military issue, too.