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Josh Seefried

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Employment Nondiscrimination Is an LGBT Military Issue, Too

Posted: 05/29/2012 10:31 pm

"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.

 
 
 
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