Arriving at the Secretary of the Navy’s Conference room, I had already had a feeling that this was something special. It was a meeting of the minds to discuss something near and dear to my heart: diversity and inclusion. Arriving a little early, I watched as the team prepared the conference room, placing the flag shaped coins of the Secretary of the Navy on each of the assigned seats.
My years in the military had not lead me to the Pentagon, and stepping into the vastness of the halls of the Pentagon with historic paintings and memorabilia lining the walls sent a sense of awe and wonderment running through my body. As I walked the hall with my escort, who was a member of the Service Members, Partners, and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPART*A), and another invited guest representing the LGBT Bar Association, Paula Niera, I felt pride that transgender service members and veterans were flourishing in the ranks right here in the Pentagon. I thought of the thousands of transgender service members serving with honor and pride across the globe, excelling in their field despite the anguish and discrimination that they faced on a daily basis. Yet, here I was in the Pentagon to discuss diversity and inclusion. Such a long ways we have come.
By virtue of my position as the National President of the Transgender American Veterans Association, I was invited to the Pentagon for a discussion on the re-affirmation of the Secretary of the Navy’s diversity and inclusion policy, which had not been revisited since 2010. At the conclusion of the event, the recent update of the policy was shared with the group and released to the public. The list of invitees was small and the setting intimate, as Secretary Mabus spoke.
With 350 out of 1300 service members discharged for other than honorable conditions during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), Secretary Mabus reminisced on his involvement in ensuring those discharged unfairly were righted. Nearly 70% of those requesting reversal of their discharge were granted.
During that same period, the Navy welcomed women to serve in submarines. A short time later, DADT was repealed, and just recently, women in combat was granted. In addition, the working group to determine open transgender military service is nearing to an end, and the general feeling was not if but when the policy would be implemented. The military is evolving into a more diverse and inclusive military that serves to strengthen and push the Department of Defense into the next millennium. These topics are what Secretary Mabus described as the cynosure of the meeting today.
A diverse force is a stronger force, and it just makes us better, Secretary Mabus stated with conviction. A physically diverse military is imperative; however, diversity in thought is what really sets us apart. Having those that have the same thoughts is dangerous. The military is in the business of safekeeping those that are extraordinary and not just average. Those with higher cognitive skills in openness and understanding help our country become a stronger nation. Diversity is consistent with the core values of all the armed services. The commitment to diversity by the Secretary of the Navy supports President Obama’s Executive Order 13583, that states, “Our nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all. We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society, and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspective are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges.”
Secretary Ray Mabus has logged over 1.2 million miles in travel to visit and speak with military members across the globe. He believes that speaking directly with soldiers and sailors is important. Our military service represents a broad range of service members that have different family situations, ethnicity, faith, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Secretary Mabus has worked hard to insure diversity is not just a one-off conversation. It is a conversation that happens continuously and deserves more than one look. An example of his commitment shows in him bringing R.O.T.C. back to universities such as Harvard and Yale. The key to the success in the re-establishment of these organizations in these institutions is opening service to gay and lesbian service men and women. Attracting and recruiting the best possible talent will help build a capable and strong military. Service members must understand that they are valued and each individual has the opportunity to excel in their field.
Bill Rausch the Executive Director of Got Your 6, a non-profit organization that empowers veterans and strengthens communities, asked how organizations can help support the Secretary’s stand on diversity and inclusion. Secretary Mabus replied it is all about letting your members know about the efforts of diversity and inclusion and ask what they want to see happen. The Navy is about listening and acting upon those issues that reduce discrimination and affirm diversity and inclusion. Combining individual strengths helps strengthen the good of the mission.
Secretary Mabus, asked about the potential for the DOD to influence the Department of Veteran Affairs in assisting all veterans equally, he doesn’t have a specific answer. It is up to the VA to step up and implement inclusive policies for all veterans regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, educational background, spiritual perspectives, etc. With the impending acceptance of open transgender military service, the Department of Veteran Affairs will need to step up to the plate, to insure transgender veterans are taken care of not only medically, but also insure that discrimination is not tolerated. A revised medical package and directive are in the works, confirms an undisclosed VA administrator.
A statement, posed by the National President of the American Veterans for Equal Rights, Steve Loomis, addressed the need for service members to be measured against job standards. In other words, each individual should be held to the same standards regardless of gender. The standards should not be lowered. If you meet the standard, then you can get/keep the job. Overall standards for male and female are occupational related. The Transgender American Veterans Association agrees with this statement and encourages individuals to achieve and exceed standards in order to affirm job specific standards within each of the services.
The Secretary of the Navy is committed to diversity and inclusion in the Navy and in all of the armed services. Every sailor, marine, soldier, airman, and coastie has the opportunity to excel. The opportunity must be given to all regardless of sexual orientation, race, and gender identity, and standards should not be lowered. As a veteran of diverse background, achieving and excelling in these standards is a no brainer. We should all strive to be the best we can be.