Inclusion key in continuing gains in Army diversity

By Chuck CannonJune 21, 2023

Inclusion key in continuing gains in Army diversity
Pride flags are held up in celebration of Pride Month. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT JOHNSON, La. — Each June, the Army recognizes LGBTQ+ service members and civilians for their service to the Army and the nation. Pride Month is a nationally recognized observance celebrating the LGBTQ+ community, its advocates and allies by promoting community, unity and pride.

The selfless and dedicated service of LGBTQ+ Soldiers and civilians make our military stronger and the nation safer.

Since the repeal of Department of Defense’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on Sept. 20, 2011, gay service members may serve openly, with honor and integrity.

However, it wasn’t always that way.

Frank Kameny, a World War II Soldier serving in the 58th Armored Infantry Battalion, 8th Armored Division, 9th Army, and later as a civilian astronomer, was fired and banned from federal employment in 1957 because he was gay.

He became one of the first LGBTQ+ advocates to confront the government’s employment ban.

The 2021 DOD Instruction 1300.28 on transgender military service ensures no one, solely based on gender identity, will be denied accession into the Army; involuntarily separated or discharged from the Army; denied reenlistment or continuation of service; or subjected to adverse action or mistreatment.

Maj. Rori Chrisco-Janker, who works for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, Equity and Inclusion Agency, said the Army recognizes the selfless and dedicated service of brave LGBTQ+ Soldiers and civilians has made the military stronger and the nation safer. 

“We also know that a ready Army is one that sustains force capability by developing leaders and building teams in environments based on trust and respect,” Chrisco-Janker said.

Dr. Lyle Hogue, acting deputy assistant Secretary of the Army, Equity and Inclusion, said the Army also recognizes all Soldiers and civilians are different.

“You can be all you can be in the Army — the Army recognizes the value of individual talent, backgrounds, and perspectives to its mission,” Hogue said.

Former Fort Johnson garrison commander, Col. Sam Smith, is an openly gay officer and sits on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion council representing Army G-2 (intelligence). He also represents intelligence community Soldiers. Smith said having served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, he understands the journey, opportunities and struggles that come with being an openly gay officer.

“I believe in the mission and I love the Army,” he said. “Even at a time I was struggling and I wrote a thesis at the War College titled ‘I Love the Army, Does the Army Love Me Back,’ I knew there was a greater good.”

The Army recognizes the value of individual talent, backgrounds and perspectives in accomplishing its mission. To sustain a high-quality Army that is trained and ready, Army leaders say it’s important to ensure all Soldiers and civilians have the opportunity to maximize their talents and potential.

The Army is confident the talent, skills and abilities in its diverse force will help meet future defense challenges and win the nation’s wars. According to Army leaders, it’s important to work together to promote an inclusive culture that ensures respect and equal opportunity for all members of the department.

Smith said the Army has come a long way in making sure it’s inclusive.

“There are policies, programs and activities that provide for whomever people are, whatever their orientation is,” he said. “We have DEI, and as an Army, I think we are good on the diversity and equity part. The inclusive part was always a struggle. How do we pay it forward? How do we showcase to people who are behind us, who are asking, ‘Is there a place for me in this Army? Can I be myself? Can I be successful? Who has paved the way for me?’”

Inclusiveness focuses on treating everyone with dignity and respect. One of the Army’s goals is that everyone should feel valued, and they know that if they are struggling with orientation or identity, they are not alone; that there are people out there they can go to and ask for advice or assistance.

Smith pointed out areas where there has been DEI progress.

“We’ve opened combat arms to women,” he said. “We have leaders who are part of the LBGTQ+ community who are successful commanders. We allow certain platforms to recognize all groups. We we have EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity program) observances or monthly activities for multiple groups. Those are ways to recognize the Army hears those communities and recognizes they may be a small part of the population, but still matter.”

Smith said it’s important for those Soldiers who are part of the LBGTQ+ community to “pay it forward,” to share what they’ve learned and overcome with those who might be unsure if they can be successful in the Army.

“I am proud to openly serve, and I stand with all of our service members, civilians and families who defend our great nation to wish our LGBTQI+ servicemembers, civilians and allies a Happy Pride,” Smith said. “It is my continued hope and strong belief that all minorities and LGBTQI+ servicemembers will continue to find people in our Army and community that recognize us for who we are. Paraphrasing from my pastor, who I hear every Sunday, no matter where you come from, what you believe or doubt, what you feel or don’t feel, or whom you love, you are welcome. This is a great inclusive message for all of us.”

Despite the challenges LGBTQ+ Army Soldiers and civilians face, their commitment to service has made the military stronger and the nation safer. Lloyd J. Austin III, the Secretary of Defense, drove that point home.

“If you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve, and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve.” Austin said.

The bottom line is a person can be all they can be in the Army, regardless of background, heritage or sexual orientation. The Army has provided tools to advance DEI initiatives across the board. No matter who you are, in the Army you can be successful. A person doesn’t have to serve in silence. They can choose their own career path.

“As I stated when I had the privilege of taking command in 2021, if we could be or do just two things moving forward: Be inclusive and listen,” Smith said. “Our Army’s guiding principle is People, and to treat everyone with dignity and respect. We all don’t have to agree, but together we are always stronger.”