WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker joined a bipartisan group of 22 senators in a letter calling on U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to update the equal opportunity policies across the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and military services to prevent discrimination, harassment, or intimidation of service members based on sexual orientation, explaining that the 2011 repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy enabled service members to serve openly without the fear of being discharged, but failed to include binding protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members in Equal Opportunity Programs.

“The repeal of DADT represented great progress toward eradicating a significant barrier to formal equality, but the military is not yet an equitable environment for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members. The absence of formal equal opportunity protections not only undermines foundational American principles of fairness and equality, it also presents an unneeded risk to national security by negatively impacting the morale and readiness of our all-volunteer force. Conversely, an environment in which all service members can defend their country with honor and personal integrity, and without fear of discrimination, strengthens the bonds of shared sacrifice and maintains good order and discipline,” wrote the Senators.

In addition to Menendez and Booker, the letter was also signed by the following senators: Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Susan Collins (R-ME).

The full text of the letter is below:

The Honorable Ashton Carter
Secretary of Defense 1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1300

Dear Secretary Carter,

We are writing to strongly urge you to update the equal opportunity policies across the Department of Defense (DoD) and military services to prevent discrimination, harassment, or intimidation of service members based on sexual orientation. In the three and a half years since the end of the discriminatory policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the military services have failed to include binding protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members in Equal Opportunity Programs. The need to correct this failure becomes even clearer in the context of DoD’s 2014 Human Goals Charter, the Department’s cornerstone document governing the fair treatment of people, which states that DoD will “strive to make military service in the Department of Defense a model of equal opportunity for all regardless of race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.”

Formal equal opportunity policy in the military provides no protection or redress for service members who find themselves victims of sexual harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation. The repeal of DADT represented great progress toward eradicating a significant barrier to formal equality, but the military is not yet an equitable environment for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members. The absence of formal equal opportunity protections not only undermines foundational American principles of fairness and equality, it also presents an unneeded risk to national security by negatively impacting the morale and readiness of our all-volunteer force. Conversely, an environment in which all service members can defend their country with honor and personal integrity, and without fear of discrimination, strengthens the bonds of shared sacrifice and maintains good order and discipline.

While DoD has made great strides toward ensuring equal opportunity for its civilian workforce, based on sexual orientation, equal opportunity policies for the military continue to lag behind. Under Army, Navy, and Air Force policies, only race, color, religion, sex, and national origin are protected under equal opportunity policies by all three services. We ask that you carefully reexamine your current policies (Air Force Instruction 36-2706, SECNAV Instruction 5350.16A, and Army Regulation 600-20) and amend them to include sexual orientation as a protected category.

We have the finest men and women serving in uniform and they all deserve equal respect and a safe working environment. It is long past time that the military services enact comprehensive reforms to protect all of our men and women from any discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Thank you again for your service and we look forward to your response.

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