Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin praised the “service, commitment, and sacrifice” of LGBTQ+ service members and personnel in a statement released on Thursday to mark the beginning of Pride Month.
“This Pride Month, we honor the service, commitment, and sacrifice of the LGBTQ+ Service members and personnel who volunteer to defend our country. Their proud service adds to America’s strength,” he stated.
He described their contributions to national security as “powerful.”
“Members of this community have deployed to combat zones around the globe, held high-ranking positions in the Pentagon, and fought and died alongside their teammates,” he said.
Austin argued that in order to “defend our republic and win its wars” the U.S. military must remain “open to all qualified patriots who seek to serve.”
“Militaries that do not avail themselves of the best possible talent of their citizenry put themselves at a strategic disadvantage. We would be rendering ourselves less fit to our weighty task if we excluded from our ranks people who meet our standards and who have the skills, the guts, and the devotion to serve in uniform,” he continued.
“I believe that the story of America should be one of widening freedom, not deepening discrimination,” Austin said.
“In 2021, I was honored to implement President Biden’s directive to ensure that transgender Americans who wish to serve and meet Department standards are able to do so openly and free from discrimination,” he continued.
“This often painful history has made something clear: Who you love and how you identify has nothing to do with how bravely you can fight for your country. When we speak up for the rights of all Americans, when we encourage all qualified Americans to stand a post, we strengthen both our democracy and our national security,” he added.
The now defunct-Palm Center estimated a total of 14,700 transgender individuals were serving in the military in 2018, at a time when 2.5 million served, or about 0.6%. That figure includes a Department of Defense estimate of 8,980 in the active-duty force and a Palm Center estimate of 5,727 in the reserve.
The statement applauding “all qualified patriots who seek to serve” comes almost two years after Austin ordered a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that led to the involuntary discharge of more than 8,000 service members amid a military recruiting crisis.
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