Increasingly, activist groups are promoting the need to increase LGBTQIA workers in national security. Greater LGBTQIA representation, they explain, would both better reflect the country’s population and ensure highly trained workers are afforded the same opportunities regardless of gender identity or sexuality.
“We must ensure that our national security professionals need not choose between their country and their identity,” said Ned Price, who identifies as gay and is director of National Security Action — a liberal think tank that opposes President Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy and the use of the military. Diversity is the country’s national strength, he said.
Another large group, Out in National Security, advocates for increased hiring of LGBTQIA employees in the government’s national security agencies, and for greater recognition of the contributions they have already made within the national security sphere.
“Out in National Security is entering the space at a key moment of energy and intersectional action,” said Shawn Skelly, cofounder of the group.
Skelly, a transgender woman, came into her identity later in life because she said there were no LGBTQIA role models to show her what a professional future could be. “It was quite daunting during a very fraught and lonely time,” said Skelly.
Similar organizations, like SPART*A — a group of transgender individuals who serve or have served in the military — are helping advance underrepresented groups in national security and the military, regardless of ethnicity, religion, culture, and sexual orientation or gender identity.
“If these are the individuals who are to be charged with protecting the United States, the workforce must reflect the country,” said Price.
LGBTQIA people have been historically barred from participating in the military and government. This was greatly due to the fact that homosexual sodomy was seen as “conduct unbecoming” of a member of the military, said Luke Schleusener, who identifies as gay and is the cofounder and executive director of Out in National Security.
Then with McCarthyism — a series of investigations and hearings during the 1950s that worked to expose supposed communist infiltration in the U.S. government — came the “Lavender Scare.” According to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, “homosexuals were viewed as sinful and perverted and the public perception of homosexuality shared many similarities with the public view of communists.” In other words, both communists and LGBTQIA people were seen as untrustworthy people living double lives. Civil servants and those who worked in the State Department, who identified as part of the LGBTQIA community, were regularly fired. President Dwight Eisenhower later enacted an executive order barring gay men and lesbian women from holding security clearances.
“I’ve been both closeted in the national security community and out in the national security community,” said Price, who is gay.
In 2011, President Barack Obama repealed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that allowed gay people in the military as long as they did not openly state their sexual identity. According to the Williams Institute, which studies LGBTQIA issues, there were an estimated 48,500 LGB members of the military and lifting DADT would attract as many as 36,700 more. In 2014, the institute said about 8,800 transgender individuals were on active duty.
Over the years, there has been a consistent battle over allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military. According to the ACLU, 20 percent of transgender adults are veterans of the military. But due to the tensions caused by equality rights and religion, their rights have been called into question. Trump has reversed Obama’s work to protect the transgender community by implementing regulations that question those diagnosed with “gender dysphoria.” The administration allows or disallows these individuals to serve based on where they stand in their transition.
Price, who worked for the CIA from 2006 to 2014, said the agency had an inclusive culture.
More and more employees have openly identified as allies by “wearing their CIA badges with lanyards depicting the agency’s LGBTQ affinity group,” he said.
“Being LGBTQ in government and national security means what it means for every American: the tremendous honor of public service that keeps my friends, families, neighbors, and fellow Americans safe and secure,” said Schleusener.
It “[improves] the future of the country and improves the quality of our government by making it more inclusive.”