After the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock, which extended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to LGBTI+ Americans, there was widespread expectation that the Mattis Policy banning open transgender service would be overturned. Ending the ban has been the goal of military readiness experts, trans servicemembers, and veterans since its announcement on Twitter three years ago.
Given where the country is and where it is going, overturning the ban is imperative if the all-volunteer force is going to be successful long term. But simply turning back the clock to the policies of 2016 is not a solution. The era of “resurgent great power competition” demands that we ask hard questions about how personnel policy has failed. There are three fundamental ways to better attune future policy to our needs: by expanding equality and opportunities to serve for LGBTI+ servicemembers, for women, and for immigrants.
First, the Bostock ruling against discrimination is a necessary but insufficient step to overturn the ban. Historically, courts have been highly deferential to the military on personnel matters. The uniformed services are exempt from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act unless otherwise directed by the Secretary of Defense. That’s where the next President and the next Secretary of Defense can do more than simply end the Mattis Policy. Incorporating Bostock into the military Equal Opportunity Office will prevent discrimination and change the culture. To right past policy wrongs, they could work to offer waivers to transgender veterans expelled under the Mattis Policy counting time away as time served towards the next promotion; those who choose not to return because of discriminatory policies could be offered pensions as if they’d served their full tour. Finally, assuming the educational debts of trans ROTC cadets and those of other trans servicemembers that stem from implementing the Mattis Policy. This starting point prepares the military for a rising generation that is one-third or more non-heterosexual and for whom workplace diversity is a priority.
Simply turning back the clock to the policies of 2016 is not a solution. The era of “resurgent great power competition” demands that we ask hard questions about how personnel policy has failed.
Second, it’s past time for the US military to join its allies with regard to women in service. In 2015, all military occupational specialties were opened to women without exception. Across the services, women makeup 20% and rising. That means it’s high time we stop treating female service as a novelty and prepare for a greater number of women in service. Building a 21st-century military would mean treating women servicemembers, their lives, families, and careers with the same gravity that the military has given men over the years. That would lead to the following changes: adding women to the Selective Service; taking sexual assault out of the chain of command; separating harassment from assault in statistics and making harassment a fireable offense; making abortion available on-demand across the US and around the globe as well as offering direct military medical training dollars to medical schools that provide training in abortions; fully funding IVF. These changes would help the armed forces recruit, retain, and promote female servicemembers in greater numbers, many of whom depart due to lack of competent family planning policies. Successfully increasing the number of female servicemembers is both a good in the context of American values and expanding the talent pool of future leaders in an era of “resurgent great power competition.” Further, it would allow the US to return to a leadership position on personnel and readiness issues within NATO.
Third, we must take advantage of the American immigrant tradition. In moments of past historical crisis, from the Civil War and beyond, the immigrants who came to America made America what it is — and helped America make the world. The current administration shuttered a constellation of programs that brought in immigrants who had particular skills or came from unique backgrounds. While those programs should be restored, with compensation and waivers for those who were expelled and still seek to serve their adopted nation, they should be expanded to meet the needs of the military into the future. Further, given shifting sources of manpower and immigration, the programs should invest in greater cultural literacy and competency to include Latin America, East Asia, and the Middle East. If America is to continue to make the world of the 21st century, it will need immigrants from around the globe to make that possible.
These are not all the changes that could be made to prepare the US military for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, but they are a collective starting point meant to respond to existing and future trends in American culture and American manpower.
Luke Schleusener is president and co-founder of Out in National Security and a security fellow with the Truman National Security Project. He served as a speechwriter to Former Defense Secretaries Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, and Ash Carter.