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Department of Defense Should Provide Diversity Training

Tracy Emblem and Lisa Kove: Historically, the DoD has had an unwritten policy/rule that excludes LGBT diversity training from its diversity educational program.
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The purpose of diversity training is to educate the workforce and prevent mistreatment of members of a discriminated class.

Presently, all agencies and departments with a civilian workforce in the federal government, except one, the Department of Defense, include the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender class as both an "Affinity and Special Emphasis Group." This classification enables the inclusion of the LGBT class in diversity training.

The DoD is larger than many federal entities because at least two-thirds of the nation's business base is associated with this business enterprise. According to a longstanding Department of Defense employee, LGBT employees continue to suffer from harassment and are frequently discriminated against in the DoD work force.

Historically, the DoD has had an unwritten policy/rule that excludes LGBT diversity training from its diversity educational program. DoD has turned its back on widespread significant stereotyping and harassment of perceived LGBT employees including civil service, military, and aligned corporate contractors.

Unfortunately, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has exacerbated DoD's hostile work environment for LGBT employees. In fact, hostility toward LGBT employees is reportedly more severe within the DoD workforce than it is else where in the federal government. And, civilian employees and contractors working outside of the Washington DC beltway claim they are subjected to working conditions that are even more hostile.

Typically, when a DoD LGBT civilian or contractor is harassed, the outcome is dismal. LGBT harassment victims have lost their careers and sometimes have needed significant therapy afterward. LGBT life time achievements, experience, and education are completely disregarded. Many cannot pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

Here are some examples. Lettie was a lead civil servant on a military base. She was perceived as a lesbian and harassed. At first, Lettie fought back and she was successful with her case. Then the government appealed and the stress led Lettie to a nervous breakdown forcing her out of her job.

Sean was employed as a civilian at a military base. He openly advocated for LGBT equality. At one point, Sean forced the agency to include "sexual orientation" as an area of equal opportunity in the agency's job announcements. Because of his advocacy, Sean was repeatedly harassed and finally forced out of government service.

While there has been diversity training at the top of the DoD chain, DoD has not implemented a widespread program to educate its employees about LGBT issues and sensitivity in the workforce. Give the rapid move to online access and methods, online diversity training offers an important alternative.

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Here is a short history of why the DoD civilian workforce has not been able to adequately enforce LGBT civil rights.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not include "sexual orientation." This means federal employees cannot appeal their discrimination and harassment claims to the Equal Employment & Opportunity Commission, the federal agency which enforces federal discrimination laws. However, victims of sexual and gender harassment can file complaints under a grievance procedure of the agency they work for, and under certain conditions, they may appeal their claims to the Merit Systems Protection Board or the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).

OSC's implementation of the complaint process has not had a very good track record. The typical DOD, Equal Employment Opportunity counselor gives very little guidance to LGBT employees during the complaint process.

Although in February 2009, the DoD issued a Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity directive which now includes "sexual orientation," because there is no LGBT diversity training, most DOD employees are not even unaware that this directive exists.

The Pentagon's Equal Opportunity office has repeatedly ignored requests from LGBT employees via DOD FED GLOBE for inclusion in diversity training since 2009. According to DOD FED GLOBE's Executive Director, co-author Lisa Kove, Mr. Robert Joe is in-charge of Equal Opportunity but has not responded to DOD FED GLOBE about including LGBT as a class in its diversity training programs.

The Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a proposed bill which if passed would help LGBT employees nationwide, just as the Civil Rights Act helped people of color and women. Another simple solution is for Congress to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Now that Congress has finally repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the Department of Defense should take a leadership role in ending harassment and discrimination in the civilian workforce. President John F. Kennedy once said: "In giving rights to others which belong to them, we give rights to ourselves and to our country."

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Consequently, Congress should consider amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" placed next to the words "race and gender."

Tracy Emblem and Lisa Kove

Tracy Emblem is an attorney and a Board Member of Empowering Spirits Foundation, a LGBT civil rights organization. Lisa Kove is the Executive Director of DOD FED Globe, a LGBT advocacy organization dedicated to fighting for LGBT rights. Ms. Kove's opinion is not intended to reflect the views of her employer, the DOD.