Democrats ask why Pentagon is ‘backing away’ from Pride Month

A group of House Democrats from the Armed Services committee are demanding to know why the Pentagon didn’t issue an official memo marking June as LGBT Pride Month.

Concerned that Pentagon leadership is “backing away from supporting and celebrating” its LGBT military members, Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Maryland, and seven of his Democratic colleagues penned a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis asking him to explain the decision not to issue a memo.

The group of Democrats is also demanding answers as to why Defense Department leadership declined to address the Pentagon’s annual Pride event.

“The absence of demonstrative support from DOD leadership at events like these can have the effect of isolating our LGBT service members and employees,” the letter sent Thursday read.

CNN has reached out to the Department of Defense for comment.

The Department of Defense has hosted an official Pride event every June at its headquarters, featuring speakers from the department’s leadership, since the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 2011.

The undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness has released an official memo marking Pride Month since DADT was repealed. In their letter, Brown and other congressional members asked what role, if any, did the undersecretary for personnel and readiness Robert Wilkie had in deciding not to issue a memo.

This year’s Pride event did, however, go on as planned on June 11, though with a noticeable absence of Defense Department leadership.

“The refusal to officially acknowledge Pride Month this year is deeply troubling, and whoever made the decision to break with this important tradition should be ashamed,” American Military Partner Association president Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a press release two days later.

The Human Rights Campaign called it “shameful.”

Elaine Donnelly, the president of Center for Military Readiness, which supports the policy barring transgender military service members, told CNN it was a “positive development” and pointed to an article she wrote published last Friday.

“President Trump’s decision to discontinue controversial LGBT Pride events suggest that he intends to deliver on his promise to end extreme political correctness in our military,” Donnelly wrote, adding, “The Department of Defense should not feel obligated to host and subsidize lobbying fests for ideological pressure groups, including the LGBT Left.”

Donnelly said that continued involvement of the Pentagon at Pride Month “would have invited even more division” in the military.

Past DoD endorsements of Pride Month

At last year’s event, Anthony Kurta, the then-undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, represented the Department of Defense in place of Mattis.

Kurta also issued an official memo recognizing and encouraging the celebration of June as Pride Month that year.

“The struggles, sacrifices, and successes among the LGBT community continue to shape our history and remind us to uphold tolerance and justice for all,” the memo read.

The Pentagon celebrated pride month for the first time in 2012, after the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that penalized gay and lesbian military members who openly acknowledged their sexual preference.

Jeh Johnson, who was the Pentagon’s general counsel at the time, delivered the keynote, while Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke to the audience in a video message. In 2013, Chuck Hagel was the first defense secretary to address Pentagon’s pride month event in person.

Obama’s third defense secretary, Ash Carter, also spoke at the Pride Month event in 2015, announcing that the department had updated its Military Equal Opportunity policy to include sexual orientation for the first time. Transgender individuals, however, were still not openly serving in the military and could face being discharged.

Trump’s push to ban transgender individuals from military

President Donald Trump is seeking to re-implement the ban on most transgender individuals serving in the military, which is stalled in several federal court cases, after the Pentagon ended it in 2016.

According to a Pentagon memo about the policy, exceptions to the ban would include people who have been “stable for 36 consecutive months in their biological sex prior to accession,” service members who “do not require a change of gender” and troops who started serving under the Obama administration’s policy prior to the new memo.

“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” Trump said in a series of tweets last July when he first announced he was considering reinstating the ban.

A 2016 Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Defense Department concluded that letting transgender people serve openly would have a “minimal impact” on readiness and health care costs, largely because there are so few in the military’s 1.3 million-member force.