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Pentagon officials say GOP's bigoted bills are hurting the military

Multiple Defense officials have come out with statements this week highlighting the harm anti-LGBTQ+ laws have on military recruitment and retention.


It’s become a common refrain in the conservative movement to publicly lambaste the United States military for purported weakness, which conservatives claim is evident in the Pentagon’s diversity and inclusion efforts. 

Alabama's Tommy Tuberville, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was most recently criticized for this after claiming the Biden administration's concerns about white nationalists in the military harmed "readiness" and "recruitment."

When a reporter asked the Republican senator whether white nationalists should be in the military, Tuberville said, referring to the Biden administration: “They call them that. I call them Americans.” (After facing backlash, Tuberville said he doesn't believe "racism" belongs in the military.)

His apparently laissez-faire approach to bigotry in the military is a pretty accurate distillation of the GOP's general view of the military's diversity and inclusion efforts, despite the fact top military officials have spoken on countless occasions of these efforts' usefulness in recruitment and retainment.

If service members are thinking and concerned about the experience their kids are having, they’re not going to be focused on their jobs.

Alex Wagner, asst. Air Force secretary

Civilian lawmakers in the Republican Party, many of whom have never served and show no discernible credibility on how to run a modern-day military operation, are some of the loudest critics claiming such measures are a waste of time or injurious to morale. 

(Check out my MSNBC colleague Steve Benen's excellent post on the GOP's anti-diversity crusade against the military from January.)

Fortunately, people better equipped to make these judgments are speaking up. Pentagon officials have been setting the record straight this week.

At the Center for a New American Security’s annual National Security Conference on Tuesday, a high-ranking Air Force official explained that the nationwide wave of anti-LGBTQ laws passed by conservative lawmakers could hurt the military’s readiness. 

“When I’m forced to move families from installations because their school will do nothing when their LGBT kid is being bullied — that worries me, because that’s distracting from the mission, that’s detracting from our readiness,” said Alex Wagner, assistant Air Force secretary for manpower and reserve affairs. Defense One, a news site focused on national security, was the first outlet to report the comments

“If service members are thinking and concerned about the experience their kids are having, they’re not going to be focused on their jobs," Wagner said. "They’re not gonna be focused on their mission."

Seems logical, right? If military folks are worried about weirdo lawmakers obsessively finding ways to target their kids, they're not going to be able to do the important stuff we expect them to do ... like, y'know, protecting the nation.

The hits kept coming.

At a Department of Defense Pride Month event on Wednesday, Space Force Chief Operating Officer Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt pointed out that “more than 400 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been introduced at the state level” since January.

“That number is rising and demonstrates a trend that could be dangerous for our service members, their families and the readiness of the force as a whole,” she said.

Burt said oppressive laws could deter qualified candidates from applying to military positions if they don't "feel safe being themselves and performing at their highest potential at a given location, or if their family could be denied critical health care due to the laws in that state.” She added that being forced to select less qualified candidates in that scenario is “a threat to our readiness” and has “a direct correlation to the resiliency and well-being of our most important operational advantage: our people.” 

Speaking at the same event on Wednesday, another top Pentagon official discussed the state of affairs for LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized groups nationwide, and the military’s role in discouraging discriminatory policies and divisive rhetoric. 

“LGBTQ+ and other diverse communities are under attack just because they are different: Hate for hate’s sake,” said Gil Cisneros, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness and the Pentagon’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. “But we must stick together and we must be prepared to confront any such challenge directly.”

Republicans always claim to be defenders and supporters of the U.S. military. They've now been told by several military officials across several presidential administrations that diversity and inclusion efforts are helpful — and sowing division by perpetuating bigotry is not.

Republicans claim their cultural crusades against marginalized groups are designed to make America great again. Truth is, they're just making America less safe.