Leaders from two Air Force and Space Force groups – one focused on issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, or LGBTQ troops; the other on the native military – want to see improvements start from the top, they say.
The push for change shouldn’t start at the lower echelons, according to Major General Leah Lauderback, leader of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer / Issues Initiative Team, or LIT; and Colonel Terrence Adams, leader of the Indigenous Nations Equality Tea, or INET.
“If we want this to be successful, leadership (…) has to be part of the process first and foremost,” Lauderback, director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the US Space Force, said at the meeting. ‘a roundtable interview on Wednesday.
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Last month, the service announced that LIT and INET had formed earlier this year to better analyze issues impacting the diversity, career limitations and retention of these service members. The groups hope the Airmen will come forward to describe the obstacles they encountered in the service.
Lauderback, who has been openly gay since the Dont Ask, Don’t Tell policy was repealed, said she was concerned that young servicemen have doubts about their gender identity.
“We need to be able to get the support of our providers, our healthcare professionals within the service, for this to work,” she said.
A first step, she said, could be to encourage medical staff to praise airmen for seeking care to protect themselves from exposure to HIV. Airmen must complete application forms to use pre-exposure prophylactic medication, which was once prohibited for pilots and crews. This policy was changed in 2018.
A simple improvement would be to change the language on the forms, which classifies these Airmen as “high risk,” Lauderback said. “This aviator is looking for help, he’s doing the right thing, he’s responsible, and so we want him to feel good, rather than making him feel like he’s doing something wrong.”
Another simple solution would be to look at family programs with LGBTQ staff in mind. A family of two fathers may reject a “mothers-to-preschool” program because it does not meet their needs, she explained.
“These are, again, awareness and education,” Lauderback said.
INET is working to define the challenges Indigenous Airmen see in the ranks, Adams said. He is also deputy director of strategy, posture, assessments and concepts for the Air Force.
INET works in partnership with organizations such as the Society of American Indian Government Employees and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to identify and try to remove these barriers, and to recruit and retain people who have traditionally not seen the service. military as a career option, he mentioned.
“My goal … is to start defending, to make those little voices heard [into] great voices as we begin our journey, ”said Adams, who is of Cherokee and Creek Indian descent.
The teams are applying lessons learned from other groups, such as the Women’s Initiative Team, which has been in existence for nearly a decade and has helped spur change to outdated or restrictive policies.
There is room for collaboration, added the executives.
Lauderback said she recently encountered a transgender service member who reported a personal issue to the women’s team, but the issue applied to the LGBTQ team as well. “So this crossover conversation? It’s happening,” she said.
“At least we have a good community together that can provide support to people who still have challenges. I think at the grassroots level these Airmen and Guardians [are] will always participate as long as we provide the venue for it, ”said Lauderback.
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