Each year, Memorial Day presents an opportunity for the U.S. to reflect on and appreciate the brave Americans who lost their lives while serving in our military. As diversity, equity, and inclusion are being recklessly politicized, this holiday should be a time to honor fallen servicemembers who made our military diverse. Presented here are five ways to acknowledge and salute them.
Acknowledge That Some Were Queer — Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer Americans have always served in the U.S. military. Their presence and contributions weren’t always known because of homophobic and transphobic cultures and policies (for example, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell). These servicemembers hid meaningful aspects of themselves and their identities as they pursued freedom for others. Honoring all heroes requires boldly rejecting the erasure of LGBTQ Americans who bravely served our country.
Acknowledge The Inequitable Conditions In Which Women Served — Being drastically and consistently outnumbered by men since women were first allowed to enlist in military service nearly 80 years ago; encounters with implicit and explicit biases, stereotypes, sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault; and severe underrepresentation in positions of leadership and the highest-paid ranks are just some of the gendered experiences that servicewomen have long endured. Yet, these women still generously persevered and put their lives on the line. Some were queer. Some were women of color.
Acknowledge That Some Died For An American Dream That Remains Unfulfilled — Black soldiers joined other service members in pursuit of freedom, liberty, justice, democracy, and other American ideals. They did so during Jim Crow segregation and other eras when citizenship, voting rights, and full personhood were denied to Black Americans. Decades later, racism and discrimination continue to systematically disadvantage Black Americans and other people of color.
Acknowledge That Service Abroad Accelerated Civil Rights In America – After fighting for freedom in World War II, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts, Black soldiers refused to return to an America in which they and their families would be continually treated like second-class citizens. They forced the U.S. government to confront the hypocrisy of fighting for freedom in other countries across the globe while systematically denying Black people’s full participation in America’s democracy. Their activism and efforts contributed greatly to the civil rights that Black Americans enjoy today.
Acknowledge The Contributions Of Asian American, Indigenous, Latino and Pacific Islander Soldiers – Every branch of the U.S. military has long benefitted from racial and ethnic diversity – mostly in the lower service ranks, much less so in positions of leadership. Asian American and Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and Latino Americans have served alongside Black and white soldiers. But unfortunately, their contributions are often erased in Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations.
The U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, National Guard, and Navy have long expanded access to the middle class for millions of women, people of color, and low-income Americans. For this, they should be applauded. Notwithstanding, like many other diverse organizations, equity and inclusion across these six military branches (plus the new U.S. Space Force that was established three years ago) remain far from realized. Abandoning a commitment to DEI in our nation’s military would result in aborting a mission for which numerous diverse soldiers served and died.
All servicemembers, including heterosexual white male soldiers, ought to be commended for their selflessness and bravery. Our nation will forever benefit from their sacrifice, especially those who lost their lives during service. Truly honoring them requires a courageous, collective defense against the sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia that denies America opportunities to reach its full potential. This won’t happen if politicized efforts to suppress DEI in our military continue.
Leaders who are responsible for ensuring our military organizations are diverse, equitable, and inclusive must be taught how to do so. They have to develop sophisticated strategies that include DEI fitness testing, rigorous training, metrics, courage, high levels of accountability, interagency coordination and collaboration, and an unwavering commitment to protecting America from adversaries who seek to destroy it. Essentially, effective DEI leadership demands the same actions that are required for the successful execution of other military activities. Soldiers who fought and died for a better America deserve this level of defense.