As one of the co-chairs of the Department of Defense’s Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I read with interest Secretary of Defense Austin’s March 12, 2021, Memorandum on Promoting and Protecting the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World. I agree that, as an underlying principle of equity, all in the Department of Defense should model the treatment of others with dignity and respect.

One thing not mentioned in Secretary Austin’s memorandum is something we found in 2010 about the need to respect service members who have beliefs opposed to LGBTQI+ behaviors and conduct. Our report stated: “Included also, should be a message to those who are opposed to ‘open’ service on well-founded moral or religious grounds, that their views and beliefs are not rejected, and that leaders have not turned their backs on them.” Further in the report, “… we cannot and should not expect individual Service members to change their personal religious or moral beliefs about homosexuality…”

Diversity truly is a foundational strength of America’s armed forces. As a fundamental tenet of unit cohesion, teamwork and camaraderie, service members must always respect the beliefs and practices of their fellow service members even when such beliefs differ from their own.

The Department of Defense correctly seeks to protect the rights of all. The secretary of defense should make it explicit that those protections apply equally, and that each individual’s moral and religious beliefs will be respected.

Retired Army Gen. Carter F. Ham served in 2010 as a co-chair of the Department of Defense’s “Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The law, which required gay service members to keep their sexual orientation secret or face discharge, was repealed in late 2010.

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