U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently signed an order that would prohibit the presentation of “divisive symbols” — which includes everything except state flags, the flag of Washington, D.C., the U.S. flag, and the flags of allies — from being flown on military bases.
Under the new policy, these flags are banned from “work places, common access areas, and public areas,” though the symbolism is not banned from individual rooms or dorms. The guidelines are considered a way for the government to get out of addressing the demands of the current Black Lives Matter movement. While many have called for the removal and ban on the Confederate flag, President Trump has refused to do anything on the basis of “free speech.”
To avoid outrightly banning the Confederate imagery, this vague new directive was implemented. However, due to the sweeping nature of the policy, it also bans the display of the Pride flag in U.S. military public spaces.
“The flags we fly must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols,” Esper wrote in a memo.
With these new guidelines in place, LGBTQ+ groups, even those associated with the military, will not be permitted to display the Pride flag at any time — even during Pride month. Queer service members are also prohibited from showing the flag in their workspaces.
The policy is carefully constructed to avoid addressing any particular flags or groups as well as to circumvent using specific words like “ban” so as not to appear like the government is encroaching on the free speech they’re claiming to defend.
The Department of Defense has received an outpouring of criticism over the new guidelines. Jennifer Dane, interim executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, noted in an interview with the Washington Blade that the government is trying to use the chance to ban Confederate imagery as a way to instead punish the LGBTQ+ community.
“It’s absolutely outrageous that Defense Secretary Mark Esper would ban the Pride flag — the very symbol of inclusion and diversity,” Dane said. “In what universe is it OK to turn an opportunity to ban a racist symbol like the Confederate flag into an opportunity to ban the symbol of diversity? This decision sends an alarming message to LGBTQ service members, their families, and future recruits.”