Free of White House oversight, National Guard recruits LGBTQ members

Things are different when you answer to the governor, not the president.
Things are different when you answer to the governor, not the president.
Image: AP/Gregory Bull
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The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps all answer to the White House. The National Guard, however, answers to the governor of the state where a unit is based. This has led to vastly different takes on LGBTQ inclusion among the armed forces. 

The Minnesota National Guard, for instance, is now seeking “focused advertising that will reach the LGBT community,” even as US president Donald Trump continues to “systemically” rid the military of gay and transgender members.

According to a newly-issued Department of Defense solicitation, the Minnesota Guard plans to run a year-long print and digital campaign beginning in April.

“We are looking at increasing our market share to meet the demand of recruiting,” the notice says, noting that 12.5% of Minneapolis/St. Paul residents identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, making it the fourth-largest LGBTQ community in America. 

“We take pride in our efforts to promote inclusion and work to increase diversity through targeted marketing,” Minnesota National Guard Recruiting Battalion commander Lt. Col. Ed Suarez told Quartz, adding that his unit has in fact had a booth at Pride Week celebrations for more than a decade.

Image for article titled Free of White House oversight, National Guard recruits LGBTQ members

Several military analysts and experts said they were not aware of any other LGBTQ-specific recruitment drives by the armed services. But there have been other recent signs of progress within the National Guard. During last year’s Minneapolis Pride Festival, the Minnesota Guard ran its first ad in a local “Pride Pages” directory. Also last year, the California Air National Guard performed the country’s first-ever Pride Week flyover in San Diego.  

For the four branches of the US military, meanwhile, which are fully under Trump’s aegis as commander in chief, things are different.

The president has dismantled all kinds of protections for LGBTQ people during his tenure, and has decreed transgender Americans unfit to serve in the armed forces entirely. And while military recruiters have targeted African-Americans and Latinos in advertising campaigns in attempts to boost diversity among its ranks, it has never specifically targeted the LGBTQ community.

The military’s ban on openly gay troops ended in 2011, though servicemembers have continued to face death threats from their fellow soldiers in the years since. Many fear the president’s ongoing rhetoric could intensify those threats.

Because National Guard units report to the state and not the federal government (except in wartime), it allows them a degree of independence in setting policy, said Clay Kilpatrick, a US Marine Corps veteran and San Diego Pride military liaison.

“The California National Guard is very outspoken in their openness in seeking LGBT members,” Kilpatrick told Quartz. “With [54] different guards in the nation, I don’t think the current president wants to get engaged by attacking them publicly.”

Kate Germano, a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who commanded a recruitment battalion before retiring in 2016, sees the Minnesota National Guard’s upcoming LGBTQ promotional campaign as more in line with the future.

“It makes sense to me that this would be part of the evolution of military recruiting’s advertising,” she said.