Executives in the United States influence politics and policies involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. While this is more of a modern phenomenon, presidents and governors actively shape politics that directly influence the community. This allows executives to set the tone of discourse and the eventual result of LGBTQ politics. Most presidents in modern times shaped debate surrounding LGBTQ rights in a positive light, but President Trump’s tone and policies go against recent trends. Executives on every level of government can shape, and have shaped, LGBTQ politics using formal powers, such as executive orders, administrative orders, directives, memorandums, and councils. The various executive documents allow executives to directly set policy through orders or to provide guiding philosophy for how policy should operate. Councils and advisory boards inform executives by providing expertise that executives need to create sound policy. Executives rely on each of the policymaking tools to varying degrees, but all presidents and governors have the ability to use the powers. One often ignored way executives influence policy is by setting the agenda by “going public” to bring the issue to everyday citizens. Executives have shaped many policies that directly affect the LGBTQ community, but three policy areas deserve special focus: the ban on gay and transgender service members in the military, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and nondiscrimination protections. In each of these cases, multiple executives have stepped in to shape policy and enforcement of regulations. In some cases, this is for the better. For instance, nondiscrimination policies came about in many states using gubernatorial executive orders. In other situations, executive action, or inaction, worked to the detriment of LGBTQ individuals, such as the failure of the Reagan administration to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Executives have influenced policy and implementation of policies since the 1970s. This influence is likely to continue for decades to come, not just with these issues, but in many policy areas that affect the lives of LGBTQ individuals.
Mitchell Dylan Sellers
Marissa Reilly, Elizabeth L. Hillman, and Elliot Koltnow
Examining the evolution of U.S military policy reveals how debates about the rights and opportunities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have been shaped by military personnel policies, federal laws, and cultural practices within military units. LGBT individuals have experienced U.S. military service through regulatory regimes that have often defined them as burdensome deviants and denied them civil rights enjoyed by other service members. LGBT people have served as volunteers and conscripts, openly and in the closet. Key periods of U.S. military history for LGBT service include World War II, the Cold War, as well as the Vietnam War era, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) regime (1994–2010), and the post-DADT period (2011 and beyond). During these periods of time, the armed forces and the United States reassessed the regulation of the service of LGBT service members and implemented changes that affected the rights, opportunities, and safety of LGBT military personnel and potential recruits. Those changes traced a path from outright exclusion of open service by LGBT persons to exemption, under which LGBT persons may serve under certain conditions, which often included the threat of expulsion, punishment, and extra-legal violence. In the post-DADT period, inclusion, or open service by some, but not all, LGBT groups, was made legal and safer through changes in law and military regulations and training that protected against some types of gender-identity and sexual orientation discrimination. Because serving openly in the military is a sign of full citizenship in the United States as well as a means of achieving economic security, eliminating limits on LGBT military service has long been a focus of advocates for civil rights. Military service has been perceived as proving a citizen’s loyalty and patriotism as well as offering material and social advancement. With many LGBT people at greater risk of unemployment, homelessness, and premature death as a result of violence and social ostracism, military service has been an especially critical opportunity for political and economic advancement. Honoring this history and identifying existing trends can help the United States, other nations, and international organizations to adapt their policies in recognition of gender and sexual diversity. Even when excluded by formal policy, people have found ways to serve, sometimes at great personal risk. Although their labor is officially lauded as an asset, their contributions and needs have not been fully recognized or appreciated by the state they pledged to serve. As the nation’s largest employer and provider of structural resources, the U.S. military’s support of LGBT military personnel and veterans matters greatly to social equity for a still-vulnerable LGBT population.