The Army inspires its soldiers to embody certain values. Chief among them is the idea that all members of the team should be appreciated for their contributions, dedication to the mission, and patriotism. All soldiers deserve respect, and no soldier should feel unwelcome because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious background. Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s nominee for Army secretary, Mark Green, has an anti-LGBTQ, Islamophobic record indicating that he does not exemplify these principles. But if confirmed, he would be vested with the responsibility to lead tens of thousands of LGBTQ and Muslim soldiers in the Army. Accordingly, he is unfit for the position, and the Senate should not confirm him.
By some estimates, 70,000 military service members were lesbian, gay, or bisexual as of 2010. And 15,500 transgender Americans served in uniform as of 2014. Presumably, these numbers have risen since the abandonment in 2011 of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the lifting in 2016 of the military’s ban on transgender Americans serving openly.
But Green’s recent comments on LGBTQ issues demonstrate an intense disrespect for these soldiers. During a September Tea Party gathering in Tennessee, where Green is a state senator, he showed his true colors. When asked how soldiers feel about “the social revolutions being imposed upon them by this government,” he started his answer by tacitly chiding millennial soldiers just for being accepting of gay men in the ranks. From there, it got worse. Green claimed that psychiatrists believe “transgender is a disease.” And on reversing pro-LGBTQ social trends—or putting “the toothpaste back in the tube,” as he described it—he invoked religious sentiments by saying that it will “start with me being the salt and the light to the people around me.” “We’ve tolerated immorality,” he continued. Later, Green indicated that Tennessee should defy the U.S. Supreme Court by refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and he suggested that because thirty years ago people did not envision the widespread acceptance of gay marriage, the same might happen for infanticide in the future. Simply put, Green’s comments defile the human dignity of LGBTQ Americans.
If confirmed, Green would lead an Army still struggling to combat sexual assault in the ranks. Newly released Pentagon figures reflect troubling sexual assault and harassment rates for LGBT soldiers:
The overall sexual assault estimated prevalence rate for active duty members identifying as LGBT is 4.5 percent, compared to 0.8 percent for those who do not identify as LGBT…
Overall, the estimated sexual harassment rate for active duty members identifying as LGBT is 22.8 percent, compared to 6.2 percent for those who do not identify as LGBT.
Is Green really the best person to be entrusted with the responsibility to tackle this issue and set the right leadership tone?
At the same September Tea Party event, Green chose not to counter false narratives and scaremongering about Muslims. When a man claimed that Muslims “don’t belong” in the United States, that “we need our guns” because Muslims represent a fifth column that will “rise up,” and that then-President Barack Obama is not an American citizen, Green failed to challenge his ideas. And when another man asked him whether Obama is Muslim, Green said, “I can’t answer that question, but…we’re getting past the circumstantial evidence phase that he doesn’t really care about what’s best for this country.” He also agreed with a woman who stated, “We have a threat…we need to take a stand on the indoctrination of Islam in our public schools. It is alive and well.” What’s more, after explaining his beliefs about Christianity, he said—as a sitting state legislator—that Muslims “don’t believe that, but I want them to.” Nearly 6,000 Muslims serve in the military.
As a Jew, and therefore a religious minority both at West Point and in the Army, I was always confident that the leaders in my chain of command fully supported me. Had they made anti-Semitic comments, however, my trust in their leadership would have diminished. And had such remarks occurred before I joined the service, I would have been disinclined to sign up in the first place. Green’s comments are the equivalent for LGBTQ and Muslim soldiers both current and prospective. His confirmation would consequently risk degrading the Army’s morale, readiness, and recruitment efforts.
It is no surprise that Green’s controversial nomination is now up in the air. On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he thought Green’s remarks were “very concerning,” and that “there are some issues that clearly need to be cleared up.” The White House hasn’t formally submitted Green’s nomination to McCain’s committee, so no confirmation hearing is on the schedule yet. “When his nomination is submitted, we will give him an opportunity to respond to these questions that have been raised,” McCain told USA Today.
In a Facebook post, Green responded to the recent criticism. Among several points he made, he stated, “I have never and will never force my religion on anyone.” And he said, “I believe that every American has a right to defend their country regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion.” “I have never considered myself a judge of anyone,” he added. Interestingly, he did not state that LGBTQ soldiers should be able to serve openly. And instead of apologizing for his disrespectful remarks, he blamed the “liberal left” for “cutting and splicing [his] words to paint [him] as a hater.” Moreover, according to Human Rights Campaign, in this Facebook post he “cited an extreme anti-LGBTQ blogger to prove he is not anti-LGBTQ.”
LGBTQ and Muslim soldiers are just as patriotic and capable as everybody else in the Army. And by virtue of putting on the uniform, they demonstrate their willingness to make immense sacrifices for the United States. In return, they at least deserve an Army secretary whose respect for them will not be clouded by the alarming views reflected in Green’s recent remarks. They deserve an Army secretary they can trust to promote their best interests and to foster the right culture of leadership throughout the organization. The Senate now has the opportunity to avoid propelling Green’s pernicious attitude directly to the top of the Army.