In early 2022, state laws targeting LGBTQ+ communities began to spread across the U.S., leading the military services to offer resources for families seeking support and even relocations to escape discrimination.
The Department of the Air Force -- which also oversees the Space Force -- told Military.com on Thursday that 15 relocations have been granted under "exceptions to policy (ETP) for members experiencing a range of racial- and LGBTQ+-related discrimination" since 2021. The waivers allowed those families to move before a standard posting's term was up.
But in more than a year since the services claimed they were offering help, none of the other service branches has tracked family relocations, according to public affairs officials.
For some services like the Army, Marine Corps and Navy, their discrimination-based relocation options are not heavily advertised and the branches are relying on old, existing policies to accommodate troops who have grown concerned that new state laws could lead to harm for their families.
In March 2022, the Department of the Air Force issued a press release responding to "various laws and legislation" that "may affect LGBTQ Airmen, Guardians, and/or their LGBTQ dependents in different ways." It detailed some of the resources available to service members and their families but did not mention the potential for moves using an exception to policy waiver. But besides that press release, the services have been largely mum on what they're willing to do to help families, and how many families they're helping.
Jennifer Dane, an LGBTQ+ advocate and an Air Force veteran who was one of the last to be investigated under the Pentagon's old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, told Military.com that the lack of specific data that shows whether service members and their families are experiencing widespread discrimination is concerning.
"There's no transparency," Dane said. "There just needs to be more transparency across all branches."
Currently, the American Civil Liberties Union is tracking nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ bills throughout the United States, according to the organization's website.
Michelle Norman, the founder and executive director of Partners in PROMISE -- a nonprofit focused on advocating for family policies in the military, told Military.com that not specifying the purpose of programs and failing to advertise that they exist can lead to confusion among service members and their dependents.
"In order to sustain this military life, we do rely on these support systems and we know that the Department of Defense cannot offer it all, but they have some great programs out for us," Norman said. "But there's always room for improvement for messaging to families to make sure that they are connected with resources that they need."
When Military.com asked the Department of the Air Force for the number of discrimination-based requests last year, a spokesperson pointed to the number of humanitarian assignments in fiscal 2021, 511, but stated that the service branch did not categorize the specific reasons for those relocations. Humanitarian assignments are intended to help with "short-term problems involving a family member" and aim to place airmen and Guardians as close as possible to where the issue -- ranging from illness, death or loss of personal property through disaster -- is occurring, according to a 2017 news release.
The Department of the Air Force declined to provide additional details on the 15 relocations that were categorized as "exceptions to policy."
"Examples of relocation ETP denials are very rare, but when they occur, can be attributed to delays of mandatory clearance for dependents (including medical) and/or delay of travel documents for overseas assignments," the Department of the Air Force said. "We do not normally release relocation details due to the risk of personal identification of these families."
The Air Force also pointed to a variety of other programs used for reassignments, including humanitarian, threatened persons, expedited transfer and child custody assignments, as well as the Exceptional Family Member Program. That last program could also be utilized if a family member needed medical care, such as transition surgery, and state laws did not allow for the procedure.
Both the Army and the Marine Corps don't track the specific reasons for any relocation that could be due to LGBTQ+ discrimination.
The Army told Military.com that, under its compassionate action program, it had received 1,443 requests so far for fiscal 2023; 2,267 requests in 2022; and 2,459 in 2021.
In that three-year period, nearly 500 of those requests have been rejected. But compassionate actions cover a wide range of reasons, from pregnant soldiers switching bases during their third trimester or a soldier wanting to escape sexual harassment.
"Compassionate actions are unbiased, highly sensitive and processed based upon a soldier's or commander's request," the Army told Military.com. "These regulations ensure the Army provides the best quality of life support and allows commanders the flexibility to address specific needs of soldiers and their families."
The Marine Corps is even less forthcoming with details on Marines being able to transfer over discriminatory laws.
Last year, the Corps simply said that "each service member's assignment is assessed individually and state law is not an articulated factor in the assignment process." This year, it did not respond to Military.com's inquiries on the topic.
Meanwhile, the Navy is able to track sailors who apply for a move but, according to the service's spokespeople, none has been transferred in two years. After being contacted by Military.com, Cmdr. Rick Chernitzer, a Navy spokesman, said that the service "has not approved any requests for transfers related to state laws concerning the LGBTQ+ community."
Last year, officials told Military.com that the service didn't receive any requests. Lt. Alyson Hands explained that the Navy was using an already established policy of "safety transfers" to give sailors the option of transferring from discriminatory states.
The policy is largely intended for sailors who have been victims of crime or sexual violence and not discriminatory laws. While spokespeople for the Navy insist to media outlets that LGBTQ+ sailors experiencing discrimination are able to apply under the existing rules for transfer, there is little in the official regulations and documents that specifies such a move would be covered.
The guiding document on the transfers says a sailor or their family generally must be a victim of violent crime to qualify. The Navy's website on the transfer program references violent crimes as well but also cites the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention rules and mentions rape and sexual assault -- though it does note those are not the only examples of safety moves. In 2019, the Navy further expanded the program to allow fast, temporary reassignments for cases of stalking, revenge porn, and other sexual misconduct.
-- Steve Beynon contributed to this report.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.