Policies barring discrimination in the military based on race, gender and other innate characteristics would be enshrined in law under a bill being introduced by a Democratic lawmaker Wednesday to mark the 75th anniversary of the racial desegregation of the military.
The bill from Rep. Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash., would ban the Pentagon from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation. Someone's eligibility for service could be based only on their ability to meet occupational standards, the bill adds.
"We have seen over the past several years that some extremist members of the Republican Party are trying to undermine decades of efforts to improve racial equality, address extremism and attract a wider group of recruits," Strickland wrote in a letter to other House lawmakers seeking co-sponsors for the bill.
"While the department prohibits discrimination by instruction, service members deserve to know that discrimination is prohibited by the law," she added in the letter, which was obtained by Military.com.
Strickland, whose Black father served in the Army during World War II when it was still racially segregated, timed the introduction of her bill to the anniversary of President Harry Truman's July 26, 1948, executive order ending racial segregation in the military.
Defense officials are also marking the anniversary throughout the week, including an event at the Pentagon on Wednesday and at a forum hosted by the Truman Library Institute on Thursday and Friday.
"Through the desegregation of the armed forces, the department expanded its warfighting capabilities and opened doors for military pioneers such as Annie E. Graham, the first African American female to serve in the United States Marine Corps in 1949," Gil Cisneros, the under secretary of defense for personnel, wrote in a memo released Monday. "We will build on this legacy of equal opportunity and continue to foster work environments where every individual is respected for their talents and mission contributions."
Strickland's bill is similar to one introduced earlier this year by Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., that supporters have dubbed the "Truman Amendment." The Jacobs bill would specify that standards for service cannot include criteria based on race, color, national origin, religion or sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
While both bills would have a similar effect, the messaging around the Jacobs bill focuses on preventing discrimination against LGBTQ+ troops and forestalling a ban on transgender military service from ever being reinstated, while the messaging around the Strickland bill is broader.
But Strickland's bill is likely to meet a similar fate as Jacobs' has – languishing in a GOP-controlled House.
As part of their political strategy, Republicans have leaned into attacking efforts to make the military more welcoming to minorities, women and LGBTQ+ people.
House Republicans loaded up their version of the annual defense policy bill with provisions to end Pentagon diversity, equity and inclusion programs; ban gender-affirming health care for transgender troops; and reverse the policy covering leave and travel expenses for service members seeking abortions.
Republicans argue the diversity programs are a guise for anti-white, anti-conservative discrimination and turn off potential recruits by injecting politics into the military.
But Democrats counter that such programs are needed to attract a younger generation that's more socially conscious than its predecessors. An Army survey conducted last year on what's turning off potential recruits found that concerns about discrimination against women and minorities outranked concerns about the military focusing too much on "wokeness."
"A diverse military is a strong military, and addressing our recruitment and retention challenges is vital to shoring up our national security and ensuring readiness," Strickland said in a statement to Military.com. "As efforts to undermine diversity and inclusion in our armed forces continue, Congress must commit to any and all methods of supporting our service members and their families, including enshrining equality in our military into law."