Pentagon won't change policy to allow Pride flag to be flown at military bases

The Pride flag will not be on display at military bases, a Pentagon spokesperson said. By Barbara Starr and Ellie Kaufman, CNN

(CNN) -- The Department of Defense will "maintain existing policy for the display of unofficial flags" and "not grant an exception to display the Pride flag" at military bases, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement to CNN.

Kirby said the decision does not "in any way reflect on the respect and admiration we feel for all our LGBTQ+ personnel in and out of uniform."

This puts the Pentagon at odds with the State Department, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a blanket authorization for US diplomatic outposts to fly the rainbow flag on the same flagpole as the American flag at embassies and consulates in April.

The policy, which limits which unofficial flags can be displayed at military bases, was put in place last July by Trump-appointed Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The policy was part of an effort to ban the display of the Confederate flag and other potential hate symbols on bases in the midst of last summer's racial tensions.

After the policy was implemented, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted that "banning the Confederate flag from military installations was long overdue. Banning the LGBTQ Pride flag -- the very symbol of diversity and inclusion -- is undeniably wrong. The Pentagon should ensure it is authorized, or as President, I will."

Kirby said during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Friday that there had been no formal review of the previous policy but "knowing that the month of June was approaching, we wanted to do due diligence and take a look at the old policy and see if we felt it was still applicable."

"As of right now," the secretary of defense's belief is that the "policy should be maintained," he added.

The decision not to change the policy and allow the Pride flag to be displayed "stems ... from a concern about other challenges to the policy that an exception of this kind might engender and encourage," Kirby said.

Part of the concern with changing the policy was that any change could result in any number of cause-related flags and symbols being displayed on military installations, a senior defense official said.

Jennifer Dane, CEO and executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, an advocacy organization supporting LGBTQ+ service members and veterans, was disappointed the department did not change the policy to allow Pride flags to be flown.

"It's another statement that our service isn't as important as everyone else's," Dane told CNN. "It's a small thing that matters especially during Pride month."

Dane said the Pride flag is a symbol of "diversity and inclusion -- exactly what the Department of Defense should be striving for."

Kirby stressed that the decision "in no way reflects any lack of respect or admiration for the people of the LGBTQ+ community, the personnel in and out of uniform who serve."

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will participate in Pride Month activities at the Pentagon next week, Kirby said in the statement.

Austin "encourages all commands to likewise find ways to recognize the service and contributions of the LGBTQ+ community in defense of this nation," Kirby said.

The Defense Department held its first LGBTQ+ Pride month event at the Pentagon in 2012. Several defense officials say the services will do so again this year.

This story has been updated with further details and reaction.

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