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Coast Guard: Issues and Policies Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity of Service Members

GAO-24-106436 Published: Nov 15, 2023. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 2023.
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Fast Facts

This Q&A report looks at how policies regarding the sexual orientation and gender identity of military service members have changed over time. LGBTQ+ individuals may now serve openly in the Coast Guard, and it is trying to provide an inclusive environment for these members.

For example, Coast Guard started a voluntary diversity and inclusion education program. It also has a gender transition request policy which states that requests should be approved or denied within 90 days. But 7 of 16 approved requests from September 2021 to June 2023 surpassed that time frame.

We recommended that Coast Guard monitor such time frames to address the delays.

Coast Guard Webpage Recognizing Pride Month

Screenshot of the Coast Guard webpage banner with LGBTQ+ pride colors and text.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the armed forces located within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), collects limited information on the sexual orientation and gender identity of active-duty service members and does not know the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) individuals in its ranks. Military policies pertaining to the sexual orientation and gender identity of active-duty service members have fluctuated over time. Current policy is that LGBTQ+ service members are allowed to serve. Coast Guard officials stated they maintain parity with Department of Defense (DOD) guidance and requirements for collecting and maintaining military personnel information. Officials said they are awaiting further guidance from DOD before considering collecting additional information. Because of the limited availability of information, the Coast Guard has not assessed barriers for LGBTQ+ service members. However, the service has taken certain steps to support LGBTQ+ service members, including implementing a voluntary diversity and inclusion education program that includes discussions related to sexual orientation and gender identity and recognizing and supporting Pride Month celebrations.

Further, the Coast Guard has implemented a gender transition request policy but has not always adhered to the policy's timeframes for review and approval. In June 2021, the Coast Guard modified its policies and standards to ensure transgender members are able to serve on active duty, in accordance with Executive Order 14004. Coast Guard policy states that service members requesting a gender transition should receive a response containing an approval or denial of their request within 90 days, which aligns with DOD policy. However, the Coast Guard has not always met the designated timeframes. GAO's review found that 7 of 16 approved gender transition requests submitted from September 2021 through June 2023 surpassed the 90-day timeframe. Collecting information on gender transition request timeframes and using the information collected to identify and address the causes of any delays would help ensure the Coast Guard is following its policy and better position it to efficiently respond to these requests. 

Why GAO Did This Study

The Coast Guard is responsible for protecting and defending more than 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways. To accomplish its missions, the Coast Guard employs more than 40,000 active-duty service members. According to the Coast Guard, the service is committed to ensuring a supportive and inclusive environment free from discrimination and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

GAO was asked to examine issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity of Coast Guard active-duty service members. This report addresses the service's policies and actions related to sexual orientation and gender identity among its active-duty service members. GAO reviewed relevant laws and Coast Guard policies, analyzed Coast Guard data, and interviewed agency officials.

Recommendations

GAO is recommending that the Coast Guard collect information on gender transition request timeframes and use the information to identify and address the causes of any delays. The Department of Homeland Security agreed.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Coast Guard The Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Human Resources should collect information on gender transition request timeframes and use the information to identify and address the causes of any delays.
Open
In its agency comment letter in October 2023, the Coast Guard stated that it began leveraging technology in processing requests to shorten processing timelines in August 2023. Further, the Coast Guard stated that it will implement policy changes, as appropriate, to ensure individual commands meet deadlines within policy. We will continue to follow up with the Coast Guard on implementation of these actions.

Full Report

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Topics

Armed forcesAssaultCivil rightsCoast Guard personnelEqual opportunityGender identityHomeland securityLGBTQ+ issuesMilitary officersMilitary personnelMilitary policiesSex discriminationSexual assaultsSexual harassmentSexual orientation