Air Force Creates LGBTQA, Indigenous Focus Groups to Address Diversity Issues

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A rainbow flag is placed in the ground for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month during the Picnic in the Park at Nussbaumer Park, June 27, 2015, in Fairbanks, Alaska. More than 200 flags were handed out to members of the 354th Fighter Wing and members of the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashley Nicole Taylor/Released)
A rainbow flag is placed in the ground for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month during the Picnic in the Park at Nussbaumer Park, June 27, 2015, in Fairbanks, Alaska. More than 200 flags were handed out to members of the 354th Fighter Wing and members of the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashley Nicole Taylor/Released)

The U.S. Air Force has put together two new teams to address barriers and other issues affecting airmen and Space Force Guardians belonging to the LGBTQA or Native American communities.

The service on April 26 announced the formation of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning Initiative Team, or LIT, and the Indigenous Nations Equality Team, or INET, to better analyze issues impacting diversity, career limitations and retention of these service members, according to a news release.

"With the addition of these two groups, we will have a better understanding of barriers to service, which allows us to enhance our diversity and inclusion," Gwendolyn DeFilippi, assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in the release. "Our Airmen and Guardians are the pulse of our Department's culture and the diverse backgrounds; inputs from these volunteer groups [are] vital."

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The creation of LIT comes 10 years after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The 1993 policy, begun under the Clinton administration, was meant to give gays and lesbians the chance to serve, though they could not openly discuss their sexual orientation.

"I expect our group will grow," said Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, one of the group's founders. She is the director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the U.S. Space Force at the Pentagon.

"Our community and allies want to help!" she added in the release.

Meanwhile, INET will review guidelines, programs and other data regarding the advancement and retention practices of "American Indian/Native American and Alaska Native employees and military members," officials said.

"We are looking forward to representing our Airmen and Guardians who are a part of the indigenous nation's community," said Col. Terrence Adams, a member of the INET team. "We are hoping to identify changes that will eliminate barriers affecting members within these groups. We cannot be aware of things that need to change unless we are talking about them with an open mind."

Under the umbrella Barrier Analysis Working Group created in 2008, the service has established seven teams: the Black/African American Employment Strategy Team, Disability Action Team, Hispanic Empowerment and Action Team, Indigenous Nations Equality Team, LGBTQ Initiative Team, Pacific Islander/Asian American Community Team, and Women's Initiatives Team, the release states.

The Women's Initiative Team, for example, has been instrumental in encouraging change for outdated or restrictive policies for female airmen and has spearheaded initiatives to deliver better uniforms, including maternity uniforms and flight suits, after many years of ill-fitting equipment.

In addition to the working groups, the Air Force began a forcewide survey last month as part of an Inspector General Independent Disparity Review.

The review, which covers both Air Force and Space Force personnel, is focused on racial disparities in the administration of military justice by race, gender and ethnicity within the Asian, Hispanic and American Indian communities.

It follows the service's first racial disparity review, which compared the experiences of Black service members with those of their peers.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: New Air Force Survey Investigates Justice Disparities in Asian, Hispanic, Native Communities

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