The top US Navy admiral ardently defended a non-binary sailor on Tuesday amid some criticism from Republican lawmakers, saying he is “particularly proud of this sailor.”
The sailor, LTJG Audrey Knutson, had their story shared on the Navy’s Instagram page last week. In a short video, Knutson said they are proud to serve as non-binary, especially because their grandfather served in the Navy as a gay man in World War II. During a deployment last fall aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, Knutson said their highlight was reading a poem to the whole ship at an LGBTQ spoken word night. The Instagram video garnered nearly 17,000 likes.
Subsequently, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, tweeted a portion of the clip with the caption, “While China prepares for war, this is what they have our US Navy focused on.” On Tuesday, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, continued attacking the video, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee he had “a lot of problems with the video.”
But Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday defended the sailor, emphasizing that it’s the job of a commanding officer to build a warfighting team.
“I’ll tell you why I’m particularly proud of this sailor,” Gilday told the hearing. “So, her grandfather served during World War II, and he was gay and he was ostracized in the very institution that she not only joined and is proud to be a part of, but she volunteered to deploy on Ford and she’ll likely deploy again next month when Ford goes back to sea.”
Gilday used female pronouns to refer to Knutson but the Navy told CNN Knutson’s pronouns of choice are non-binary.
“We ask people from all over the country, from all walks of life, from all different backgrounds to join us,” Gilday said, “and then it’s the job of a commanding officer to build a cohesive warfighting team that’s going to follow the law, and the law requires that we be able to conduct prompt, sustained operations at sea. That level of trust that a commanding officer develops across that unit has to be able to be grounded on dignity and respect, and so … if that officer can lawfully join the United States Navy, is willing to serve and willing to take the same oath that you and I took to put their life on the line, then I’m proud to serve beside them.”
Some Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have attacked the military for being too “woke,” claiming it has been one of the causes of the military’s poor recruiting numbers, despite a recent Army survey showing only 5% of potential recruits were concerned about “wokeness.”
Last month, Republican Rep. Cory Mills and several others went after the Defense Department on its diversity, equity and inclusion training at a House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on military personnel. Mills said, “We absolutely 150% can out-pronoun every single one of our adversaries, and China and Russia I’m sure are quaking in their boots over this.”
In response, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros said diversity and equal opportunity training have been a part of the military for decades.
At another hearing in early-March with the military’s top enlisted leaders, Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Michael Grinston stressed that the military’s focus remains on combat lethality, even with additional training on diversity and inclusion.
“There is one hour of equal opportunity training in basic training, and 92 hours of rifle marksmanship training,” Grinston said at the time. “And if you go to [One Station Unit Training], there is 165 hours of rifle marksmanship training and still only one hour of equal opportunity training.”