Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today released a video in which he recognized June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month and thanked gay and lesbian service members for serving the nation.
"During Pride Month, and every month, let us celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all," said Panetta, who also acknowledged that diversity has always been one of America’s biggest strengths. "The successful repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' proved to the nation that, just like the country we defend, we share different backgrounds, different values and different beliefs. But together we form the greatest military force in the world."
When President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in December of 2010, he said that "We are not a nation that says, 'don't ask, don't tell.' We are a nation that says, 'Out of many, we are one.'”
“We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today."
And this is clearly a Defense Department that reports to that President because the Pentagon also announced today that its first official gay pride event will be held on June 26, with guest speakers and panel discussions on the value of diversity in general and, specifically, the positive strides being made in accepting the contributions of all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation.
While this sets important precedent in terms of equality for gay Americans, it’s hardly unique in the military as the Defense Department has long celebrated cultural observances such as Black History Month and Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.
But to witness the Secretary of Defense being so up-front in his acknowledgment of gay Americans and to hear him thank them and their families for their sacrifices is huge – and long overdue.
“I want to personally thank all of our gay and lesbian service members, LGBT civilians and their families for their dedicated service to our country,” said Panetta. “Before the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. And now after repeal, you can be proud of serving your country and be proud of who you are when in uniform.”
"Going forward, I remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make America's military a model of equal opportunity, to ensure all who are qualified can serve in America's military, and to give every man and woman in uniform the opportunity to rise to their highest potential."