Department of Defense Celebrates Pride Month
By David Small
Devoid of the rainbow flag, and with no glitter, drag queens or cliche feather boas, the Pentagon leadership held a somber yet groundbreaking event today celebrating diversity, equality and the lengths they have come since repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” all in the name of open and honest service for gays and lesbians in the military.
After posting the colors and showing President Obama’s and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s personal Pride month messages, General Counsel Jeh Johnson delivered the keynote address at the Defense Department’s first-ever Pride month event to a standing room crowd in the Pentagon auditorium.
“Honoring the dignity of all of those who serve and equal opportunity is important in the force,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told media about today’s event. “This is the first time that the department is marking Pride Month. And it’s important for us to have a discussion about what recent developments in the Defense Department mean to our military family.”
Johnson, as one of the co-leads of the Comprehensive Working Group who wrote the report concluding that there would be no impact on military readiness, shared behind-the-scenes insights leading to repeal.
“The military members who worked side-by-side with me started off skeptics,” said Johnson, but their opinions shifted over the 10-month study as the group found that much of the preconceived notions were based on misperceptions and stereotypes, he said.
Repeal has been implemented “Better than anticipated,” he said. “We hope this process continues in the professional and sober manner it has taken since last year.”
Johnson discussed the next steps in repeal mentioning the fact that repeal has created a two-tiered benefit system because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which concerns commanders. He said DoD is looking at what benefits it can extend to the partners of same-sex military couples under the law.
“This type of event, during the month of June, has occurred in civilian society for years. The CIA hosted a Pride event 12 years ago,” he said. However, he said within the military, events such as this must occupy a different place because “in the military, individual personal characteristics occupy a subordinate position to the mission.” Because of this, he said the event today honored a few different things. First, for those who are LGBT, “we lifted a burden from their shoulders. No longer have to teach a child to lie to protect a father’s career.” He also said they honored the professional manner the military has adapted to this change.”
Following Johnson’s opening remarks, a panel with Gordon Tanner, principal deputy general counsel of the Air Force, Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Phelps from the recruit training regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, and Sue Fulton, 1980 West Point graduate, member of the West Point Board of Visitors, and OutServe communication director. The panel was moderated by Navy Capt. Jane Campbell.
“The Army redacted our lives,” said Fulton. “And I think, at the end of the day, one of the things that those of us working on this realize — and when I say those of us working on this, I mean all of — all of the military folks, gay and straight, is that being gay isn’t about sex; it’s about life.”
Phelps followed: “I will serve as a leader with integrity and openness for our younger troops and show that this isn’t nearly the big deal that people thought this would be.”
Tanner, who represented the civilian workforce in the Pentagon, noted that soldiers in Afghanistan were connected by video to the event as they serve on the front lines. He held a laundry list of civilian benefits available to partners. He also thanked those who helped make the event happen.
“I encourage you to be as open and honest as you can be,” said Tanner. “Gay civilians in the Pentagon can be the bridge for straight allies and military colleagues who are not quite comfortable coming out yet.”
Fulton also noted how well the various service academies were doing with implementation.
While the event was meant for Pentagon military and civilian employees, members of OutServe from various bases in the local area as far away as Fort Meade, Md., and Quantico, Va., were in attendance.