The U.S. military has for the first time in its history celebrated LGBT Pride Month with a ceremony this week attended by military leaders and both former and current servicemembers.
For the first time in its straight-laced history, the Pentagon celebrated “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month,” a stunning cultural milestone that officially recognizes what has always been true – that gays and lesbians serve inside its fortress-like walls and the rest of America’s armed forces.
The ceremony, which was broadcast on an internal TV network to U.S. military bases around the world, was sober and strict – from the rhythmic “hut, hut, hut” of the color guard marching into the auditorium, to pre-taped videos from President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Straight-laced it may have been, but Obama and Panetta’s words did serve to highlight how much of a milestone this post-DADT event truly was.
“Before the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. And just like your fellow service members, you put your country before yourself,” said Panetta. “And now after repeal you can be proud of serving your country and be proud of who you are when in uniform.”
“Change never happens on its own. Change happens because ordinary people, countless unsung heroes of our American story, stand up and demand it,” said Obama. “The story of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans is no different. As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month, we remember the activists and advocates who refused to be treated like second-class citizens.”
It is worth noting that while President Obama included transgender servicemembers in his Pride speech, trans members of the military cannot yet serve openly as they could face discharge under separate provisions.
General Counsel Jeh Johnson delivered the keynote address at the event, taking time to recount all the work that went on behind the scenes to make the DADT repeal a reality.
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 is reported to have also said that while the DOD cannot extend full spousal benefits to military couples because of the Defense of Marriage Act, they are working to give same-sex military families more of the rights and benefits enjoyed by their straight counterparts.