Pentagon Celebrates LGBTQ Pride 2013
Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel addresses the audience at LGBT Pride Month
event at the Pentagon, June 25, 2013. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
Speaking to an enthusiastic audience of several hundred military personnel and defence civilian workers in the Pentagon's auditorium, Hagel pointed out that there had been significant advancements towards equality for the nation's military personnel since the repeal of "Don't As-Don't Tell," the law that banned open service by gay and lesbian service members.
“Our nation has always benefited from the service of gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,” the secretary said. “Now they can serve openly, with full honor, integrity and respect.”
Hagel acknowledged obstacles that nation faces as it moves closer to fulfilling its founding vision: that all are created equal.
“It has never been easy to square the words of our forefathers with the stark realities of history,” the secretary said. “But what makes America unique, what gives us strength, is our ability to correct our course.”
Hagel urged citizens to take pride in the role the U.S. military has played in this endeavor, but also noted the need for courageous leaders willing to stand up for what they believe.
As Hagel finished his remarks, he introduced the keynote speaker Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama.
Jarrett outlined a brief synopsis of the Obama administration's accomplishments and its record on LGBT Equality Rights, recounting a meeting in late 2012 that she had hosted on the president's behalf at the White House with a small group of active duty gay and lesbian service members and several veterans who had been discharged.
Congress at that point she noted was in the midst of the debate over the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“At that point, there was not a clear path to victory,” Jarrett said.
Still, the service members shared their stories about what it was like to serve in the military and why hiding who they were was so difficult, she pointed out.
“I’ll never forget the young woman who said she and her girlfriend lived in a perpetual state of fear of accidentally saying the wrong thing or doing something that might give away their secret,” Jarrett said.
“I’ll never forget the veteran who said he couldn't even be honest about who he was with his own family, because he didn't want to ask them to lie for him.”
As she ended her remarks, Jarrett applauded the ongoing efforts of the Pentagon to achieve equal treatment for all of its personnel.
"From achieving landmark racial integration to recognizing that being honest about sexual orientation should not disqualify people from serving, the Defence Department will continue to protect all qualified Americans who are willing to work hard and put mission first, Jarrett said.
“Our military has proven again and again that it is the most professional and capable fighting force the world has ever seen and it can readily adapt to both challenge and change,” she added. “Fighting for your country is fundamentally about honor, patriotism, dedication and service. It’s not about stereotypes."