WASHINGTON — Nine months after repeal of the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law forbidding gays from serving openly in the military, the Defense Department is publicly embracing the once-shunned community.
On Thursday, the Pentagon announced that it is planning an event to recognize gay and lesbian troops later in June, which is gay pride month. On Friday, a video message was released in which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed those servicemembers directly, thanking them for their service both before and after repeal.
“As we recognize pride month, I want to personally thank all of our gay and lesbian servicemembers, LGBT civilians and their families for their dedicated service to our country,” Panetta said. “Before the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. And just like your fellow servicemembers, you put your country before yourself. And now after repeal, you can be proud of serving your country and be proud of who you are in uniform.”
He went on to say the Defense Department is working toward providing equal opportunity to every member of the military.
“Diversity is one of our greatest strengths,” he said. “During pride month and every month, let’s celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.”
Air Force 1st Lt. Josh Seefried, co-director of the active-duty gay rights advocacy group OutServe, applauded the message.
“This historic video confirms the message that the military supports all service members and civilian employees, based on their merit,” Seefried said. “This is a tribute to our core military values: respect and integrity. If there is any remaining doubt that the military has executed DADT repeal with excellence, and that LGBT people are serving our country with honor, Secretary Panetta has firmly put that to rest. This is leadership directly from the top.”