On Tuesday, the Pentagon held its first-ever LGBT Pride Month event, as President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta shared special videotaped messages, followed by comments from Department of Defense personnel and a panel discussion with out service members.
In his message, Obama spoke of what fuels change: “Change happens because ordinary people, countless unsung heroes of our American story, stand up and demand it,” he said. “The story of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans is no different.”
Secretary Panetta acknowledged the sacrifices made by gay and lesbian enlisted men and women, saying,”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. Now after repeal, you can be proud of serving your country and be proud of who you are when in uniform.”
After remarks by Counsel Jeh Johnson and Director of Press Operations Capt. Jane Campbell, the floor was given to Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Phelps (above), Principal Deputy General Counsel of the Air Force Gordon Tanner and Army veteran Sue Fulton, currently a director at the LGBT military groups OutServe and Knights Out.
As part of the panel “The Value of Open Service and Diversity,” Fulton told the group assembled that during the ban, “The Army redacted our lives,” and stressed that it wasn’t their sexuality closeted soldiers were desperate to discuss:
Being gay isn’t about sex; it’s about life. It’s about buying a house and bickering over chores. Sorry. That’s my partner over there. It’s about deciding whether to have kids. It’s about moving to a new place and figuring everything out. It’s about life.
And I do want to say that, thanks to the leadership of this administration and the Pentagon and so many unit leaders at every level, we can have those lives now and still serve the country we love.
“I happen to be gay, but more importantly, I’m a Marine,” said Phelps, who enlisted after the 9/11 attacks. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the reason that I am here is that it still, kind of, is news, that there are still relatively few of us wearing the uniform who are willing to go on record and say, “This is my life.”He said he was proud to serve as a leader and role model “with openness and integrity.”