Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, White House offiicial Valerie Jarrett and Eric Fanning (image, top), the first openly gay Pentagon official spoke at today’s DoD Pride Event
Today’s Pride event at the Department of Defense was remarkable due to the presence of openly gay Eric Fanning, the current Acting Secretary of the Air Force. It was remarkable that he had an opportunity to share his personal story in a public space recognized within the Pentagon. Simply ground breaking in this instance, as far as Pride events go within the U.S. government.
And he shared very personal and poignant remarks today inside the “building,” as it is known.
Secretary Chuck Hagel, kicked off today’s Pride ceremonies at the Pentagon, with the keynote address delivered by Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to President Barack Obama.
Hagel opened up the festivities:
Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, leaders of the LGBT community, DoD leaders, distinguished guests, and our special guest today, Valerie Jarrett, welcome and thank you for attending and being part of this celebration.
This month brings the LGBT community together to take pride in themselves and their many achievements. Gay and lesbian service members and LGBT civilians are integral to America’s armed forces. Their ranks include senior leaders, like Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning, who will be here shortly, also, Brigadier General Tammy Smith, who last year became the first openly gay general officer in the United States military.
Our nation has always benefited from the service of gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen, and Marines. Now they can serve openly, with full honor, integrity and respect. This makes our military and our nation stronger, much stronger. The Department of Defense is very proud of its contributions to our nation’s security. We’re very proud of everything the gay and lesbian community have contributed and continue to contribute. With their service, we are moving closer to fulfilling the country’s founding vision, that all of us are created equal.
It has never been easy to square the words of our forefathers with the stark realities of history. But what makes America unique, what gives us strength is our ability to correct our course. Over more than two centuries, our democracy has shown that while it is imperfect, it can change, and it can change for the better.
All of us should take pride in the role the U.S. military has played in this endeavor and continues to play. The military continues to fulfill this country’s promise. Our commitment to equality requires us to continue building a culture of respect for every member of the military, our society, and for all human beings.
In his second inaugural address, President Obama reminded us that, quote, “While freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on Earth.” Securing those freedoms has required generations of patriots to fight for their fellow citizens, and it has demanded courageous leaders be willing to stand up for what they believe.
Today, we are joined by one of those leaders. Valerie Jarrett has been a trusted friend and adviser to President Obama for many years and a key adviser on LGBT issues. Valerie has been a strong supporter of our men and women in uniform and their families, and she has a lifelong commitment to social justice and to advancing equality and opportunity for all people.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very proud to introduce you to our keynote speaker today, Valerie Jarrett.
During Jarrett’s keynote in which she touted the accomplishments of President Obama on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’ Tell, she also generously acknowledged the contributions of Tracy Hepner, the spouse of U.S. Army officer Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith and a leader of the Military Partners and Families Coalition, an organization that Hepner helped found. Smith and Hepner were sitting in the front row. Jarrett said about the couple:
But today[after the repeal of DADT], Tracey Hepner and General Tammy Smith can breathe a little easier. Tracey, who leads an organization of LGBT military partners and spouses and families, was right at Tammy’s side, pinning on her stars when Tammy became the first openly gay general officer last year. I’m so pleased when I walked in to see that they’re both here, so let’s give them a round of applause.
For Fanning, this moment must have been something he would have never imagined for himself, having worked most of his career, most likely leading a very careful life, given his choice of profession in national security. His remarks are poignant and revealing:
I first started working in this building 20 years ago, just as we were implementing “don’t ask/don’t tell.” It was a difficult time, and it was a painful experience for me personally. There were no other open LGBT appointees, and anyone serving openly in uniform was surely in the process of being discharged.
I know there were others in the building at the time who felt like I did, that we were all alone in the Pentagon. We didn’t have a group like DOD Pride to pull us all together and give us support. It was a deeply conflicting time for me. I was launching a career with strong support from amazing bosses, who knew about my personal life, Les Aspin, John Deutsch, John White, and Rudy Deleon.
I was being given opportunities that were being denied to people just like me. I was working for an institution that discriminated people — against people just like me. It was hard 20 years ago to hear how people talked about gays and lesbians in such blistering and emotional ways, about individuals who wanted nothing more than the right to serve their country while also being honest about who they were.
And it was hard to imagine we’d ever be where we are today, but during these 20 years, the military’s gone through the difficult process of opening itself up by providing opportunities to those for whom it was previously denied or constrained, to women, to immigrants looking to prove their loyalty to this country and earn their citizenship, to gays and lesbians.
Now it has become routine for people to be openly recognized at the Pentagon as lesbian and gay persons. This is a wonderful advancement, but the work is not finished until anti-discrimination policies are put into place and gay families are afforded the financial security and benefits extended to heterosexual military families. The sooner the better. Nonetheless, it is wonderful to see Smith and Hepner become included as a regular fixture at these kinds of events. And hat’s off to Eric Fanning for his day in the sun. He has certainly earned it! Happy Pride to all our soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines!
Image of Eric Fanning courtesy of the Department of Defense.
Tanya L. Domi is the Deputy Editor of the New Civil Rights Movement. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and teaches human rights in East Central Europe and former Yugoslavia. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi was a nationally recognized LGBT civil rights activist who worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during the campaign to lift the military ban in the early 1990s. Domi has also worked internationally in a dozen countries on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights and gender issues. She is chair of the board of directors for GetEQUAL. Domi is currently writing a book about the emerging LGBT human rights movement in the Western Balkans.
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