Leon Panetta just became the first U.S. Secretary of Defense to celebrate gay pride month. In this just-released video, the first of its kind from a sitting Secretary of Defense, Panetta, who is 73 and served as President Obama's CIA Director, says, "Diversity is one of our greatest strengths."
As we recognize Pride month, I want to personally thank all of our gay and lesbian service members, LGBT civilians, and their families for their dedicated service to our country. 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. And now -- after repeal, you can be proud of serving your country, and be proud of who you are when in uniform. The pursuit of equality is fundamental to the American story. The successful repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" proved to the Nation that just like the country we defend, we share different backgrounds, different values, and different beliefs -- but together, we are the greatest military force in the world. It also reminds us that integrity and respect remain the cornerstones of our military culture. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force implemented the repeal with a focus on respect and individual dignity. As Secretary of Defense, I am very proud of how we implemented repeal. Going forward, I remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make America's military a model of equal opportunity, to ensure all who are qualified can serve in America's military, and to give every man and woman in uniform the opportunity to rise to their highest potential. Diversity is one of our greatest strengths. During Pride month -- and every month -- let us celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.As expected, LGBT organizations weighed in positively. “This historic video confirms the message that the military supports all service members and civilian employees, based on their merit,” said Josh Seefried, Co-Director of OutServe. “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.” “Secretary Panetta’s Pride video is a tremendous indicator of the progress we’ve made for lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “It sends a powerful message to the brave men and women of the military that they are valued for their dedication to our country and their expertise, and that they are deserving of the exact same respect and equal treatment that their straight counterparts receive. By embracing Pride month, Secretary Panetta also is telling LGBT youth in communities across our nation that they live in a country that values them for exactly who they are. We hope this is a sign that the Department of Defense will continue tackling the obstacles that prevent lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members from receiving full equality.” HRC notes:
Open service has strengthened the state of our military. In addition to support from Secretary Panetta, the nation’s top military leaders also back open service. The day after repeal was implemented last September, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said: “…with implementation of the new law fully in place, we are a stronger joint force, a more tolerant joint force, a force of more character and more honor, more in keeping with our own values." Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said at the time: "Thanks to this change, I believe we move closer to achieving the goal at the foundation of the values that America is all about: equality, equal opportunity and dignity for all Americans.”"A year ago, our brave gay and lesbian service members were still serving in silence due to the discriminatory DADT law," SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said in a statement. "Today, in this historic message, Secretary Panetta has affirmed their invaluable contributions to our nation's military and in doing so, shined a bright light on how far we have progressed toward full LGBT equality in our military. There is still more to do, but today we pause to celebrate all mena and women in uniform and their patriotic service."