ARLINGTON, Va. — In his first appearance at a Pentagon LGBT Pride Month event, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday honored gay and lesbian service members, calling them “integral to America’s armed forces.”
Speaking to an enthusiastic audience of several hundred military personnel and civilian defense workers, Hagel noted 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,” Hagel 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.
Article continues belowAlso speaking at the Pentagon Pride event was Eric Fanning, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Air Force and the highest ranking openly gay official in the Defense Department, and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to President Obama.
Jarrett recounted a brief synopsis of the Obama administration’s accomplishments and its record on LGBT rights.
“From achieving landmark racial integration to recognizing that being honest about sexual orientation should not disqualify people from serving, the Defense 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.”
Hagel is the the first Defense Secretary to address the Pride event in person; former Defense Secreatry Leon Panetta addressed last year’s event via a video message.