Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made history this morning by releasing a video celebrating LGBT Pride Month. Thanking gay and lesbian servicemembers for their service and congratulating the armed forces on the implementation of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" over the past nine months, the video is the first message of its kind from the Defense Department, according to the DOD.
In the video, he says, "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."
Although former Defense Secretary Robert Gates began the process, it was Panetta who signed the certification on July 21, 2011, required under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act that finally ushered in the start of open service for the first time in the nation's history.
Now, less than nine months after the repeal took effect, servicemembers are out across the branches and across the globe. Later today, several out servicemembers have been invited to attend the White House LGBT Pride Month Reception.
To that, Panetta says in the video, "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."
Josh Seefried, the co-director of OutServe -- an association of actively-serving LGBT U.S. military personnel -- praised the message in a statement, "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."
The Human Rights Campaign's new president, Chad Griffin, said in a statement, "Secretary Panetta’s Pride video is a tremendous indicator of the progress we’ve made for lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members. 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."
At Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, executive director Aubrey Sarvis echoed the comments in a statement, saying, "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."
Of the steps that remain, advocates like Sarvis have argued that a nondiscrimination policy -- as had originally been included in the repeal bill -- continues to be needed.
Second, SLDN, OutServe, HRC and others have been attempting to get movement from the Pentagon on the provision of equal benefits for same-sex couples where possible, even in light of the restrictions placed on recognition by the Defense of Marriage Act.
Finally, out transgender service remains prohibited in the military today. In HRC's release, the organization stated that "officials must do more to address the obstacles that prevent transgender Americans from serving their country."
Panetta references the ongoing work, saying, "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."
READ the full message below the jump.
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Secretary Panetta Video Message for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month
from the Pentagon Friday, June 15, 2012
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.