Metro Weekly

Eric Fanning is first openly gay man to be confirmed Army Secretary

Nomination had been stalled over the Obama administration's plans to shut down Guantanamo Bay prison

Eric Fanning (U.S. Army photo by Monica King/Released)

Eric Fanning (U.S. Army photo by Monica King/Released)

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Eric Fanning to be the next U.S. Secretary of the Army, making him the first openly LGBT leader of a U.S. military service.

Fanning was approved on a voice vote after Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) lifted a hold on his nomination. Roberts had initially placed the hold nearly eight months ago, purportedly to protest the Obama administration’s policy of closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and resettlement of its detainees into high-security facilities in the mainland United States. Roberts had asked the administration for assurances that the detainees would not be transferred to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

But on Tuesday, Roberts said he had received those assurances, thus removing his objection to allowing Fanning’s nomination to proceed. Earlier this month, Roberts, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, engaged in a heated exchange on the Senate floor with fellow Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), himself a Naval veteran and prisoner of war, over Fanning’s stalled confirmation. McCain had objected to what he viewed as an abuse of senatorial privilege by Roberts, and called Fanning “eminently qualified” to succeed former Army Secretary John McHugh.

Fanning previously served as deputy undersecretary and deputy chief management officer of the Navy from 2009 to 2013. He was nominated by President Obama in 2012 and confirmed in 2013 as undersecretary of the Air Force, and temporarily assumed the position of acting secretary of the Air Force while current Secretary Deborah Lee James was waiting to be confirmed by the Senate. He then served as chief of staff to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and then as acting undersecretary of the Army for five months before taking over the position of Acting Secretary of the Army following McHugh’s retirement. He was later forced to leave that position less than two months later in order to focus on his stalled confirmation. 

“Secretary-Designate Fanning’s historic confirmation demonstrates that in America, we value hard work, talent and dedication,” U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said in a statement congratulating Fanning for his achievement. “The capacity in which any individual can faithfully serve our country should not be limited.

“We live in an increasingly complex and challenging world, where the threat of terrorism is a constant reality,” Sinema added. “Now, more than ever, we need strong, experienced leadership that brings people together to make our country safer. Mr. Fanning’s extensive experience in three different services makes him the best choice to lead.”

The American Military Partner Association (AMPA), an organization advocating on behalf of LGBT military families, also praised the Senate’s action. Fanning was the keynote speaker for the group’s recent national gala.

“We are thrilled to see Eric Fanning finally confirmed as the next Secretary of the Army,” AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a statement. “His leadership and experience within the defense community together with his sensitivity towards issues specifically facing our LGBT service members and their families make him the ideal candidate to lead our nation’s Army. It has been a long, arduous road to his confirmation, and we look forward to working with him directly in the near future.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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