Metro Weekly

Eric Fanning hints at lifting trans military ban in acceptance speech

First openly gay Army Secretary honored with Paving the Way Award at Capital Pride Heroes Gala

Fanning at Cap Pride Heroes Gala
Fanning (center) at the Capital Pride Heroes Gala – Photo by Ward Morrison

On Wednesday evening, Army Secretary Eric Fanning hinted at a possible lifting of the ban on out transgender military service members in a speech he gave while accepting the Paving the Way Award at the 2016 Capital Pride Heroes Gala. Fanning, the first openly gay leader of a military branch, has previously said that he supports allowing transgender service members to serve openly, and made what appeared to be several references to the importance of fighting for transgender rights in his speech.

“Time and time again in the military, as we have opened it up to people who weren’t allowed to serve in the past: African-Americans after World War II; women over many years, not just recently; the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’; [and] things haven’t fallen apart, they’ve gotten better,” Fanning said.

“The problems we’re facing, the challenges we’re facing, are ever more complicated in the world, certainly in the national security sphere,” he continued. “Why wouldn’t we want as many people as possible solving those kind of problems? The more backgrounds we have, the more viewpoints we have, the more experiences we have…the better off we’re going to be. And we’re going to keep getting better, fighting for more people to be included and have rights. … That’s all that this is about, to have the same opportunity to defend the nation we all love.”

Fanning, who was confirmed to his current position just two weeks prior to Tuesday, recalled being given only two hours’ notice on the day he was unanimously approved on a voice vote by the U.S. Senate. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who had previously placed a nearly eight-month hold on Fanning’s nomination over disagreements with the Obama administration’s stated policy of wanting to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and resettle its detainees into high-security prisons within the mainland United States, called Fanning to inform him he was removing the hold on his nomination. Roberts and fellow Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had previously argued over Roberts’ unwillingness to lift the hold in a Senate floor debate, then took to the floor and spoke glowingly of Fanning’s qualifications.

“[McCain and Roberts were] talking about how qualified I was, which was nice for me, because usually, whenever I’d get nominated or move into a new job, my name morphs from ‘Eric Fanning’ to ‘gay man,'” Fanning joked about some of the hand-wringing that had accompanied his nomination. “At least because of these two senators, it became ‘qualified gay man.'”

Throughout his five-minute speech, Fanning expressed his gratitude for the award while also giving significant credit to others who had fought for equal rights and paved the way for him, not just those in the LGBT community but figures from the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements.

“We still have people whose rights are not what they should be, and we need to keep fighting for them on this journey,” Fanning said. “But we’re all in this together, not just the LGBT community, all of us. We all benefit from increasing opportunities for others, and increasing rights for others.”

The Capital Pride Heroes Gala, held annually, marks what many consider the “official” start of Pride season, beginning about two weeks to a week-and-a-half before the Capital Pride Festival, the apex of D.C.’s Pride celebration. Also honored at the event were this year’s “Heroes,” people who have advocated on behalf of the LGBT community throughout the years, Engendered Spirits, who do the same for the transgender community, and two volunteers who were recognized for their ongoing contributions to Capital Pride.

This year’s Heroes are: Bishop Allyson Abrams, the presiding bishop of Pneuma Christian Fellowship, and the founder of the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral; Kathleen Matthews, a former reporter, Marriott executive and pro-LGBT advocate who recently ran for Congress in Maryland; and local LGBT activists Peter Rosenstein and Rayceen Pendarvis. The Bill Miles Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service went to Chelsea Bland, a labor union and LBGT rights activist, and co-producer of Capital Pride; and Michael Creason, a volunteer sign language interpreter for Capital Pride. 

This year’s Engendered Spirit Awards were presented to Julius Agers, a two-spirited and transgender activist now working for D.C.’s Fire and EMS Department, and longtime transgender and equal rights advocate Jeri Hughes, now working for the District’s Department of Employment Services, where she seeks to help transgender people and others find gainful employment. Agers dedicated his award to all the two-spirited and Native American activists who had preceded him. After receiving her award, Hughes simply told the crowd: “Don’t be afraid to fight bullies.”

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