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The U.S. Senate has confirmed two LGBTQ women to top military positions in historic firsts.
The Senate confirmed both women with unanimous consent on Thursday. Shawn Skelly will serve as assistant secretary of defense for readiness, becoming the first transgender person to hold the post and the highest-ranking out trans defense official in U.S. history. She is the second out transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate, following the confirmation of Rachel Levine earlier this year to be assistant secretary to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Gina Ortiza Jones will serve as undersecretary of the Air Force, becoming the first out lesbian to serve as undersecretary of a military branch. She follows in the footsteps of Eric Fanning, who was the first out LGBTQ person to serve as undersecretary of a military branch when he was confirmed as undersecretary of the Air Force. He later made history in again, in 2016, when he was confirmed as Secretary of the Army.
Skelly is a 20-year Navy veteran and co-founder of Out in National Security, a group that advocates for LGBTQ national security professionals. She was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2013 as the special assistant to the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics in the Department of Defense, becoming the first transgender veteran to be appointed by a U.S. president, according to Out in National Security. She also previously worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service.
Jones, a former Air Force officer and Iraq War veteran, has 15 years of experience in intelligence and national security. She served as an intelligence analyst for U.S. Africa Command, which manages military operations in 53 African countries, and served as a senior strategic planner and special adviser to the deputy director for the Defense Intelligence Agency. She previously ran for Congress in 2018 and 2020, losing narrowly both times.
Advocates celebrated the two latest additions to the growing list of LGBTQ “firsts.” President Joe Biden recently bragged, in a presidential proclamation recognizing June as Pride Month, that 14% of his 1,500 agency appointees identify as LGBTQ.
Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, called the confirmations of both women a “powerful moment.”
“Gina and Shawn served their country when living openly could result in discharge and a lost career, so their ascension to key leadership positions is a powerful moment for those service members who served or continue to serve in silence,” Parker said in a statement. “Their confirmation will transform perceptions of LGBTQ people within the ranks of the U.S. military, but also among the leaders of militaries we work with around the world. While they were confirmed because of their unquestionable qualifications and experience, they symbolize our continued progress and will further disrupt any lingering notion that LGBTQ people are somehow unfit to serve.”
Both Skelly and Jones were recommended for their positions through LGBTQ Victory Institute’s Presidential Appointments Initiative, which seeks to ensure LGBTQ representation in decision-making roles within the federal government in the hope of influencing policy.
“Gina and Shawn will join at least a dozen other out Defense Department appointees who understand the challenges LGBTQ service members face and will make their well-being a priority,” Ruben Gonzales, the executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement to NBC News. “Our military, like our government, is strongest when it reflects the diversity of the people it serves and ensures all are treated with dignity and respect. Gina and Shawn are shattering lavender ceilings that will encourage more LGBTQ people to consider public service.”
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