The U.S. Department of Defense honored lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) members of the armed forces Tuesday by holding the first ever event marking Gay Pride month. A panel discussion on homosexual issues and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) was held at the Pentagon auditorium.
"So what should we honor today?" DOD General Counsel Jeh C. Johnson asked the packed auditroium, where a standing-only crowd of 400 servicepeople came to watch. "For those service members who are gay and lesbian, we lifted a real and personal burden from their shoulders. They no longer have to live a lie in the military."
"For all of us, we should honor the professional and near-flawless manner in which our entire U.S. military implemented and adapted to this change and welcomed their brothers and sisters to an unconditional place at the table."
The panel discussion, which focused on the process leading up to the announcement and repeal of DADT, marked the first time the Pentagon openly marked acknowledged its LGB members with an open event. Other government agencies, such as the State Department and CIA, have held such events for years.
Johnson spoke at length about the process leading up to the recommendation to repeal DADT, which allowed LGB servicemembers to join but not openly discuss their sexual orientation. Johnson highlighted the exhaustive 10-month study in which they solicited 115,000 responses from servicemembers to a possible repeal, including over 2,000 from homosexuals.
"The bottom line conclusion was this - based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that when coupled with the prompt implementation of our recommendations, the risk of repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' to overall military effectiveness was low."
The DOD panel discussion piggybacked on an statement released earlier this month by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta honoring the long-time, silent service of the military's LGB members.
"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," Panetta said in a video message released Friday, June 15.
"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."
Panetta, a long-time proponent for the policy change even before he became Secretary of Defense last year, added in his message he would continue to push for implementation the 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."
After the repeal of DADT, openly gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the military no longer have to keep their sexual orientation secret in order to service. However, transgenders are still unable to serve, as they are deemed medically unfit to serve based on diagnosis of "Gender Identity Disorder."
Transgender rights groups have come out against the exclusion, cautioning transgender military members and asking for equal rights under the DADT repeal.
"Transgender Americans defend our nation every day, serving with pride and distinction at home and abroad," Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said in a September statement.
"As we celebrate the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' on September 20, we also recognize that ending this terrible law is not enough to secure full LGBT equality in the military."
by RTT Staff Writer
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