Less than two years after the military ended its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy banning openly gay men and women from serving in the military, newly installed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered a speech at the Department of Defense Pride event honoring LGBT service members. He was the first sitting defense secretary to attend the event.
“Our nation has always benefited from the service of gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, airmen, and coast guardsmen, and Marines,” Hagel said at the event at the Pentagon Tuesday. “Now they can serve openly, with full honor, integrity and respect. This makes our military and our nation stronger, much stronger.”
Keynote speaker and senior adviser to President Obama Valerie Jarrett called the 2011 repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “one of the most significant accomplishments in the president’s career.”
The event celebrates LGBT Pride Month and was organized by Defense Department service members and civilians. Last year, at the first Pride event, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered an address via video.
Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning, the first openly gay Pentagon official, delivered the closing address.
As former Republican senator from Nebraska, Hagel criticized the nomination of an openly gay man to serve as an ambassador; his stance resurfaced as a point of contention during Hagel’s confirmation hearing to head the Defense Department. Hagel had since apologized for the comments.