Pentagon Hosts First Pride Event
BY Julie Bolcer
June 26 2012 11:48 AM ET UPDATED: June 27 2012 12:57 AM ET
“I was heartened by his remarks, but I wish he’d been a little more specific on the benefits issue,” said SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis in a telephone interview following the event. “They have been working on this issue for over a year. It’s time to bring the discussion in the building on this issue to a close. It’s been a protracted discussion within the Pentagon and we’re impatient for action and resolution by the Secretary and his team.”
Panetta did not appear at the event, but his Pride message from earlier this month was played at the start of the one-hour program. In the video, he praised the progress of repeal and said, “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.”
The Pride message from President Barack Obama was also played at the outset after a color guard presentation and the National Anthem. Pentagon brass in attendance included Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Erin Conaton, Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough and Major General John S. Patton, according to a list supplied by SLDN.
During the second half hour, a panel discussion addressed the topic, “The Value of Open Service and Diversity.” Three openly gay panelists included Outserve communications director Sue Fulton, Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Phelps, and Gordon Tanner, deputy general counsel of the Air Force. Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, director of defense press operations, moderated.
Capt. Phelps commented on the remarkable pace of change, saying that in one year, he went from being required to hide his identity at work to attending the White House Pride reception hosted by President Obama earlier this month.
“I would argue that it got better, because now you have a whole portion of the military who is able to be honest with the people that they work with,” he said. “When somebody says, ‘Do you have anybody at home?’ we can say, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact, we do.’”
Fulton, a 1980 West Point graduate and member of the military academy’s board of visitors, observed that young servicemembers have easily adapted to repeal.
“We braced for impact, and it wasn’t even a speed bump,” she said. “It’s much less of an issue for this generation.”
Tanner mentioned the “laundry list” of benefits that are still needed, and he advised servicememers thinking about coming out to “stretch a little” and “be visible” in the interests of all.
“You can be the bridge,” he said. “You can be the face. You can be the friend.”