WATCH: Secretary of Defense Celebrates Pride in Video

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com June 15 2012 10:41 AM ET

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta released a video message in recognition of Pride Month thanking LGBT servicemembers, civilian employees and their families for their contributions to the country.

“Diversity is one of our greatest strengths,” said Panetta in the video posted Friday. “During Pride month — and every month — let us celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.”

The message marks the first time a U.S. Secretary of Defense has officially recognized Pride Month since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” last September allowed members of the military to serve openly. Panetta acknowledged the work the military has done to implement repeal over the past year.

“Before the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ you faithfully served your country with
professionalism and courage,” said Panetta in the video. “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.”

“The pursuit of equality is fundamental to the American story,” he said. “The successful repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ proved to the nation that just like the country we defend, we share different backgrounds, different values, and different beliefs — but together, we are the greatest military force in the world.”

While LGBT advocates in the military have generally reported a smooth transition to open service, some obstacles remain, including the lack of equal benefits for the same-sex spouses of military members. Panetta pledged to work toward the removal of those “barriers” in his message.

“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,” he said.

The video is part of a larger Pride Month celebration by the Defense Department that will also include an event, another first for the agency, later this month. A Pentagon spokeswoman said that details were still being finalized.

OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBT U.S. military personnel, praised the effort from Secretary Panetta.

“This historic video confirms the message that the military supports all service members and civilian employees, based on their merit,” said co-director Josh Seefried. “This is a tribute to our core military values: respect and integrity. If there is any remaining doubt that the military has executed DADT repeal with excellence, and that LGBT people are serving our country with honor, Secretary Panetta has firmly put that to rest.  This is leadership directly from the top.”