Eric Fanning
Gay Man Becomes Acting Secretary of Air Force

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com June 22 2013 6:00 AM ET

Eric Fanning, undersecretary of the Air Force, became acting secretary of the branch Friday with the retirement of Michael Donley, making Fanning the highest-ranking LGBT person in the Department of Defense.

“President Obama is yet to nominate Donley’s replacement, so Fanning should be serving in the dual roles for a while,” notes BuzzFeed.

The interim assignment makes Fanning the civilian head of the Air Force. The Senate confirmed him as undersecretary in April. Before that, he had been deputy undersecretary and deputy chief management officer for the Navy since 2009. His résumé also includes stints with communications firms, think tanks, and broadcast media, along with several political posts. He is a former Victory Fund board member and a donor to various LGBT causes.

After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1990, Fanning worked for the House Armed Services Committee, then for the Defense Department and the Clinton White House. Working in a military setting in the 1990s, even as a civilian employee not subject to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, was challenging, he told the Washington Blade last month.

“I left the Pentagon before the reelection [of President Clinton] and then didn’t come back until this administration when we had a president who said he was going to end it,” he told the Blade. “It was very difficult when we were getting to the end of the first two years and it wasn’t clear if we were going to be able to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ I didn’t know what I was going to do if we didn’t get the repeal through because some people couldn’t work because they were openly gay or lesbian.”

While he is limited in the advocacy he can do in his job, he said he personally supports the adoption of an explicit policy barring anti-LGBT discrimination in the military, and he would like to see openly transgender people be able to serve. And he would like to see the Defense of Marriage Act struck down, as it stands in the way of many benefits for married same-sex military couples by preventing the federal government from recognizing their relationships.

“In some ways, DOMA, which I think is a terrible law, made the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ easier because it took some of the more emotional issues off the table,” he told the Blade, “but in terms of extending benefits, I think everyone who serves in uniform should have full access to legal benefits, and so DOMA is the main roadblock to that.”