The confirmation today of the country’s first out gay man, Eric Fanning, as Army secretary is the latest sign we’ve come a long way since “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The Clinton-era policy became law in 1994 and lasted all the way until 2011, finally letting service members be out as gay or lesbian. Now the civilian leading the Army is gay himself.
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin called the confirmation “a demonstration of the continued progress towards fairness and equality in our nation’s armed forces.”
“Secretary-Designate Fanning’s historic confirmation demonstrates that in America, we value hard work, talent and dedication,” said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who is cochair of the LGBT Equality Caucus. “The capacity in which any individual can faithfully serve our country should not be limited.”
Progress has sometimes seemed swift. Less than a year after DADT’s repeal, the Army got its first-ever out brigadier general in former colonel Tammy Smith, who received her stars from her wife during a ceremony in 2012.
And Fanning’s confirmation itself was notable for completely lacking any discussion of his sexual orientation. He is now the first out man to oversee the Army or any military branch. Still, not a single senator asked him about it during his confirmation hearing before the Armed Services Committee, led by former DADT proponent John McCain of Arizona.
Fanning has 25 years of national security experience, working as undersecretary and acting secretary of the Air Force. No one seemed to question his qualifications.
Fanning’s confirmation took a long while, as he had been nominated in September, not because of his being out, but because of the usual Washington politics. Sen. Pat Roberts held up the nomination over an unrelated dispute with the Obama administration on Guantanamo detainees. And Fanning had to step down as acting secretary before McCain would agree to consider him, claiming his temporary appointment might’ve been improper. The Pentagon called the unusual step of resigning “a show of comity” with the Senate.
It appears to have paid off. Fanning will now officially take over from the previous secretary, John McHugh.
No one asked Fanning about open service for transgender members of the military either. The military is still conducting a review of that possibility, though activists have expressed hope that a change is on the horizon.