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Biden to Nominate Trans, Lesbian Officials to Department of Defense

Sue Fulton and Shawn Skelly
Sue Fulton and Shawn Skelly

The Biden administration continues to uplift LGBTQ+ representation in government with Shawn Skelly and Brenda Sue Fulton.


The Biden administration plans to nominate two LGBTQ+ officials to posts within the Department of Defense.

Shawn Skelly is the intended nominee for assistant secretary of defense for readiness. And Brenda Sue Fulton will be the nominee for assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, a White House press official informed The Advocate.

Skelly, who is transgender, served 20 years as a naval flight officer, retiring with the rank of commander, and then in 2013 joined President Barack Obama's administration as the first trans veteran appointed by a U.S. president. Her positions included special assistant to the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics at the Department of Defense and ultimately as the director of the Office of the Executive Secretariat at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

She most recently worked for CACI International, a company that provides technology and expertise for national security purposes, and she is cofounder and vice president of Out in National Security, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ people in the military, defense contracting, and related areas.

In 2017 she and eight other trans veterans were included in the Out 100, an annual list of LGBTQ+ achievers assembled by Out magazine, a sister publication of The Advocate. "My hope, my outright quest, for both my most recent and current work is to prove without a doubt to others in our community and the public that transgender people are indeed able to serve at the highest levels of government, including the national security establishment," she told Out at the time.

Fulton, who is a lesbian and goes by Sue Fulton, is a West Point graduate -- from the first class to admit women -- and former Army officer. She was honorably discharged at the rank of captain after serving in Germany as a platoon leader, staff officer, and company commander. As a civilian, Fulton pursued a 25-year career in brand management for Fortune 100 companies. But she continued to advocate for LGBTQ+ service members and veterans. She was a leading force in the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" through groups she helped found, Knights Out and OutServe. Another organization she founded, SPARTA, helped repeal the ban on transgender military service and the combat exclusion rule for women.

Continuing to be a pioneer, Fulton was elected chair of the West Point Board of Visitors twice with bipartisan support, after being appointed to the board by President Obama in 2011. In this capacity, she expanded the admission of Black, Latinx, and women cadets. Fulton and her partner, Penny Gneisn, made history in 2012 by becoming the first same-sex couple to wed in West Point's Cadet Chapel. After 24 years together, Penny died in 2019 of breast cancer. A current resident of Asbury Park, N.J., Fulton has served as chief administrator of the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission since 2018, where she is credited with modernizing the Garden State's Motor Vehicles systems.

Cathy Renna, the communications director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, praised Fulton's nomination and said she could "not imagine a better candidate for the position."

"Her combination of military service, private sector experience, and government leadership, as well as her strong advocacy for women, people of color and the LGBTQ community should make us all proud and hopeful for a more equitable, diverse and effective military for those that choose to serve," Renna said in a statement to The Advocate.

Previously, the Obama-Biden administration made history by nominating Eric Fanning as secretary of the Army in 2015. In doing so, Fanning became the first out gay head of any branch of the U.S. military.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.