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Pentagon celebrates gay troops

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The Pentagon on Tuesday toasted gays in the military, with a top adviser to President Obama declaring the country is "safer" now that they may serve openly in the ranks.

"Because we repealed 'don't ask, don't tell,' our military ... is stronger and our country is safer, more equal and more just," said Valerie Jarrett, the keynote speaker at the Pentagon's gay pride celebration.

It was the Defense Department second annual gay pride gathering since September 2011, when Mr. Obama signed the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," a ban on gays serving openly in the military implemented during the Clinton administration.

This year's 35-minute gathering in the Pentagon auditorium was more low-key and shorter than last year's event, which featured a gay Marine officer, an Air Force lawyer and a lesbian West Point graduate.

Wednesday's speakers were assembled by a new group, DOD Pride, and featured three senior officials, topped by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

"We're very proud of everything the gay and lesbian community have contributed and continue to contribute," Mr. Hagel said. "With their service, we are moving closer to fulfilling the country's founding vision that all of us are created equal."

Eric Fanning, the Air Force undersecretary and acting Air Force secretary, noted that two years ago gays could not serve openly. Now, a secretary of defense was speaking at a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender celebration.

Ms. Jarrett told of meeting gay service members at the White House, including a Marine Corps captain.

"When he deploys in August, he'll be taking his husband with him," she said.

Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, the first openly gay general officer, stood in the audience with her partner, to a round of applause.

"Stand up. Come on," Ms. Jarrett said. "Whoo. Whoo."

Ms. Jarrett, one of Mr. Obama's closest confidantes, called the repeal of the gay ban "one of the most significant civil rights accomplishments of the president's career."

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