WASHINGTON D. C. â€” The pursuit of equality is fundamental to the American story, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a video message released June 15, to thank gay and lesbian service members and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civilians for their dedicated service to the nation.
Recognizing June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, the secretary also thanked the families of gay and lesbian service members and LGBT civilians.
Diversity is one of the departmentâ€™s greatest strengths, the secretary noted.
â€œDuring Pride Month, and every month, let us celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all,â€ he said.
In his video message, Panetta emphasized the militaryâ€™s diversity. â€œThe successful repeal of â€˜Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tellâ€™ proved to the nation that, just like the country we defend, we share different backgrounds, different values and different beliefs,â€ he said. â€œBut together we form the greatest military force in the world.â€
Integrity and respect are the cornerstones of military culture, the secretary added. â€œThe Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force implemented the repeal with a focus on respect and individual dignity,â€ Panetta said.
Addressing the service members who now can serve openly regardless of their sexual orientation, the secretary lauded their service before the repeal. â€œBefore the repeal of Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell,â€ he said, â€œyou faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. And just like your fellow service members, you put your country before yourself.â€ Today, he added, they can be proud not only of serving their country, but also of who they are when in uniform.
The president also recognized June as LGBT Pride Month, noting that throughout the nationâ€™s history, ordinary Americans have advocated for change and have â€œled a proud and inexorable march toward freedom, fairness and full equality under the law â€“ not just for some, but for all.â€
When the president signed the repeal act into law in December 2010, he said, â€œWe are not a nation that says, â€˜donâ€™t ask, donâ€™t tell.â€™ We are a nation that says, â€˜Out of many, we are one.â€™ We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today.â€
When the repeal took effect in September 2011, Panetta said anyone who is capable of serving in uniform should be able to do so, and he re-emphasized that belief in his video message.
â€œGoing forward,â€ Panetta said, â€œI remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make Americaâ€™s military a model of equal opportunity, to ensure all who are qualified can serve in Americaâ€™s military, and to give every man and woman in uniform the opportunity to rise to their highest potential.â€