The Defense Department (DOD) and the nation depend every day on the service of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender personnel, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said June 5.
“They are an integral part of our armed forces and our Department of Defense and our nation.”
Speaking at the DOD Pride Month ceremony at the Pentagon, Work recalled that for far too long, gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, LGBT DOD civilians, and their partners and families were unable to serve.
“They were forced by law to compromise their values. To choose between serving the country they love and … being true to themselves,” he said. “Today we celebrate that that chapter in our history is now over and increasingly forgotten.”
The ceremony, and all of DOD Pride Month, is an opportunity to celebrate and recognize the importance of diversity within the department, “and the values that make our department strong,” Work said.
He noted that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at the signing ceremony for the Human Goals Charter in April that “‘What matters is an individual’s patriotism, their willingness to serve their country and their qualifications to do so. And that’s all that ever should.’”
“I firmly believe that our all-volunteer force is now stronger because of the diversity and culture of inclusion we celebrate this very day and this entire month,” Work said. “The United States military is, without a doubt, the finest in the world today.”
While many attribute that strength to technology, he said, in reality the U.S. military’s power is provided by its uniformed members and civilians.
“They are the heart and soul of this force,” Work said.
And that force is at its best when it reflects the diversity of the nation, he added.
America has made a lot of progress since his 27 years in the Marine Corps, Work said.
“Back then … if it was discovered that you were gay or lesbian, you would have been ostracized. You would have been made to feel incapable. You would have been made to feel unworthy of serving our nation.”
“I think almost everybody in this room probably knows many phenomenal service members that were separated from the military — either because they were found out, or because they themselves became tired of living a lie,” the deputy secretary told the audience.
“We as a department (and) as a nation have worked to fix this — to re-instill trust, faith, dignity and respect in our system.”
Still he said the department must pay particular attention to removing any existing barriers for families and partners of LGBT personnel.
“We must therefore continue to work every day — every day — to ensure that DOD is a model of equal opportunity and fair treatment.”
“Because, if there is any single thing that we have learned since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it is that all the predictions by some that our force would be weakened could not have been further from the truth,” he added.
Instead, Work said, the military has gained strength and skill from its rich diversity.
“Upholding the individual liberties and worth of every American is the bedrock principle upon which our nation was founded, and generations of American troops — including many gays and lesbians — have fought and died to preserve that principle,” the deputy secretary said.
“I am extremely proud to be a member of a Department of Defense that is committed to upholding these ideals.”