Historic Pentagon Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender Pride Month Event

Historic Pentagon Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender Pride Month Event

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The following official transcript was sent to our office by the U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs).

ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, our program will begin momentarily. Please take your seats.           

Ladies and gentlemen, please be advise that this event will be televised, therefore we ask that you remove your DOD badges, and please silence all electronic devices.           

Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of Defense Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month Event.  Please stand for the presentation of colors and remain standing for the National Anthem.           

 (Playing National Anthem)           

ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated.  Please direct your attention to the center screen for the president’s LGBT Pride Month video message, followed by Secretary Panetta’s Pride Month Message.           

(Begin Videotape)           

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  I’ve often said that the true genius of America is that America can change.  We can pass laws to right wrongs.  We can soften hardened attitudes.  Our union can be made more perfect.  But here’s the thing, change never happens on its own.  Change happens because ordinary people, countless unsung heroes of our American story, stand up and demand it.  The story of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans is no different.           

As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month, we remember the activists and advocates who refused to be treated like second class citizens.  People like Jeanne Manford and Harvey Milk who marched and protested and believed in a better future.  But we also remember the unsung heroes.  The millions of LGBT Americans for whom every day acts have required extraordinary courage.  The young people who came out as gay or transgender to their parents, not knowing what to expect.  The two moms or two dad who went to an open house or PTA meeting, not knowing how they’d be received.           

The couple that got married, even if their bosses or neighbors wouldn’t approve.  At least not right away.  Most of these heroes didn’t set out to make history, but that’s exactly what they did.  Bit by bit, step by step, they bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.  Now it’s our turn.  So this June, let’s take some time to celebrate teachers and students who take a stand against bullying.  Openly gay and lesbian service members who defend our country with honor and integrity.  Families and friends who have seen their own attitudes evolve.           

Perfecting our union isn’t something we can do in just one month, but we can remember those who came before us.  We can summon the courage to build on their legacy.  And we can renew our commitment, day in and day out to being the kind of people who make change happen.            

(End Videotape)           

(Begin Videotape)           

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA:  As we recognize Pride Month, I want to personally thank all of our gay and lesbian service members, LGBT civilians and their families for their dedicated service to our country.  Before the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage.  And just like your fellow service members, you put your country before yourself.  And now after repeal, you can be proud of serving your country and be proud of who you are when in uniform.           

Pursuit of equality is fundamental to the American story.  The successful repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, proved to the nation that just like the country we defend, we share different backgrounds, different values, different beliefs.  Together we are the greatest military force in the world.  It also reminds us that integrity and respect remain the cornerstones of our military culture.  The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force implemented the repeal with a focus on respect and individual dignity.  As Secretary of Defense, I’m very proud of how we implemented repeal.           

Going forward, I remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make America’s military a model of equal opportunity. To ensure all who are qualified can serve in America’s military.  And to give every man and woman in uniform, the opportunity to rise to their highest potential.  Diversity is one of our greatest strengths.  And during Pride Month and every month, let’s celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.           

(End Videotape)           

(Applause)           

ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the Honorable Jeh Johnson, general counsel for the Department of Defense. (Applause.)           

JEH JOHNSON, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE GENERAL COUNSEL:  Thank you all very much.  Can everybody hear me?  In the back?  You know I have to say I look around this standing — standing room only crowd and I’m sorry we didn’t sell tickets. (Laughter.)           

Thank you for being here.  This afternoon I want to share with you some insights on the process that lead to the repeal of the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell law in December of 2010.  The implementation of that repeal between December 2010 and now, and where I think we are going from here.  As recently as three years ago, it would have been hard for many of us, including me, to believe that in the year 2012 a gay man or woman in the Armed Forces could be honest about their sexual orientation.           

That 10 U.S.C. 654, the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell law would be gone from the books and that the process of repeal would have gone even smoother and less eventful than General Ham and I predicted in our report.  It’s a remarkable story and it’s remarkable because of the strength of the U.S. military and its leadership.  This is the overall message I hope to convey in these remarks today.  We have the mightiest military in the world.  Not just because of our planes, guns, tanks and ships, but because of our people.           

Their ability to adapt to change and their respect for the rule of law, their commanders and their civilian leaders.  This has been a remarkable thing about the last nine months.   But for anyone who knows the men and women of the Armed Forces, it is not a revelation.  At the outset, a personal disclosure.  In 2010 General Ham and I did an assessment.  We did not advocate for a particular result.  Our only goal was a comprehensive and accurate report of the risk to military effectiveness if Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell were repealed.  I do not consider myself an activist on the matter of gay men and women in America.  We are all a product of our circumstances.           

And part of my circumstances include my formative years in the 1970’s at Morehouse College, an all male, all black Southern Baptist school.  In the 1980’s, a good friend at the law firm in which I practiced as a young lawyer in New York was openly gay.  But it was at least a year before I knew that.  And only because someone else told me.  I asked my friend why he had not told me directly that he was gay?  And he said to me — and I still remember his exact words, “Because I didn’t think you could handle it.”            

For the next 27 years I asked myself what gave my friend that impression.  But it did not preoccupy me.  In 2009, in the E-Ring, we never talked about Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, except in groups no larger than about three or four people. Secretary Gates knew the president had pledged to seek repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, but both of them believed that if repeal was to occur, it should happen in a careful and deliberate manner.  We did not want the issue to spin out of our grasp.           

Then in his State of the Union Address on January 27, 2010, President Obama pledged to work with the Congress and the military that year to repeal Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, which is exactly what happened.  Several days later, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the subject.  It was there that Admiral Mullen gave his remarkable statement in support of repeal.  And Secretary Gates announced the formation of a working group to be headed by the General Counsel of the Defense Department and Army General Carter Ham to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the risks of repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell on overall military effectiveness.           

We were to take 10 months.  And we were told to systematically engage the force on this issue.  In effect, go have a conversation with the entire U.S. military about this issue and report back to me, the president and the Congress what they told you.  I did not know Carter Ham, then commander of U.S. Army Europe, now commander of U.S. Africa Command, at all before Admiral Mullen volunteered him for this assignment.  But over 10 months I got to know Carter and his wife extremely well, to the point where my wife and kids spent Thanksgiving 2010 with them in Germany where we visited wounded warriors at the hospital there.           

Carter began as a Private in the Army in 1973 and he knows the Army about as well as anyone.  He was just right to navigate this sensitive assignment.  And in the development of our report, I never let my own civilian legal thinking stray far away from his military perspective or his own voice.  The study we undertook was the most comprehensive engagement ever of the military on any personnel related matter.  Over the course of 10 months, we surveyed 400,000 service members and received 115,000 responses.  Surveyed 150,000 military spouses and received 44,266 responses.  Solicited and received 72,384 emails, conducted 95 information exchange forums at 51 bases around the world and talked face-to-face with over 24,000 service members.           

Many of them, General Ham and myself.  We conducted 140 smaller focus group sessions with service members and their families.  Visited the military academies, solicited the views of Congress, veterans groups, foreign countries and groups for and against repeal.  And finally the working group engaged in an online conversation with 2,691 service members on a confidential, anonymous basis and thereby gave a voice to those who by virtue of the very law we were reviewing, had no voice as self identified gay active duty service members.           

The results of the report are now well known.  The bottom line conclusion was this, based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that when coupled with the prompt implementation of our recommendations, the risk of repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness was low.  As a basis for this conclusion there was of course the survey results.  They showed among other things, that 69.3 percent of those in today’s military had already worked in a unit with someone they believed to be gay.  And that if Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell were repealed, 70 percent of today’s military said they thought it would have either a positive effect, equally positive or negative effect or no effect at all on their unit’s ability to perform as a team.           

Also key to our conclusion was this, quote “In the course of our assessment, it became apparent to us that aside from the moral and religious objections to homosexuality, much of the concern about open service is driven by mis-perceptions and stereotypes about what it would mean if gay service members were allowed to be open about their sexual orientation.  Repeatedly we heard service members express the view that open homosexuality would lead to widespread and overt displays of feminine behavior among men, homosexual promiscuity, harassment and unwelcome advanced within units, invasions of personal privacy and an overall erosion of standards of conduct, unit cohesion and morality.  Based on our review, however, we conclude these concerns about gay and lesbian service members who are permitted to be open about their sexual orientation are exaggerated and not consistent with the reported experiences of many service members.           

“In communications with gay and lesbian current and former service members, we repeatedly heard a patriotic desire to serve and defend the nation, subject to the same rules as everyone else.  In the words of one gay service member, “Repeal would simply take a knife out of my back.  You have no idea what it’s like to serve in silence.”  Most said they did not desire special treatment, to use the military for social experimentation or to advance a social agenda.  Some of those separated under Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell would welcome the opportunity to rejoin the military if permitted.  

“From them we heard expressed many of the same values that we heard over and over again from service members at large.  Love of country, honor, respect, integrity and service over self.  We simply cannot square the reality of these people with the perceptions about open service.”  End quote. And last but not least, was this noteworthy quote in the report, which seems to be the favorite of a lot of people.  “We have a gay guy in the unit.  He’s big, he’s mean and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.”  End quote. (Laughter.)           

Finally — (Applause.)

Read the rest of the official transcript here: Pentagon Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender Pride Month Event.

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