Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (Junko Kimura/Getty Images)
The most remarkable thing about the Pentagon celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month on Tuesday is how unremarkable it is.
The integration if not full acceptance of gay and lesbian troops (transgender need not try to enlist as they are barred from service) has come with lightning speed, at least by the Pentagon’s standards.
In the months and years leading up to the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in July 2011, top brass resisted the change that would allow gay and lesbian troops to serve openly. The Marine Corps Commandant at the time, Gen. James Conway, told the Senate that the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, which resulted in more than 14,500 gay troops being expelled from the armed forces when their sexuality became known, “works.”
In 2007, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Chicago Tribune: “I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral, and that we should not condone immoral acts.”
In 2009, on a two-week tour of Helmand province, it was common to hear young troops shout gay slurs at one another. It seemed less homophobic than bad adolescent behavior, which is certainly less tolerated in the military now.
Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, began pushing for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Mullen set the standard for the change, telling the Senate in 2010:
“There is no gray area here,” he said. “We treat each other with respect, or we find another place to work. Period.”
Today, gay troops and top officials, including Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning, serve with little controversy. That’s mostly a credit to the military’s professionalism whose hallmarks are good discipline and following orders, its problems with sexual assault notwithstanding.
At the Pentagon today, Fanning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, will make remarks at the pride event. Posters advertising it plaster pillars at the building’s entrance.
That’s not to say gay and lesbian troops and their families have full equality. Despite Leon Panetta’s attempts to kick down barriers for gays and women in the services on his way out the door earlier this year as defense secretary, some remain. Health care and housing allowances and recognition of gay marriage are prevented by the Defense of Marriage Act.
The Supreme Court is expected to deal with that law soon.