Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may attend an upcoming event at the Defense Department to celebrate June as Pride month, according to two Pentagon officials familiar with the event.
On Tuesday, sources told the Washington Blade that Hagel has expressed interest in attending the event to honor LGB service members and LGBT members of the civilian workforce, but he hasn’t yet expressed a firm commitment because his schedule at that time isn’t yet clear.
Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a DOD spokesperson, confirmed that a Pentagon Pride event is set to take place later this month, but offered few details.
“The DoD Pride Organization is in the process of organizing an event at the Pentagon later this month,” Christensen said. “No firm date has yet been set. DOD Pride is a private organization which is comprised of DOD civilians and service members whose charter is to represent LGB service members, LGBT civilian employees, contractors, and families throughout the Department of Defense.”
Christensen added the Pentagon itself isn’t planning the event, but has formally recognized June as Pride month.
It would be the first time that a sitting defense secretary has attended a Pride event at the Pentagon. Last year, when the Pentagon hosted a Pride event for the first time, the senior DOD official who spoke on stage was then-Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, one of the co-chairs of the study that examined the impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered a video message, but didn’t appear at the event.
Hagel’s participation would be noteworthy because at the time of his nomination for defense secretary, many members of the LGBT community were wary about his confirmation.
Many expressed concern over comments he reportedly made to the Omaha World Herald in 1998 when he said the then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg shouldn’t be confirmed because he’s “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel later apologized for the remark.
As a Republican U.S. senator representing Nebraska, Hagel had a dismal voting record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.
Still, over the course of the nomination process, Hagel said he supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and pledged to implement “expeditiously” benefits for troops with same-sex partners available under current law.
DOD’s announcement of the Pride event comes on the heels of a memorandum obtained by the Blade on Monday in which the Pentagon officially observes June as Pride month. The document, which recognizes President Obama’s Pride proclamation, is dated May 31 and is signed by Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity Director Clarence Johnson.
“We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual service members and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to our country,” the memo states. “Each year of his administration, President Obama has issued a proclamation recognizing that our national security is strengthened by the heroic contributions these Americans make to our Department, and have made throughout out history. The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain corner stones of our military and civilian culture.”
Allyson Robinson, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, praised the Pentagon for observing June as Pride month, but expressed discontent with the omission of transgender service members from the statement.
That omission is also found in the response above provided by Christensen. Currently, openly transgender people are unable to serve in the military and are issued medical discharges if their gender identity becomes known.
“Transgender people have served this nation with pride, honor, and distinction – and continue to do so in the hundreds, if not thousands,” Robinson said. “It’s past time to honor them for their service and sacrifice, and past time to end the discredited and obsolete practice of forcing them to serve in silence and fear.”