Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is confirmed to make an appearance at an upcoming Pentagon event observing June as the month for Pride, which has been set for June 25, alongside Senior Adviser to President Valerie Jarrett, the Washington Blade has learned.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little confirmed in a statement provided via email to the Washington Blade that Hagel would participate in the event, making him the first defense secretary to take part in a Pentagon Pride celebration. A defense official said Hagel would provide opening remarks to the group in person.
“Secretary Hagel looks forward to participating in this year’s DoD Pride event at the Pentagon on Tuesday June 25, which is organized by a group of Defense Department service members and civilians to celebrate LGBT Pride Month,” Little said.
Emphasizing Hagel’s support for gay and lesbian service members — who have been able to serve openly since the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — Little recalled the West Point address that Hagel delivered at the U.S. military academy at West Point on May 25. During his speech, the secretary said, ”The United States military has long benefited from the service of gay men and lesbians. Now they serve openly with full honor, integrity, and respect.”
“Secretary Hagel believes that the open service of gays and lesbians make our armed forces stronger and that this month’s DOD Pride event is just one way we honor what these service members and LGBT civilians do for our country,” Little added.
Additionally, Little said Jarrett will join Hagel on stage to represent the White House and deliver the keynote address on behalf of President Obama.
“Secretary Hagel is also looking forward to welcoming Valerie Jarrett to the Pentagon who will represent President Obama in delivering the keynote address at the event,” Little said.
The occasion will be the second Pride celebration at the Pentagon following “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, but the first in which a sitting defense secretary will make a live appearance. Last year, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed the group via a video message. A defense official said the Pride event is being organized by a “resource group” with the support of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Hagel’s participation is noteworthy because at the time of his nomination for defense secretary, many members of the LGBT community were wary.
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 when these remarks surfaced, and Hormel eventually endorsed Hagel’s nomination.
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 confirmation process, Hagel said he supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and pledged to implement “expeditiously” benefits available under current law for troops with same-sex partners.