Vice President Joseph Biden praised on Monday a gay West Point cadet in the graduating class of 2016 who has the distinction of being both first captain and class president.
Biden commended the cadet, E.J. Coleman, at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, where the vice president spoke at a graduation ceremony.
“Ladies and gentlemen, E.J. Coleman, your First Captain and Class President, is only the third cadet in the history of West Point to hold both those roles,” Biden said. “His name will live alongside John J. Pershing and Pete Dawkins, as the only other two. And not long ago, he took the lessons you have learned here about being authentic to heart, and had the courage to publicly come out to [West Point Superintendent] Gen. [Robert] Caslen.”
The vice president recalled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal under the Obama administration in 2010, which he said “ended the politics of discrimination against LGBT members.”
“Six years ago, E.J. would have been discharged from the Army, and we would have lost an incredible talent,” Biden said. “Thanks for your courage, E.J., for your leadership. I expect we’re going to hear big things from you, pal.”
Despite “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, openly transgender service members are still barred from the armed forces as a result of medical regulation.
“We can’t afford to leave the talents of any individual on the sidelines,” Biden said. “The needs are too great. Our challenges are too large.”
Broadly making the case for diversity in the U.S. military, Biden referenced the new opportunities for women in combat and had words that could easily apply to openly gay people serving in the U.S. military or lifting the ban on openly transgender service.
“To meet these tests of our changing role, we need the best — the best soldiers, the best hackers, the best engineers, the best doctors, the best of everyone,” Biden said. “So if you’ve got a skill and the toughness, and the desire and the drive to serve your country, you are welcome in the Armed Forces of the United States of America. The only question that should ever be asked is: Can this person do the job?”