The U.S. military has entered a new era under the Trump administration as many wonder if the LGBT progress after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal will remain in place, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the annual reception at the Pentagon recognizing Pride.
The event — coordinated by DOD Pride, the Pentagon affinity group for LGBT service members and civilians — took place on Monday as it has each year after repeal of the military’s gay ban, and now after the rule change allowing transgender people to serve in the armed forces.
Representing the Defense Department at the event was acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Anthony Kurta, who said during his remarks “all men and women who serve, including civilian and military personnel in the LGBT community are equal contributing members of the DOD total force.”
“Diversity is more than race, gender and ethnicity,” Kurta said. “It includes, among other things, diversity of thought, diversity of ability, diversity of background, diversity of language, culture and skill. It is very broad.”
DOD Pride had invited Defense Secretary James Mattis to attend the event, but Kurta represented Pentagon’s leadership in place of the secretary. Later in the day, Mattis was set to testify before Congress on President Trump’s plan to fund the Defense Department in the upcoming fiscal year.
Also speaking at the event on the day she was poised to exit military service was Maj. Gen. Patricia Rose, a lesbian and mobilization assistant to the deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering and force protection at Headquarters U.S. Air Force.
“Celebrating Pride month, or any other diversity month, is really about validating that there’s one inherent trait we all possess and our nation benefits from, and that’s the diversity of our unique backgrounds and experience,” Rose said.
Emphasizing the importance of diversity, Rose said U.S. history provides ample evidence undercutting the notion that value is “just some aspect of political correctness.”
“World War II provides bold insight to the power of inclusion as opposed to exclusion,” Rose said. “While our enemies were trying to prop up the superiority of their monolithic cultures, we were utilizing the vast and distinct skills sets our diverse military had to offer.”
Rose cited as examples Rosie the Riveter, the symbol of civilian women who supported the industrial war effort while U.S. troops fought overseas, and Alan Turing, the gay mathematician who invented the Turing machine to crack Nazi encoded messages, then was sentenced to chemical castration by the British government for being gay.
“While great advances have been made, we still ensure subtle, and not so subtle, prejudices and challenges to our right to be who we are, to serve with dignity and respect,” Rose said. “I share your apprehension as we witness efforts at home and abroad to turn back the clock on our justified advances, so now, more than ever, we must not stand silent in face of prejudice, injustice or atrocity.”
Keynoting the event was Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who’s gay and co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus as well as the No. 2 Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
“There was a time when the Department of Defense discouraged and hid its diversity instead of celebrating it as we are today,” Takano said. “The progress has made this moment possible that we should really never overestimate America’s capacity to remake itself for the better.”
Making the point the military has “been a tremendous, tremendous platform for how our country has become a more perfect union,” Takano, a Japanese American, looked back to the military service during World War II of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, which was composed almost entirely of Japanese Americans.
Takano said he had a great uncle who died in Italy fighting for the U.S. military more than 70 years ago as the nation interned Japanese Americans.
“I think about a young 23 year old giving 100 percent for his country when his country was not guaranteeing 100 percent to him,” Takano said.
The Pentagon held the Pride event recognizing Pride amid reports the Defense Department is contemplating a delay in allowing transgender people to enter the military — the final piece to removing the ban on transgender service. The Obama-era plan called for implementation by July 1.
According to a report last week in USA Today, the Army and Marine Corps are requesting delays as long as two years to allow transgender applicants into their ranks.
Rose alluded to unfinished work for transgender service members during her remarks and called for a shift in focus from “acknowledging our past struggle to acknowledging our future heritage.”
“We must resist those attempts to marginalize us because our heritage enabled by self-sacrificing pioneers must be preserved and advanced upon, especially for transgender citizens and military members,” Rose said.
Despite media reports indicating accession of transgender troops is in jeopardy, LGBT rights supporters have told the Blade the U.S. military remains poised to allow transgender people to enlist in the armed forces by July 1 as planned — or shortly thereafter.
Kurta declined to comment when the Blade asked him after the event if the plan to allow transgender troops to enter the U.S. military was still on track.
“We’re here today to recognize this event and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment,” Kurta said.
Receiving an award at the event for civilian leadership was Amanda Simpson, the first-ever transgender woman U.S. government appointee and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for operational energy.
Simpson said upon receiving the award society must embrace diversity “in order to continue attracting the best, the brightest, the loyal and the dedicated.”
“It should not matter as to the color of your skin, ethnic origin, who you love or particularly what is or is not between your legs, or even if you have both legs,” Simpson said. “It’s about pride in yourself, pride in your work and pride in your country.”
Also receiving an award was Maj. Gen. Tammy Smith, deputy commanding general in the U.S. Army Reserves for sustainment in the Eighth Army and first flag officer to come out as gay after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.