This 12th annual Pride Month, the Defense Department honors the service, commitment and sacrifice of the LGBTQ+ service members and personnel who volunteered to defend America, stated Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in a June 1 news release.
"Their proud service adds to America's strength. Their contributions to our national security are powerful. Members of this community have deployed to combat zones around the globe, held high-ranking positions in the Pentagon, and fought and died alongside their teammates," Austin stated.
To win its wars, the ranks of the U.S. military must remain open to all qualified personnel who seek to serve, he said.
"Militaries that do not avail themselves of the best possible talent of their citizenry put themselves at a strategic disadvantage. We would be rendering ourselves less fit to our weighty task if we excluded from our ranks people who meet our standards and who have the skills, the guts and the devotion to serve in uniform. I believe that the story of America should be one of widening freedom, not deepening discrimination," the secretary stated.
On May 31, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation celebrating June as Pride Month.
"Pride is a celebration of generations of LGBTQ+ people who have fought bravely to live openly and authentically. And it is a reminder that we still have generational work to do to ensure that everyone enjoys the full promise of equity, dignity, protection and freedom," he stated.
"This country is stronger and more just when America's leaders reflect the full diversity of our nation," Biden added.
Today, DOD Pride, an employee resource group for LGBTQ+ uniformed and civilian members of the Department of Defense, held its Annual Pride Month event at the Pentagon featuring speakers, including Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness and DOD's chief diversity and inclusion officer.
It's important that everyone in the department share ideas, insights and collaborate effectively to bolster unwavering support to the LGBTQ+ community, Cisneros said.
"LGBTQ+ and other diverse communities are under attack just because they are different: Hate for hate's sake. But we must stick together and we must be prepared to confront any such challenge directly," he said.
The LGBTQ+ community has always demonstrated resilience. After the enactment of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy in DOD in 1993, many LGBTQ+ service members described living and serving in limbo, he said.
That policy directed that military personnel were not to be asked about their sexual orientation but those openly gay could be discharged. That policy ended in 2010, with implementation the following year, allowing those openly LGBTQ+ to serve.
"The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell opened the doors for LGBTQ+ individuals to serve openly as their true, authentic selves. The challenges still remain: prejudice, discrimination and harassment based upon sexual orientation and gender," he said.
Cisneros said the department is using feedback data from LGBTQ+ service members and civilians to make evidence-based decisions in its policies, programs and procedures.
"The diversity within the department undeniably capitalizes on one of our nation's greatest assets: its people. It is critical that those who serve reflect the rich tapestry of our country and embody the very best qualities of our citizens," he said.