(WASHINGTON) — For the first time ever, the Defense Department held a ceremony honoring homosexual and transgender service members in honor of Gay Pride Month at the Pentagon.
President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta each sent a taped video message for the standing-room only event.
“Before the repeal of Don’t ask Don’t Tell you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. And just like your fellow service members, you put your country before yourself,” said Panetta. “And now after repeal you can be proud of serving your country and be proud of who you are when in uniform.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the law that required gay men and women members of the military to hide their sexual orientation, was repealed more than a year ago. The Defense Department did an extensive study before the appeal was implemented to try and gauge the potential impacts of the law’s repeal on morale.
Tuesday’s program featured a panel discussion with a small group of gay servicemen and women who said that they were surprised most of their colleagues haven’t treated them any differently in the last year. The biggest change, the panel said, has been how they feel about themselves now that they no longer have to choose between serving their country and being themselves.
“The president hosted a reception at his house, you know the white one,” Marine Captain Matthew Phelps said jokingly before reflecting on what that invitation meant. “And I thought, ‘how amazing is it over the course of a year that I could go from being fired for being who I am to having champagne with the commander-in-chief.’”
Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top attorney who was one of the officials in charge of conducting the DADT survey, said that many service members, particularly of the younger generation, didn’t understand the controversy with homosexuality in the military in the first place.
Johnson said one soldier told him, “We have a gay guy, he’s big, he’s mean and he kills lots of bad guys. We don’t care that he’s gay.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Matt Egan, CNN
Sara Zendehnam, CNN
Holly Yan and AnneClaire Stapleton, CNN