In a first, Pentagon celebrates gay pride

AFP | June 26th, 2012

Military personel march in the San Diego gay pride parade (AFP/Getty Images/File, Sandy Huffaker)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon for the first time celebrated gay pride in a modest but emotional ceremony Tuesday, less than a year after the US military lifted a ban on homosexuals serving openly in uniform.

In a packed hall, a top defense official said the repeal of the the prohibition has gone ahead without any major problems and a panel of gay service members spoke about how much had changed after years of having to hide their sexual orientation under the former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

A year ago, Marine Captain Matthew Phelps said he was “in the closet,” taking pains to conceal his homosexuality.

“I was at a point in my career that if anyone had found out that I was gay… I could have lost my job,” he told the audience.

This month, the Marine officer was invited to a reception at the White House honoring gay pride.

“And I thought how amazing is it over the course of a year, I could go from being for fired for being who I am to having champagne with the commander in chief — on cocktail napkins with the presidential seal on it,” he said.

The Defense Department’s top legal counsel, Jeh Johnson, said the end of the ban had freed troops in uniform from the “burden” of hiding their sexual orientation.

“For those service members who are gay and lesbian, we lifted a real and personal burden from their shoulders. They no longer have to live a lie in the military,” Johnson said.

Since the ban on openly gay troops was rescinded in September, he said, “within each service, there have been isolated incidents, but almost no issues or negative effects associated with repeal on unit cohesion, including within war fighting units.”

Unlike typical gay pride festivities in major cities, the Pentagon’s event was an understated affair, with a panel discussion instead of parades, concerts or outlandish costumes.

Johnson noted that other civilian government agencies have held gay pride events for years, including the Central Intelligence Agency, which organized its first event 12 years ago.

Even with the ban gone, Johnson said same-sex couples suffered some “inequalities” in military benefits, because of federal laws designed to deny recognition to gay unions. The Pentagon was working to ensure benefits were managed in a “fair” manner, he added.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, adopted in 1993, required gay troops to keep their sexual orientation quiet or else face dismissal, and also prohibited service members from asking fellow soldiers if they were gay.

Former president Bill Clinton came into office hoping to lift the ban entirely but after facing resistance from military leaders and lawmakers, he had to settle for the messy compromise.

An estimated 14,000 troops were expelled from the force under the law.

An active duty sailor in the Navy prepares to march during the San Diego gay pride parade (AFP/Getty Images/File, Sandy Huffaker)

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