Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel praised gay and lesbian military personnel for their service during an event held at the Pentagon on Tuesday celebrating June as gay pride month.
Hagel is the first sitting Secretary of Defense to speak at such an event.
During his speech to a room of about 250 military personnel, Hagel singled out Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning and Army Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, both of whom are the first openly gay personnel in their positions.
“Now they can serve openly, with full honor, integrity and respect,” Hagel said. “This makes our military and our nation stronger, much stronger.”
Fanning, the highest-ranking member of the LGBT community in the military, spoke at the event about his personal experience.
“It was hard 20 years ago to hear how people talked about gays and lesbians in such blistering and emotional ways — about individuals who wanted nothing more than the right to serve their country while also being honest about who they were,” Fanning said. “It was hard to imagine we’d ever be where we are today.”