Well, thank you, Shawn, for the very thoughtful and wonderful opening, and for the rather thorough and slightly embarrassing summary of my resume. But I really, really appreciate the depth of personal emotion and the rightful honor you bestow upon those who have gone before you.
I also want to thank you, ASD Skelly, for your two decades of service to the country as a Navy Flight Officer – and for your continued service today.
And thanks to [Rudy] Coots and the entire DoD Pride team for their hard work in making today’s event possible.
Please join me in a round of applause for [Rudy] and his team.
So, to the LGBTQ+ civilian and military members present today, and those joining us virtually – thank you, and thank you to your families and those who support you – for all you have given in defense of our nation.
This event, our 11th annual ceremony, has always had outstanding speakers representing the community, and today is no different.
In addition to ASD Skelly and Lt. Col. Fram, we will have the opportunity to hear from Air Force Undersecretary Gina Ortiz-Jones.
And I was honored to work closely with ASD Skelly and Undersecretary Jones. They are both stars for the DoD team and for the Biden administration. And their careers – like those of the many LGBTQ+ civilian and military members with us here who join us virtually – are a testament to the value of diversity within our ranks.
Pride Month is a time to come together to honor the contributions of LGBTQ+ people like ASD Skelly, Lt. Col. Fram and Secretary Jones.
And it’s also a time to commemorate the Stonewall uprising in June 1969, a historic moment in the gay rights movement. As President Biden recently said, Pride Month is a time to remind the LGBTQ+ community that they are loved and cherished – deserving of dignity, respect and support.
You will recall that at the start of this administration, the President signed an Executive Order on “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in our Workforce”.
He called on the federal government to be a model employer, where all employees are treated with dignity and respect.
At the Department of Defense – the largest employer in the United States – we strive to be at the forefront of DEIA-related issues, including as they relate to LGBTQ+ people.
This morning I will discuss why and how we do this.
Above all, at DoD, we are committed to ensuring and promoting an atmosphere of dignity and respect for all civilian and military personnel.
We strive to make the Department of Defense the workplace of choice for all Americans willing and qualified to serve.
In doing so, we have established a solid foundation, where all staff are valued and have an equal opportunity to succeed.
It is the right thing to do, in accordance with the principles on which our country was founded.
But event more than that; recruiting, developing and retaining a highly skilled and diverse military and civilian workforce is critical to our success in combat.
From China and Russia to violent extremist organizations and cross-border issues like climate change, the Department of Defense faces a myriad of challenges today.
The department should not and cannot be a place that discourages exceptional LGBTQ+ individuals from pursuing DoD careers due to real or perceived barriers to entry or hostile working conditions.
Rather, we need an all-encompassing force that reflects the vast diversity and talents of the United States of America – in which all members enjoy dignity, respect, and equal opportunity.
This fosters the cohesion that is necessary for us to remain the preeminent military force in the world.
We know our troops are stronger because of brave individuals like Major General Leah Lauderback, who joins us this morning.
In a selfless career that spanned nearly thirty years, General Lauderback focused on intelligence matters, commanded from wing to squadron level, held a number of operations and performed a number of operational tours. Unsurprisingly, General Lauderback was recently promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General.
His service makes our country safer. Thank you, Major General Lauderback.
I didn’t make you get up.
It’s not just our flag and general officers who represent the best of America. Across the department, LGBTQ+ service members are making a real difference every day in defense of our nation.
This includes individuals like Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal recipient Sergeant Samson Gibbs, who is currently deployed with the 3rd Marine Air Wing – or Captain Gordon Herrero, who just earned a Master of Science in Operations Research – that’s very expensive for me – with a 4.0 GPA, while serving as a company commander overseas.
Our national security demands that the department be an institution that reflects a culture of inclusion – where individuals are attracted to serve, are valued, and can actively contribute to the overall success of the mission.
In September 2011, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed, allowing LGBTQ+ service members and civilians to be authentic themselves in service to our country. And last September, we commemorated the tenth anniversary of that repeal.
I am so proud to have served on the leadership team of this department at these two historic moments.
Over the past decade, the department has undertaken a number of actions to advance the interests of LGBTQ+ civilian and military service members.
- Revise the military equal opportunity policy to protect service members from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity;
- codifying “hazing and bullying” as forms of harassment;
- implementing a department-wide diversity and inclusion policy to promote a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture;
- develop training requirements and curriculum on diversity and inclusion, including training to detect and respond to unconscious bias;
- and last year I established the DoD Equity Team, now our Defense 2040 Task Force, to facilitate, inform, and advance DEIA progress enterprise-wide.
While we should all be proud of these real and concrete advances, we know that there is still work to be done.
And make no mistake, this is a priority for Secretary Austin.
We will continue to advance policies and programs to develop and nurture a diverse talent pool and create pathways for everyone in the DoD to realize their potential.
We know that organizational climates affect the experiences of our workforce. Specifically, it affects our warrior readiness. Accordingly, we are leading initiatives to enhance leader skill development and foster more effective and inclusive team environments.
We know we need to be nimble, yet deliberate in our approach. We need to consider thoughtfully and thoroughly how our actions today will contribute to a better tomorrow.
Therefore, the department is developing a DEIA Strategic Plan to guide and direct activities towards other DEIA initiatives within the Department of Defense.
Our plan is in the final stages of approval and will identify the priorities and goals that the DoD will focus on in the coming year.
Even as we move forward with our strategic plan, we must all keep in mind that progress on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility will not only be driven by policies and programs, they will also result from the individual actions we all take every day.
To that end, Secretary Austin and I are committed to holding leaders at all levels accountable for fostering climates of inclusion that support DEIA – including for our LGBTQ+ community. This is a critical preparation issue.
Individually, we must view each day as an opportunity to ensure that ministry reflects the nation we serve and defend.
Allow me to conclude by once again thanking our event organizers, our speakers, and our military and civilians for their commitment to our shared mission.
The dedication of our diverse community of LGBTQ+ service members and civilians to advancing our national security and their military and civilian colleagues, demonstrates total force unity – and America’s best.
America’s diversity is unquestionably one of our greatest strengths. Many here today have fought hard to overcome fanaticism and to be treated with the dignity and respect that is due to every human being.
Pride month is undoubtedly a time to celebrate our progress, but it is also a time for our department, our nation and our world, to recognize the challenges that remain and reaffirm our commitment to equality. for LGBTQ+ people.
Happy Pride Month and thank you.