Nine months after the military implemented the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Pentagon is preparing to mark Gay Pride Month for the first time. By all accounts, including the Pentagon’s, implementing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has gone smoothly.
On June 26, the Pentagon will hold an event in the Pentagon Auditorium honoring LGBT pride month where Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, will be the keynote speaker. His remarks will be followed by a panel discussion entitled “the value of open service and diversity”.
On Friday, as part of the Pentagon’s first-ever recognition of the month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a video message thanking gay and lesbian members of the military for their service.
“Before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage,” he said. “And just like your fellow service members, you put your country before yourself. And now — after repeal, you can be proud of serving your country, and be proud of who you are when in uniform.”
It’s a message that resonates with Army CW2 Charlie Morgan, a 17 year veteran in the New Hampshire National Guard. Morgan will be attending a reception hosted by President Obama Friday evening to commemorate Gay Pride Month. The 47-year-old married, mother of a five year old daughter says the repeal of DADT has changed her life.
“I would definitely say this last year has been amazing,” she told ABC News. “Most of us never felt we’d see this.”
For more than a decade, Morgan and her wife Karen were forced to keep their civil union quiet while Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was the law of the land. After the repeal of the law was implemented, the couple were able to convert their union into a marriage and talk about openly about their relationship. Morgan had just returned from a yearlong deployment to Kuwait when the implementation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell went into effect. She came out during a live broadcast interview.
She says her Army colleagues and chain of command have been “absolutely supportive,” making her and her wife “feel like, not only are we accepted, but we can publicly participate in functions that we couldn’t before.”.
Panetta said at a news conference last month he had received a report that the repeal was “not impacting on morale. It’s not impacting on unit cohesion. It is not impacting on readiness. ” He attributed the successful transition to the military’s preparation and groundwork for the change. “As a result of that kind of effective planning, this is working well. And very frankly, my view is that the military has kind of moved beyond it. It’s become part and parcel of what they’ve accepted within the military. ”
Gay advocacy groups hailed Panetta’s message to gay service members today. The Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network’s Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said Panetta’s message affirmed the contribution of gay service members and “shined a bright light on how far we have progressed toward full LGBT equality in our military. There is still more to do, but today we pause to celebrate all men and women in uniform and their patriotic service.”
For Morgan the elation she felt when the repeal of DADT went into effect was tempered a short time later when she was diagnosed with terminal stage 4 breast cancer, doctors have told her she only has months left to live.
Now in treatment, Morgan is taking on her illness with the same determined mindset she’s had in addressing the struggle for gay rights. ”I don’t believe that,” she says of her diagnosis. “ I want to continue to stand up for equality. I’m a fighter.”