Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and other top department officials took part in the Pentagon’s 10th annual LGBTQ+ Pride Month celebration last week.
In his comments, Austin commemorated the progress the military had come in standing up for LGBTQ+ rights but recognized that there was still more work to be done in achieving equity.
“Our work isn’t done until we create a safe workplace for everyone,” said Austin, who is the first African American to serve as Secretary of Defense. “No service member who fights for our country should feel unsafe because of who they are.”
Austin also commemorated the work of former military members who fought publicly for the right to serve openly in the military, including Frank Kameny — who filed one of the first known civil rights claims based on sexual orientation in court.
“They fought for our country when our country wouldn’t fight for them,” Austin said.
The event also featured a speech from Space Force Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, who described living in a “constant state of paranoia” under the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the ’90s and ’00s. She described putting masking tape over military identifiers on her car when she visited gay bars in her area.
Lauderback said that promoting diversity in the military would help future recruitment of the “best and brightest.”
“Diversity is essential to our future success and security,” Lauderback said.
The event also featured a speech from Lt. Kristopher Moore, a Navy sailor who transitioned to male during his time in the military. He described the Trump-era rules that prevented the service of transgender people in the military as the “darkest of days.”
The 2021 event comes months after the Biden administration reset regulations that allow transgender military members to serve openly, reversing policies instituted by the Trump White House.
“The revised policies prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or an individual’s identification as transgender, provide a means by which to access into the military in one’s self-identified gender provided all appropriate standards are met, provide a path for those in service for medical treatment, gender transition, and recognition in one’s self-identified gender, and seeks to protect the privacy of all service members and to treat all service members with dignity and respect,” wrote the Pentagon in a statement in April.
According to the Department of Defense’s website, last week’s event marked the first in-person pride celebration celebrated by the Pentagon since 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled last year’s festivities.
The website also noted that the ceremony marked the first time the Secretary of Defense has spoken at the event since 2015. That year, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter keynoted the event.