2013 is set to mark another milestone for the LGBT community and mainstream recognition: Chuck Hagel will be the first Secretary of Defense to attend Pentagon Pride.
At the event, which celebrates lesbian and gay service members, Hagel will deliver the keynote address, speaking on behalf of President Obama.
The Pentagon first officially recognized Gay Pride Month in 2012, two years after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. A video message was given by the then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, but he did not attend.
A spokesperson for the Pentagon, George Little, told the Washington Blade, “Secretary Hagel believes that the open service of gays and lesbians make our armed forces stronger and that this month’s DOD Pride event is just one way we honor what these service members and LGBT civilians do for our country.”
Some progressive groups were upset when Hagel was nominated as Secretary of Defense due to his weak record on equal rights. As a senator, he consistently voted against pro-LGBT legislation, and in 1998 he called James Hormel, the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, “openly, aggressively gay,” and claimed that his sexuality would be an inhibition to doing his job.
Hagel has since apologized, and made attempts to mend fences over his past record. In a January 2013 letter to Senator Barbara Boxer, he wrote, “I… value the service of all those who fight for our country. I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as the Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to all [of]the families of our service members.”
Many other government departments have been much faster to recognize its LGBT workers; General Counsel Jeh Johnson said that the CIA held its first Pride celebration in 2012.