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Diversity Makes Military Stronger, DoD Panel Says

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Diversity in the military makes the force stronger, top Defense Department officials said at a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender panel discussion here today.

Speakers at the forum at the National Defense University at Fort McNair included the deputy assistant secretary of defense for operational energy, Amanda R. Simpson.

Simpson, the highest-ranking openly transgender official in the government, recalled that when she was in college she was recruited by the Navy to be a nuclear officer. "But I really couldn’t, in good conscience, serve in uniform,” she said. “I held a secret that I was still holding from myself."

She said at that time it was "illegal and, quote, 'immoral' for a transperson to serve in the military." Instead, she said, she became a government contractor.

Simpson said she was asked to join President Barack Obama’s administration seven years ago. It is important to note, she said, that she was neither selected for the opportunity nor excluded from it because she was transgender.

She was selected because of her qualifications, she said.

"I was recognized as having the capabilities and the skills to manage people [and] complex situations," she said, adding that she became a senior technical advisor at the Commerce Department. She later served as a high-ranking Army civilian.

"As Secretary [Ash] Carter noted last year, I was chosen for my current position as the deputy assistant secretary of defense because I was the best person available for that job," she said.

Diversity Strengthens Force

"As an LGTB service member, my military has spanned seclusion, exclusion and then finally inclusion," Air Force Maj. Gen. Patricia Rose, the military's highest-ranking openly gay officer, said. The focus has always been on what is best for the men and women who serve in the Air Force, she added.

"Now that I am allowed to be my authentic self, I believe that has only added to my value as a military member and as a leader," she said. Diversity and inclusion, the general said, send a powerful message about democracy and strengthen the force. "One of the most potent tools in our arsenal is our diversity," she added.

"It validates that there is one inherent trait that we all possess and that our institutes benefit from, and that's the diversity in each person's unique background and experience," Rose said.

Remembering Pulse Nightclub Victims

The forum held a moment of silence for two members of the military who were killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting June 12 in Orlando, Florida: Army Spc. Angel Candelario-Padro and Army Capt. Antonio Brown.

Simpson said in addition to honoring the victims, she wanted to note that the club's bouncer is a former Marine who engaged the shooter, driving him out of the main dance floor and saving more than 70 lives – “another intersection of service to our community from our service members."

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