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 appreciate, really the depth of personal emotion and rightful honor and due that you’re giving to those who came before you.
I also want to thank you, ASD Skelly, for your two decades of service to the country as a Naval flight officer – and for your continued service today.
And thank you 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 service members in attendance today, and those who are joining us virtually- thank you, and thank your families and those who support you– for all that you’ve 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’ll have a chance to hear from the Under Secretary of the Air Force, Gina Ortiz-Jones.
And I have been honored to work quite closely with both ASD Skelly and Under Secretary Jones. They are both star performers for the DoD team and for the Biden administration. And their careers – like those of the many LGBTQ+ civilian and service members with us here and joining us virtually – are a testament to the value of diversity in 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 June 1969 Stonewall uprising – a landmark moment in the gay rights movement. As President Biden recently stated, Pride month is a time to remind the LGBTQ+ community that they are loved and cherished - deserving of dignity, respect, and support.
You’ll recall that at the beginning of this administration, the president signed an Executive Order on “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in our Workforce.”
It called upon the federal government to be a model employer, where all employees are treated with dignity and respect.
At the Department of Defense – the single largest employer in the United States – we strive to lead on issues related to DEIA, including as it pertains to LGBTQ+ people.
This morning, I’m going to touch on why and how we’re doing that.
First and foremost 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 a workplace of choice for all Americans willing and qualified to serve.
In doing so, we set a bedrock foundation, where all personnel are valued and given an equal opportunity to succeed.
This is the right thing to do in keeping with the principles on which our country was founded.
But event more than that; recruiting, developing, and retaining a highly-skilled military and civilian workforce of diverse talent is essential to our warfighting success.
From China to Russia to violent extremist organizations and trans-boundary issues like climate change, today the Department of Defense faces a host of challenges.
The department should not, and cannot, be a place that discourages outstanding LGBTQ+ individuals from a career in DoD because of actual or perceived barriers to entry or hostile-workplace conditions.
Rather, we need a total force that reflects the vast diversity and talents of the United States of America – in which all members are afforded dignity, respect, and equal opportunity.
This promotes the cohesion that’s necessary for us to remain the world’s preeminent military force.
We know that our military is stronger because of brave individuals like Major General Leah Lauderback, who is joining us this morning.
During a selfless career that has spanned nearly thirty years, General Lauderback has focused on intelligence matters, commanded from the wing to squadron level, held a number of operational positions, and executed a number of operational tours. Not surprisingly, General Lauderback was recently appointed to the rank of lieutenant general.
Her service makes our country more secure. Thank you, Major General Lauderback.
I didn’t make you stand up.
It is not just our flag and general officers who are representing the best of America. Throughout the department, the LGBTQ+ service members make a real difference every day in defending our nation.
This includes individuals like Sergeant Samson Gibbs, a recipient of the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal, who is currently deployed with the 3rd Marine Air Wing – or Captain Gordon Herrero, who just earned a Masters of Science Degree in Operational Research – that’s very dear to 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 drawn to serve, are valued, and can actively contribute to overall mission success.
In September 2011, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed, allowing LGBTQ+ service members and civilians to be their authentic selves in service to our country. And last September, we commemorated the ten-year anniversary of that repeal.
I am so proud to have served in this department’s leadership team at both of those historic points.
Over the last decade, the department has undertaken a number of actions to advance the interests of the LGBTQ+ civilian and military service members.
- Revising 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 inclusive culture;
- developing diversity and inclusion training requirements and course curriculum, including training to detect and respond to unconscious bias;
- and just last year, I chartered the DoD Equity Team, now our Defense 2040 Task Force, to facilitate, inform, and advance enterprise-wide DEIA progress.
While we should all be proud of these real, concrete steps forward, we know there is more work to be done.
And make no mistake – doing so is a priority for Secretary Austin.
We will continue to advance policies and programs to develop and nurture a leadership pipeline of diverse talent and create pathways for everyone at DoD to realize their potential.
We know that organizational climates affect our workforce’s experiences. More to the point, it affects our warrior readiness. Therefore, we are directing initiatives to improve leader skill development and foster more effective, inclusive team environments.
We know that we must be agile, yet be deliberate in our approach. We must thoughtfully and fully consider how our actions today will contribute to a better tomorrow.
Therefore, the department is developing a DEIA strategic plan to guide and direct activities to further DEIA initiatives within the Department of Defense.
Our plan is in the final stages of approval, and it will identify the priorities and objectives that DoD will focus on over the coming year.
Even as we advance our strategic plan, all of us must keep in mind that diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility progress will not only driven by policies and programs, it also results from the individual actions that we all take every day.
To that end, Secretary Austin and I are committed to holding leaders at all levels responsible for fostering climates of inclusion that support DEIA – including for our LGBTQ+ community. This is a core readiness issue.
Individually, we must look at each day as an opportunity to ensure that the department reflects the nation that we serve and defend.
Let me close by offering my thanks once again to our event organizers, speakers, and our service members and civilians for their commitment to our shared mission.
The dedication of our diverse community of LGBTQ+ service members and civilians to advance our national security and their fellow military and civilian personnel, demonstrates the unity of the total force – and the best of America.
The diversity of the United States is unquestionably one of our greatest strengths. Many here today have fought hard battles to overcome bigotry and be treated with 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 acknowledge the challenges that remain and to reaffirm our commitment to equality for LGBTQ+ people.
Happy Pride month, and thank you.