Presenter: Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson; Director of Press Operations Capt. Jane Campbell; Army Veteran Sue Fulton; Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Phelps; and Principal Deputy General Counsel of the Air Force Gordon Tanner
June 26, 2012
Pentagon Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender Pride Month Event
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, our program will begin momentarily. Please take your seats.
Ladies and gentlemen, please be advise that this event will be televised, therefore we ask that you remove your DOD badges, and please silence all electronic devices.
Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of Defense Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month Event. Please stand for the presentation of colors and remain standing for the National Anthem.
(Playing National Anthem)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. Please direct your attention to the center screen for the president's LGBT Pride Month video message, followed by Secretary Panetta's Pride Month Message.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I've often said that the true genius of America is that America can change. We can pass laws to right wrongs. We can soften hardened attitudes. Our union can be made more perfect. But here's the thing, change never happens on its own. Change happens because ordinary people, countless unsung heroes of our American story, stand up and demand it. The story of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans is no different.
As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month, we remember the activists and advocates who refused to be treated like second class citizens. People like Jeanne Manford and Harvey Milk who marched and protested and believed in a better future. But we also remember the unsung heroes. The millions of LGBT Americans for whom every day acts have required extraordinary courage. The young people who came out as gay or transgender to their parents, not knowing what to expect. The two moms or two dad who went to an open house or PTA meeting, not knowing how they'd be received.
The couple that got married, even if their bosses or neighbors wouldn't approve. At least not right away. Most of these heroes didn't set out to make history, but that's exactly what they did. Bit by bit, step by step, they bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice. Now it's our turn. So this June, let's take some time to celebrate teachers and students who take a stand against bullying. Openly gay and lesbian service members who defend our country with honor and integrity. Families and friends who have seen their own attitudes evolve.
Perfecting our union isn't something we can do in just one month, but we can remember those who came before us. We can summon the courage to build on their legacy. And we can renew our commitment, day in and day out to being the kind of people who make change happen.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA: As we recognize Pride Month, I want to personally thank all of our gay and lesbian service members, LGBT civilians and their families for their dedicated service to our country. Before the repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell, you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. 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.
Pursuit of equality is fundamental to the American story. The successful repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell, proved to the nation that just like the country we defend, we share different backgrounds, different values, different beliefs. Together we are the greatest military force in the world. It also reminds us that integrity and respect remain the cornerstones of our military culture. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force implemented the repeal with a focus on respect and individual dignity. As Secretary of Defense, I'm very proud of how we implemented repeal.
Going forward, I remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make America's military a model of equal opportunity. To ensure all who are qualified can serve in America's military. And to give every man and woman in uniform, the opportunity to rise to their highest potential. Diversity is one of our greatest strengths. And during Pride Month and every month, let's celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the Honorable Jeh Johnson, general counsel for the Department of Defense. (Applause.)
JEH JOHNSON, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE GENERAL COUNSEL: Thank you all very much. Can everybody hear me? In the back? You know I have to say I look around this standing — standing room only crowd and I'm sorry we didn't sell tickets. (Laughter.)
Thank you for being here. This afternoon I want to share with you some insights on the process that lead to the repeal of the Don't Ask/Don't Tell law in December of 2010. The implementation of that repeal between December 2010 and now, and where I think we are going from here. As recently as three years ago, it would have been hard for many of us, including me, to believe that in the year 2012 a gay man or woman in the Armed Forces could be honest about their sexual orientation.
That 10 U.S.C. 654, the Don't Ask/Don't Tell law would be gone from the books and that the process of repeal would have gone even smoother and less eventful than General Ham and I predicted in our report. It's a remarkable story and it's remarkable because of the strength of the U.S. military and its leadership. This is the overall message I hope to convey in these remarks today. We have the mightiest military in the world. Not just because of our planes, guns, tanks and ships, but because of our people.
Their ability to adapt to change and their respect for the rule of law, their commanders and their civilian leaders. This has been a remarkable thing about the last nine months. But for anyone who knows the men and women of the Armed Forces, it is not a revelation. At the outset, a personal disclosure. In 2010 General Ham and I did an assessment. We did not advocate for a particular result. Our only goal was a comprehensive and accurate report of the risk to military effectiveness if Don't Ask/Don't Tell were repealed. I do not consider myself an activist on the matter of gay men and women in America. We are all a product of our circumstances.
And part of my circumstances include my formative years in the 1970's at Morehouse College, an all male, all black Southern Baptist school. In the 1980's, a good friend at the law firm in which I practiced as a young lawyer in New York was openly gay. But it was at least a year before I knew that. And only because someone else told me. I asked my friend why he had not told me directly that he was gay? And he said to me — and I still remember his exact words, "Because I didn't think you could handle it."
For the next 27 years I asked myself what gave my friend that impression. But it did not preoccupy me. In 2009, in the E-Ring, we never talked about Don't Ask/Don't Tell, except in groups no larger than about three or four people. Secretary Gates knew the president had pledged to seek repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell, but both of them believed that if repeal was to occur, it should happen in a careful and deliberate manner. We did not want the issue to spin out of our grasp.
Then in his State of the Union Address on January 27, 2010, President Obama pledged to work with the Congress and the military that year to repeal Don't Ask/Don't Tell, which is exactly what happened. Several days later, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the subject. It was there that Admiral Mullen gave his remarkable statement in support of repeal. And Secretary Gates announced the formation of a working group to be headed by the General Counsel of the Defense Department and Army General Carter Ham to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the risks of repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell on overall military effectiveness.
We were to take 10 months. And we were told to systematically engage the force on this issue. In effect, go have a conversation with the entire U.S. military about this issue and report back to me, the president and the Congress what they told you. I did not know Carter Ham, then commander of U.S. Army Europe, now commander of U.S. Africa Command, at all before Admiral Mullen volunteered him for this assignment. But over 10 months I got to know Carter and his wife extremely well, to the point where my wife and kids spent Thanksgiving 2010 with them in Germany where we visited wounded warriors at the hospital there.
Carter began as a Private in the Army in 1973 and he knows the Army about as well as anyone. He was just right to navigate this sensitive assignment. And in the development of our report, I never let my own civilian legal thinking stray far away from his military perspective or his own voice. The study we undertook was the most comprehensive engagement ever of the military on any personnel related matter. Over the course of 10 months, we surveyed 400,000 service members and received 115,000 responses. Surveyed 150,000 military spouses and received 44,266 responses. Solicited and received 72,384 emails, conducted 95 information exchange forums at 51 bases around the world and talked face-to-face with over 24,000 service members.
Many of them, General Ham and myself. We conducted 140 smaller focus group sessions with service members and their families. Visited the military academies, solicited the views of Congress, veterans groups, foreign countries and groups for and against repeal. And finally the working group engaged in an online conversation with 2,691 service members on a confidential, anonymous basis and thereby gave a voice to those who by virtue of the very law we were reviewing, had no voice as self identified gay active duty service members.
The results of the report are now well known. The bottom line conclusion was this, based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that when coupled with the prompt implementation of our recommendations, the risk of repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell to overall military effectiveness was low. As a basis for this conclusion there was of course the survey results. They showed among other things, that 69.3 percent of those in today's military had already worked in a unit with someone they believed to be gay. And that if Don't Ask/Don't Tell were repealed, 70 percent of today's military said they thought it would have either a positive effect, equally positive or negative effect or no effect at all on their unit's ability to perform as a team.
Also key to our conclusion was this, quote "In the course of our assessment, it became apparent to us that aside from the moral and religious objections to homosexuality, much of the concern about open service is driven by mis-perceptions and stereotypes about what it would mean if gay service members were allowed to be open about their sexual orientation. Repeatedly we heard service members express the view that open homosexuality would lead to widespread and overt displays of feminine behavior among men, homosexual promiscuity, harassment and unwelcome advanced within units, invasions of personal privacy and an overall erosion of standards of conduct, unit cohesion and morality. Based on our review, however, we conclude these concerns about gay and lesbian service members who are permitted to be open about their sexual orientation are exaggerated and not consistent with the reported experiences of many service members.
"In communications with gay and lesbian current and former service members, we repeatedly heard a patriotic desire to serve and defend the nation, subject to the same rules as everyone else. In the words of one gay service member, "Repeal would simply take a knife out of my back. You have no idea what it's like to serve in silence." Most said they did not desire special treatment, to use the military for social experimentation or to advance a social agenda. Some of those separated under Don't Ask/Don't Tell would welcome the opportunity to rejoin the military if permitted.
"From them we heard expressed many of the same values that we heard over and over again from service members at large. Love of country, honor, respect, integrity and service over self. We simply cannot square the reality of these people with the perceptions about open service." End quote. And last but not least, was this noteworthy quote in the report, which seems to be the favorite of a lot of people. "We have a gay guy in the unit. He's big, he's mean and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay." End quote. (Laughter.)
Finally — (Applause.)
Finally, key to my own views, no where reflected in this report, the military members of the working group who were side by side with me throughout the dozens of large group sessions that told me that in the course of the 10 month review, they had started off skeptics and had become satisfied that our military can do this. By the end of the 10 month study, during which I think we actually saw attitudes shift as we stirred the pot on this issue, we had the overwhelming sense that, with proper education and leadership, the military could be ready for this change. The report was issued publicly on November 30, 2010 in the middle of a lame duck session of Congress.
Repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell was passed by the Congress three weeks later, signed into law by the president on December 22, 2010, and took effect on September 20, 2011. How has the military accepted this change? Better than we anticipated. I attribute this to the strength of our military and it's Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard leadership. And I know I speak for these leaders when I say we hope this process continues in the professional and sober manner that it has taken since last year.
In December 2010 as Congress was considering repeal, the Commandant of the Marine Corps testified to his honestly held professionally military view that repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell was not a good idea for the Marine Corps. But at the time, General Amos' personal and public message was, if my leaders give me an order to do this, your United States Marine Corps will get it done and get it done smartly. Following repeal General Amos like each of the other chiefs stepped up and personally delivered messages as part of the education and training of their respective forces.
The commandant's message was simple. We will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new law. We will continue to demonstrate to the American people that discipline and fidelity, which have been the hallmarks of the United States Marine Corps for more than 235 years, will continue well into the future. The Marine Corps was the first service to complete the education and training of its force. General Casey of the Army personally led the first repeal education and training session in the Army for all the four star generals as part of the Chain/Teach method of training by which the commander is personally responsible for training a subordinate.
Admiral Roughead of the Navy said this, "Leadership, professionalism and respect are the basis for executing the change in the law. As always, we expect sailors to continue to exhibit the highest degree of professionalism and to treat each other with dignity and respect." General Schwartz of the Air Force, "By following our core values, we will successfully implement this change with the same unparalleled professionalism we have demonstrated with every transformation we have undertaken in both peace and war." And the commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Patton [Admiral Papp], "I need you commanding officers, supervisors and every Coast Guardsman to create command climates that foster retention. The repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell will also require your leadership and I'm counting on you to exercise it. It's every Coast Guardsman's job to make the workplace one of respect. You must value your shipmates no matter what their background."
Since repeal, within each service, there have been isolated incidents, but almost no issues or negative effects associated with repeal on unit cohesion including within war fighting units. As General Amos testified before Congress last year, he and his staff were careful to look for issues during the training and told Congress, "To be honest with you, we have not seen it." From the front lines in Afghanistan, one Marine major general reported to the commandant, "Sir, quite honestly they're focused on the enemy."
Going forward, the personnel and readiness community is now in the midst of reviewing which military family benefits can be extended to the partners and other family members of gay and lesbian service members? The repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell exposes certain inequalities between similarly situated couples in the military community. This troubles many of our leaders. On the other hand, we must comply with current law including the Defense of Marriage Act. Though the Department of Justice has said it will not defend the constitutionality of DOMA in court, until final resolution of that issue adherence to that law is basic for the military and central to our efforts.
Because of the number of benefits that are provided to our military community and the complex legal and regulatory framework, the process has been comprehensive and time consuming, but it will get done. Now one final note about today's event before I close, this type of event during the month of June has occurred in civilian society and in civilian agencies of the federal government for years. The CIA for example hosted a gay pride event 12 years ago. This is the first time in history such an event has occurred at the Pentagon. Within the military, events such as this must occupy a different and qualified place.
Because in the military, individual personal characteristics are subordinate to the good of the unit and the mission, service above self. From all that we learned in 2010 about the struggles and the sacrifice to remain in the military, I believe gay men and women in uniform readily agree with us. So what should we honor today? For those service members who are gay and lesbian, we lifted a real and personal burden from their shoulders. They no longer have to live a lie in the military. They will no longer have to somehow teach a child to lie to protect their father's career.
As one Army chief warrant officer reported, her commander told her, "This policy kept me from knowing you." For all of us, we should honor the professional and near flawless manner in which our entire U.S. military implemented and adapted to this change. And welcomed their brothers and sisters to an unconditional place at the table.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen — ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Captain Jane Campbell, United States Navy. (Applause.)
CAPTAIN JANE CAMPBELL, DIRECTOR OF PRESS OPERATIONS: Good afternoon. It is my great pleasure to serve as your moderator this afternoon for the panel discussion.
Mr. Johnson, thank you for your remarks. Most specifically, thank you for providing that behind-the-scenes perspective of the repeal of "Don't Ask/Don't Tell."
Before we begin our discussion this afternoon, I'd like to take a moment to provide a brief introduction of our panelists. When I finish these introductions, I think you'll see why we are extremely pleased to have these men and women seated in front of you this afternoon.
Our first panelist is Sue Fulton, a U.S. Army veteran. She is an 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy, the first class of women. Sue is one of six — (Applause.)
Sue is one of six presidential appointees to the 2012 West Point Board of Visitors. She served on active duty for five years as a signal corps officer. Her tours in Germany included platoon leader, staff officer and company commander. After leaving the Army, Sue worked in brand management at Proctor & Gamble and Church & Dwight. She also took two years to work in parish renewal programs for the Archdiocese of New York. She currently serves as the executive director of Knights Out and the communications director of OutServe.
Our second panelist is Captain Matthew Phelps, United States Marine Corps. He most recently served as the commanding officer, Receiving Company Support Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruiting Station San Diego. It's a mouthful, I know.
And I say most recently, sir, because we pulled him out of there just after his change of command that took place late last week. He's headed down the road to Quantico, where he'll start the Expeditionary Warfare School shortly. He's a prior enlisted Marine. After earning a bachelor's degree in music from the Eastman School of Music at Rochester University in 2001, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant while a member of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Band. At that time, he applied for and was accepted into the enlisted commissioning program. He earned his gold second lieutenant bars back in August of 2005. He's held a variety of assignments since earning his commission, including a combat deployment to Iraq with 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Our third panelist is Gordon O. Tanner, a career civil servant and an Air Force veteran. A member of the senior executive service, Mr. Tanner is the principal deputy general counsel of the Air Force and works here in the Pentagon. He provides oversight, guidance, direction and guidance regarding legal advice on all matters arising within the Air Force. Mr. Tanner earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Alabama and his juris doctorate from Vanderbilt University. He was commissioned in the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps and served on active duty for four years. While spending some time in private practice, Mr. Tanner continued his military services in the Air Force Reserves, ultimately retiring as a colonel.
Now, while I'm not a lawyer and I definitely won't make any lawyer jokes because I know there's more than a few of you in this room, I do want to point out that it's significant to note that Mr. Tanner is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar, the D.C., Tennessee and Alabama bars.
And I'm not going to pressure him too much, but it's important to point out that our event here was designed for the Pentagon workforce, a workforce of military and civilian personnel. And I do want to look to him to provide that civilian perspective, even if it might have a hint of Air Force blue. (Laughter.)
With their introductions complete, I'd like to begin this discussion. I'm going to ask each of our panel members to tell their own personal story, and then I'll come back to them to see if there are any other points that I think that you might find interesting.
So now, without further ado, I'd like to turn it over to Sue Fulton.
SUE FULTON, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: Thank you, Jane. (Applause).
CAPT. CAMPBELL: If you'd like to stay seated or stand.
FULTON: This is an extraordinary — extraordinarily special day, standing room only in the Pentagon auditorium — but not because LGBT people are special but because the service, the sacrifices of gay and lesbian servicemembers are being recognized as equal to the sacrifices that straight soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen make every day. (Laughter).
You know, a lot of people seem surprised that "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" repeal went so smoothly. And for a moment I was one of them. But I think back to when I arrived at my first duty station in 1980, many, many years ago — you can all do the math — as a fresh, you know, wet-behind-the-ears butter bar with my shiny airborne wings, hoping that would get me through.
One of the first people I met was our battalion pack NCO, personnel NCO. And forgive the stereotype, but he was about six-foot-four, and he was the fiercest, most fabulous, you know — (Laughter.) — take-no-prisoners, flamboyant gay man I'd ever seen.
And yet, all of the captains and majors and colonels deferred to him because he could play mil person like a piano. He knew his job inside and out. He knew it better than anybody else. And there was widespread respect for him. And when he would pass me in the hall and say, "How you doing, ma'am?" (Laughter) (Applause.)
The other folks would say, well, "That's just Riley." And I think so many of us knew Rileys out there, whether it was the — the female motor sergeant who could fix anything and, by the way, lift a (inaudible) by herself — (Laughter) — or the training NCO who had a snappy one-liner for everything, the notion that — and certainly, the vast majority of gay and lesbian folks in the military aren't stereotypical, but so many of us knew those gay and lesbian soldiers. And we knew that, at the end of the day, that this wouldn't be hard.
I, in fact, when I was a company commander on a little base in Germany, actually (inaudible) Kaserne in (inaudible), there were actually four gay commanders on that base at the same time. And we were all successful, but none of us stayed in the Army because it was too hard.
Even before "Don't Ask/ Don't Tell," we were told — we knew there were things that we couldn't talk about. Don't tell anyone about that first date. Don't tell anyone about your crazy, fun weekend. Don't tell anyone about your bad breakup. Don't tell anyone about who's waiting for you at home when you get back from a deployment.
The Army redacted our lives. And I think, at the end of the day, one of the things that those of us working on this realize — and when I say those of us working on this, I mean all of — all of the military folks, gay and straight, is that being gay isn't about sex; it's about life. It's about buying a house and bickering over chores. Sorry. That's my partner over there. (Laughter.)
It's about deciding whether to have kids. It's about moving to a new place and figuring everything out. It's about life.
And I do want to say that, thanks to the leadership of this administration and the Pentagon and so many unit leaders at every level, we can have those lives now and still serve the country we love.
Thank you so much for having me here. (Applause.)
CAPTAIN MATTHEW PHELPS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: You know, as I — as I listen to the biographies of this distinguished panel, the first question that comes to my mind is why the heck am I here? (Laughter.)
I enlisted in 2002 because, after the events of 9/11, I just could not imagine anything else that I could do with my life than to serve my country. And as I was, sort of, bound and focused on that idea, I thought there was no better way to do that than as a Marine.
The interesting thing, or the complicating fact at that time was I had come out as gay to my parents when I was 18. And here I was, 25 years old, faced with the feeling so deep within me that there was absolutely no denying it that I had to be a Marine. And I enlisted in the Marine Corps and I listened to my recruiter stumble his way through explaining the "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy that was in effect at that time, that, at the time, in 2002, there was no chance of it going away.
And as he stumbled through the policy and he asked me, "Well, are you gay? Because if you're not, then this doesn't matter." OK, fine, then I'll sign the paper, and let's do it.
And I realized at that point that the problem with — the problem with the "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy was that it asked us to lie when nobody even realized that we were lying. Nobody even realized that they were asking us to lie. That's what we had to do, though.
It really hit home for me when I was on deployment in 2007 and I'm in Iraq and every Saturday night, the officers used to get together and smoke cigars and watch movies, usually "Band of Brothers" or something so we could make fun of the way that the Army did it. (Laughter.)
But as we would sit there, of course the thoughts would all drift to home. And everyone would talk about their families and their wives and the letters that they got from their kids. And I sat there in the back of the room, not talking to anybody, because not only was it so hard to have left somebody at home, just like it was hard for everybody else, but when everybody was getting together and growing closer as a unit, by virtue of the fact that I wasn't allowed to say anything, I was actually growing more distant from my unit.
And we hear people talk about unit cohesion and how is the repeal of "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" going to affect unit cohesion. I would argue that it got better, because now you have a whole portion of the military who is able to be honest with the people that they work with.
And when somebody says, you know, do you have anybody at home, we can say, yes, as a matter of fact, we do.
When the repeal happened on September 20 of 2011, it came at an interesting point in my career. I had already been selected as a company commander and I was already serving as a company commander down at the recruit depot. And I went into work on the 20th of September thinking that my life was going to change. And I went in and I sat down at my desk and I, kind of, braced myself on the desk, waiting for everyone to ask me if I was gay. (Laughter.)
And believe it or not, nobody did. (Laughter.)
I didn't get any e-mails. I didn't get any phone calls. In fact, the phone didn't even ring. I was waiting — like, somebody please talk to me today — (Laughter) — because I felt like I was going to work for the very first time. After almost 10 years, Matthew was going to work as a Marine, in uniform, doing my job, doing the job that I thought I had been doing for 10 years, but I had only, sort of, been half-doing.
And as we've progressed since then, I've found myself, sort of, cast into literal spotlights, because all I've done is acknowledged the fact that I'm gay, the fact that I love serving my country, that I love being a Marine. That's it. That's all that I've done. And somehow that's news.
I can't imagine having a panel where we would say, "Congratulations. These are all male Marines. Let's give them a round of applause." (Laughter.)
I happen to be gay, but more importantly, I'm a Marine. And if I could just touch on one more point, if I've learned anything, it's that the reason that I am here is that it still, kind of, is news, that there are still relatively few of us wearing the uniform who are willing to go on record and say, "This is my life. I am proud of my life. And I will serve as a leader with integrity, with openness, and serve as the role model for our younger troops, for our younger Marines, for our younger servicemembers and those who will come after us, to show them that it is not nearly the big deal that anybody thought that this was going to be.
Thank you. (Applause.)
GORDON TANNER, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL OF THE AIR FORCE: Just terrific. You know, it is wonderful to be here, to represent the 8,000 or so civilians who work here in the Pentagon, together with those other civilians in our military workforce around the globe.
But I'm also awfully proud of the military connection that we all have because we have one mission together. And that's the importance of the repeal of "Don't Ask/Don't Tell," I think, and the importance of today.
I did retire recently as a Reserve JAG. And I remember the fear and concern I had about potentially being outed during that period of time. And it would have been awful. And I can't imagine what a relief that — I can imagine what a relief that is now.
But we have a great deal to be thankful for. We have a great deal to be — I personally have a great deal to be thankful for in that my husband Robert — raise your hand, Robert — is down here. (Applause.)
We have been together nine years and married almost two. I'm thankful that we are being joined today by military members, civilian and military, from around the world. You may have already heard we had a request just earlier this week from a group in Afghanistan that wanted to be sure — soldiers n Afghanistan who wanted to be sure that they could tie in and participate by video in this conference. What an outreach that is for us, for each of us, to them as they serve us on the front lines.
I also think we ought to use this opportunity to remember that we are standing on the shoulders of giants. There are huge numbers of people who have gone before us and worked on this issue, many of whom are in this room today. And while we can't go through all their names, on behalf of all of us connected with the military service, I want to say thank you for what you have done to make today possible. (Applause.)
Now, like a good lawyer, like I've been trained by Mr. Johnson and others around the room, I have this laundry list of all the civilian benefits that we now are working on getting, or we have some. If you want that list, I'll be glad to e-mail that to you. (Laughter.)
It might be helpful, actually. And it's — and it is available.
But what I really want to talk about today is what we — what each of us can do in our own day-to-day lives to make a difference. First of all and most importantly, we need to be as visible as we can be. Everybody has a different comfort level. Everyone is in a different place. Let me encourage you to be as open and honest as you can possibly be.
Well, first of all, we have straight allies, colleagues and friends who absolutely support us, one, because it's the right thing to do; and, second, because they have loved ones, friends, neighbors, sons, daughters, who they want to know more about their life, and we may be the bridge to helping them understand that. Help us be the bridge to our straight allies.
We civilians, for those of you in the room and on — in TV land out there, we have military colleagues who are not yet comfortable about being more open. We as civilians have a unique opportunity to be that bridge, to help them if they find themselves in a climate that is not as comfortable yet as it should be. We can be there for our military colleagues.
Finally, we in the Pentagon here are often face to face with the policymakers, the people who are looking at the benefits and how those can be increased so that we have one class of Marines and not first and second-class Marines or airmen or sailors or soldiers. We can be there for the policymakers.
I want to ensure that our visibility is open and it shows — it shows that we can become — we can become one Marine Corps, where a Marine can perform his mission and not be treated as second class because he receives lesser benefits than his straight colleague. We can be one Air Force, where a deployed airmen can perform her mission and not have to worry about her partner and children living in shabby off-base housing because they were ineligible for on-base military housing. We can be one Navy, where a gay sailor can focus on his mission and not worry about the school that his children are forced to attend because they didn't qualify for certain DOD school benefits. We can be one Army, where a soldier can focus on her mission without her worrying about her partner back home not being cared for by the members of her unit that are back home.
Spousal support is critical for our success for our deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. And our spouses, our partners need that support as well, so that we — we can focus on our mission.
I'm not going to tell my own coming-out story, but I do want to tell you one — I want to tell you about Mr. Will and Ms. Mildred Allbritton.
Shortly after I came out, I — I was on the usher team at St. Mark's Church in San Antonio, Texas, where I was stationed. Actually, I was the chicken on that team, if you can believe that. The team, the usher team must have been 70 and 80 years old. They had been on that same team forever. (Laughter.)
And I was the new kid on the block. One of the usher team members, Mr. Will, came up to me after church one Sunday morning and asked if he could talk with me privately. He was, sort of, furtive and a little bit sneaky about it. I had no clue what he wanted to talk about, but of course I agreed to talk to him. He came up; he looked around to make sure no one was listening, and then he talked — began talking to me about his grown son and his son's partner, who lived in Houston. Mr. Will and his wife, Ms. Mildred, loved both their son and that partner. They spent Thanksgiving with them, the best cooks you can imagine. But Mr. — but Mr. Will and Ms. Mildred, although they had been active in that church for their entire lives, did not feel they could tell one person about their son and their experience with him — not one.
And they were just afraid that their friends would completely reject them because they had a gay son and that they actually liked it. Well — (Laughter.) — I was the, I think, maybe, the first gay person they had ever talked to. I didn't do anything. I just was there. I was out and I listened. Well, based on my just being there, they began to open up to their friends, their church friends and colleagues who — and brought them into the rest of their world.
I have to tell you that Mr. Will and Ms. Mildred's son died a few years later, and they brought him back from Houston to San Antonio to be buried at St. Mark's. And I wish you could have seen Mr. Will and Ms. Mildred bring that partner, arm in arm, up to that front row. And when that partner finished speaking at that — and giving the eulogy at that funeral, there was not a dry eye in that house. Everyone in that packed congregation was right there with Mr. Will and Ms. Mildred.
Now, what does that have to do with us today in the military? It has a lot. All we have to do, to whatever extent you can do, is be visible. You can be the bridge; you can be the face; you can be the friend.
Thank you. (Applause.)
CAPT. CAMPBELL: Now, was there any doubt that we had the right folks to be up here to talk to you this afternoon? (Laughter.)
What I'd like to do — I'm cognizant of the time and I realize that some of you may be fighting a busy schedule this afternoon, but what I'd like to do is just to go back to each of our panelists and ask probably just one, at this point in time, for one point that I think, you know, may have been something that they drew out from their comments.
So, for Mr. Tanner, as a career civil servant, what is the most significant thing that you have seen in this building, aside from the stories that you have shared with us, that has been a — a key indicator that, kind of, led up to this transition from the military side?
As you stood, from your civilian perspective, albeit with that one foot in that Reserve side?
TANNER: Just quickly, I think it's the — what — I'm drawn to the fact that people become visible in different ways. It may be simply putting a photograph of a loved one in your cube. It may be talking about, in — just as someone would talk about — a straight couple would talk about — individuals would talk about what they did on the weekend, people are in various places, and I think that you have to come from a place where you're comfortable, but you have to stretch that a little.
So I would encourage everyone who's — who's thinking about becoming more visible to stretch a little and to — to take the step that you believe could help you be that bridge that I mentioned.
CAPT. CAMPBELL: Thank you, sir.
For Captain Phelps, I don't think there is anybody who — in this audience, or anybody watching, you know, around the world, who was not moved by your words, by the strength of your passion as a Marine first.
I would just ask, has there been anything anecdotally in the last little bit — as you said, every once in a while, you've been thrust into the spotlight — I'm trying to count here — aside from the 12 that are blinding you at this point in time? (Laughter.)
Is there any significant event, post-repeal, post that day when the phone didn't ring, that you'd like to share with — with this audience?
CAPT. PHELPS: I'd say there were probably — I would say the most significant event, to me — I mentioned that, when I took command of my company in June of last year, I was in the closet. I was at a point in my career where, if anybody had found out that I was gay — even though the law had been signed, repeal had not gone all the way through — if anybody had found out that I was gay at that time, I could have lost my job.
A year later, in fact last Friday, a week ago last Friday, on the 15th, the president hosted a reception at his house, you know, the white one. (Laughter.)
And — and I was — I was invited to attend. I, Captain Matthew Phelps, was invited to attend this pride reception at the White House. And I thought how amazing is it, over the course of a year, I could go from being fired for being who I am to having champagne with the commander in chief on cocktail napkins with the presidential seal on it.
So I would say, for me personally, that was probably the most significant event, you know, the fact that, although there is a certain distance for us still to travel before we find full equality, the fact that the service of gay and lesbian servicemembers is finally be recognized on that scale, I think, is — that's just an amazing thing to see.
CAPT. CAMPBELL: Sue, to one thing that I think a number of folks may be interested. One, you've described your experience as a — a member of the class of 1980 at West Point, but today you're also involved as the executive director of Knights Out. So from my chair to his chair to his, what can you tell us about that next generation of leaders that is now changed because of how they serve at one of our military academies and how they will serve as leaders with our next generation?
FULTON: Well, the academies are — they're learning institutions. And I — I think that, you know, repeal was more of a non-event there than anywhere else. One NCO actually said to me that, you know, we — we braced for impact and it wasn't even a speed bump, the repeal.
So, I mean, our students, the cadet students, the midshipmen, they've had this preparation of going through high school with gay and lesbian and, you know, and bi and trans kids, and so I think it's much less of an issue with this generation. I think it's, again, not even a speed bump at West Point. And on the Board of Visitors, it just hasn't been an issue. We have, you know, much bigger fish to fry — (Laughter.) — to handle at West Point. So it really hasn't.
And I — but I don't want that to be taken as something we've all said, that, look, you know, generationally, this generation that's coming up now, that's serving, they're the ones who get this; it's just the older folks, right?
But, you know, there's some exceptions to that, too. I can't tell you how many stories from OutServe members that I've seen where they're talking about, you know, crusty old sergeant major or crusty old CW-5 came up and said, "You know, I heard you're gay; if anybody gives you any crap, you come see me." (Laughter.)
Or, you know, chaplains — I, this past weekend, met not only the Navy lieutenant commander, Lutheran chaplain, who conducted a ceremony for a young Air Force sergeant and his boyfriend to get wedded, and she was wonderful, beaming the whole time. But, to me, more importantly, in the back of the church — and I spoke with him later — was another chaplain, a senior chaplain, Air Force 06, Southern Baptist. And I asked him why he was there, and he said, "I just want to make sure everything goes smoothly for my airmen. It's just — I just want to make sure there aren't any problems."
And, you know, the folks — there are a lot of folks who are senior, who are allies, who get this, that this is about readiness, that this is about taking care of our troops and mission accomplishment. And getting this finished so that this is never an issue again is so important.
And so I think — I know I've jumped off the topic of the academies, but the academies are doing great. There are no — (Laughter.) They have other issues, but they have no problems with this. (Applause.)
CAPT. CAMPBELL: Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have creeped past the hour of 2:00, past 1400. So it is my responsibility to — and my honor — to thank our — our three panelists, and to thank you, thank you for being in a standing-room-only audience in the Pentagon for this first-ever event. So thank you. Have a good afternoon. (Applause.)