Jarrett Keynotes Pentagon's Gay Pride Event, Touting Obama's 'Most Significant Civil-Rights Accomplishment'
"Don't ask, don't tell" was remembered as a "painful" era, in the words of White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, at the Pentagon's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month event today.
But Jarrett, keynote speaker for the event in the Pentagon auditorium, told the gathered service members and civilian employees that the congressional repeal of the Clinton-era policy "is one of the most significant civil-rights accomplishments of the president's career."
Similar gay-pride events were being held at other U.S. installations across the world this week, including at Kandahar and Bagram air bases in ultraconservative Islamist Afghanistan. It's the second year the Defense Department has designated an LGBT Pride Month.
The Pentagon event opened with an invocation, where the prayer lauded "love refused to be constrained by culture, creed or fear."
"Holy God, by the power of your love remind us that all people are created in thy image," the chaplain leading the prayer said, adding that American armed forces help promote the "amazing ideal" that people "no matter who they love are created equal."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who received a long ovation from the audience, said the open service of gays and lesbians "makes our military and our nation stronger, much stronger."
"We're very proud of everything the gay and lesbian community have contributed and continue to contribute. With their service, we are moving closer to fulfilling the country's founding vision, that all of us are created equal," Hagel continued. "It has never been easy to square the words of our forefathers with the stark realities of history. But what makes America unique, what gives us strength is our ability to correct our course."
"Over more than two centuries, our democracy has shown that while it is imperfect, it can change, and it can change for the better," he added.
Jarrett, wearing a pink suit, lauded Hagel as making "an incredible difference in the lives of our men and women in uniform" in his first few months on the job. She praised the DOD Pride group for coming "a long way" since quietly meeting for morning coffee during "Don't ask, don't tell."
"Because of you, the United States has the strongest and the best military in the world, dontcha think?" she said.
"In late 2010, I hosted a meeting in the White House with a small, small group of active-duty gay and lesbian service members and a couple of gay veterans that had been discharged. As you'll recall, Congress was in the midst of a debate over the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell.' And at that point, there was not a clear path to victory. Each person shared their story of what it was like to serve in the military and why trying to hide who they are was so hard," Jarrett said. "…Seeing you all here today, proud and open and honest about who you are and who you love, brings the stories that I heard that day, those painful stories, full circle, because the president kept his promise."
"As you know, change has been the defining theme of the Obama administration," Obama's close confidante added. "…Change that propels us to true equality for all, and closer to what the Constitution describes as a more perfect union."
Jarrett added that she met with a gay Marine Corps captain who joined during "Don't ask, don't tell" but "believes that a true leader is honest and open, so his inability to share major parts of his life with his colleagues kept him from being the best leader that he could be."
"Since the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' however, he can serve, in his words, fully, completely and with integrity. And when he deploys in August, he'll be taking his husband with him," she said.