Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told troops today that the Defense Department’s “openness to diversity” is what makes the U.S. military the best force in the world.
“We must start from a position of inclusivity, not exclusivity … anything else is bad defense policy,” Carter said while keynoting an LGBT Pride Month event at the Pentagon.
Four years after the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, the defense secretary stressed that “we take pride” in how gay and lesbian troops are “free to serve their country openly.”
The Pentagon, Carter added, is “getting to a place where no one serves in silence.”
Relaying stories of gays and lesbians who made sacrifices in battle from wars including Vietnam and Iraq, Carter vowed his office is “strongly committed to making sure all our military spouses equally receive the benefits,” including side-by-side burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
“The Department of Defense has made a lasting commitment to living the values we defend… because we have to focus relentlessly on our mission,” he said.
“The thing that maters most about a person is what they can contribute to national defense.”
He announced that the Pentagon is updating its discrimination policy to include sexual orientation among race, religion, sex, and national origin. “Discrimination of any kind has no place in America’s armed forces.”
Carter said that since young Americans are more demanding of diversity and tolerance, and since good officers take many years to make, “if we’re going to attract best and brightest … we have, ourselves, to be more diverse and tolerant.”
“It’s the only way to compete in the 21st century,” he added. “We can’t afford to close ourselves off to anyone.”
Stressing diversity and tolerance in the armed forces “will also help us build bridges to our country and our communities,” Carter said, noting that these are “part of our national character.”
In the end, the defense secretary said, whether a soldier dies in battle or after retirement “the earth makes no distinction” between patriots who served, “and neither should we.”
The Defense Department set up a special website section for LGBT Pride Month with stories of servicemembers and resources for gay troops.