President Obama today nominated the first openly gay secretary for a branch of the armed services, nominating former Air Force undersecretary Eric Fanning to be secretary of the Army.
The move is not a surprise, as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter moved Fanning into the open role of acting undersecretary of the Army earlier this summer. From March to June, Fanning was Carter’s chief of staff.
“Eric served as my first chief of staff at the Pentagon, and it has been a privilege over the course of my career to work alongside him and watch him develop into one of our country’s most knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced public servants,” Carter said. “I know he will strengthen our Army, build on its best traditions, and prepare our ground forces to confront a new generation of challenges.”
Army Secretary John McHugh, a former congressman from New York who was on the board of directors for West Point, announced in June that he wanted to retire no later than November. McHugh was named to post in 2009, and like his successor has never served in uniform.
Fanning, 47, worked on the House Armed Services Committee early in his career and at the White House before moving over to the Navy as deputy undersecretary in 2009. He was nominated by President Obama for the Air Force undersecretary in 2012 and confirmed the following year. He stepped into the acting secretary role when Michael Donley resigned in June 2013, and Deborah Lee James was confirmed that December as secretary.
Before joining the Obama administration, Fanning worked at Business Executives for National Security and as an associate producer at CBS News.
Fanning told a Defense Intelligence Agency Pride Month event in June that he’s seen the Defense Department go “from tolerance to acceptance to embrace” of the LGBT community.
“There is a much larger community out there that is looking for opportunities to show its support of us — that’s certainly been my experience as I’ve come out in my professional network, and it’s picking up steam,” he said. “…Today, there is a caucus there, and now there is support for all of us. We have this community of support whenever we try to do anything or put ourselves forward.”
The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement calling Fanning “the perfect choice to lead the world’s best-trained, most dedicated, and formidable Army.”
“Considering the tremendous struggles that LGBT Americans have faced within the Department of Defense, Fanning’s nomination is deeply significant. This is a sign of hope and a demonstration of continued progress towards fairness and equality in our nation’s armed forces,” said Chad Griffin, president of the LGBT rights organization. “We urge the Senate to quickly confirm this remarkably experienced candidate to this important post.”
The Defense Department’s highest ranking transgender official, Amanda Simpson, was sworn in today as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy.
Griffin said Simpson’s “visibility and leadership is also incredibly important, especially as the Department moves to update the outdated regulations that continue to prevent transgender service members from serving openly and honestly.”