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Navy Secretary, DoD Celebrate Diversity During LGBT Event

WASHINGTON, June 08, 2016 — The policy that banned openly gay people from serving in the military was "insidious and morally wrong," and its repeal has led to a strengthened, more diverse force, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said today.

Mabus, who spoke at the Defense Department's event marking June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, said the repeal of the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, which took effect in September 2011, was long overdue.

"Just five years ago an event like this would not have been possible," Mabus said at the Pentagon celebration, which included the participation of openly gay service members.

The ban was because of "flawed logic" that claimed the inclusion of gay and bisexual troops would erode the warfighting capability of the United States, Mabus said. "And yet, the Navy, the Marines, the Army, the Air Force [and the] Coast Guard are the most powerful forces in the world today," he added. "It shows that a more diverse force is a stronger force."

As a result of the 2011 repeal, troops no longer have to live parts of their lives in the shadows and often in fear, he said. Now, they can be fully open about who they really are, Mabus said.

Work Remains on LGBT Issues

While there has been a lot of progress, more work remains in meeting all the goals of DoD Pride, an employee resource group that supports the LGBT community, Mabus said.

The force needs to represent and reflect the nation it defends, the Navy secretary said, noting that there are 65,000 active duty LGBT members and 1 million LGBT veterans. He also encouraged those discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to have their military records reviewed to change the discharge characterization.

The Defense Department is reviewing its policy on military service by openly transgender individuals. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to make an announcement later this year, a DoD spokesman said.

Recognized for Commitment to LGBT Community

DoD Pride presented a civilian award to Army Undersecretary Patrick J. Murphy, a former U.S. representative who was co-author of the legislation that repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"We have a lot to be proud of, about where we are and where we've come," Murphy said, adding that he is proud to have been a part of repealing the ban. The fight for equality goes on every day, Murphy said.

Retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen was recognized with DoD Pride's military leadership award. Mullen supported the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell” while he served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Bert Gillott accepted the award on behalf of Mullen. Gillott, who had served in the chairman's office under Mullen, said he never thought in his career -- or even in his lifetime -- that he would ever see the repeal of the ban.

"I was tired of lying, tired of worrying if I would be outed," Gillott said. He was fearful, he said, that the next phone call would be from the commander ejecting him for being gay.

"It was with Admiral Mullen's courage and leadership and his personal belief in us that I was able to serve my 24th and final year in the United States Air Force with honesty and integrity," Gillott said.

In a statement, Carter said LGBT service members have fought and served for the nation throughout history and embody the values and ideals of the nation.

"Their readiness and willingness to serve has made our military stronger and our nation safer," he said. "We continue to take great pride in all that these men and women contribute to the department and our mission."

'Thankful' for LGBT Support

At the event, audience member Army Capt. Denise Quintana said she is a more well-rounded soldier because of the repeal. Quintana, who has served for 13 years, said she never thought there would be a repeal on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which was instituted in 1994.

"I'm just glad that I'm able to be open and not hide any more, and I'm thankful for everybody in support of LGBT," she told DoD News after the event.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)