Last Saturday, I was honored to deliver the keynote address at the inaugural OutServe Armed Forces Leadership Summit in Nevada. Less than a month after the full and final repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” this was one of the first opportunities for gay and lesbian service members – and their partners and families – to openly gather to share their stories and reflect on the importance of military service.
As the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Department of Defense, I was proud to attend this summit. As the President said earlier this month at the Human Rights Campaign 15th Annual Dinner in Washington, DC:
And all over the world, there are men and women serving this country just as they always have –with honor and courage and discipline and valor... All around the world, you’ve got gays and lesbians who are serving, and the only difference is now they can put up a family photo. No one has to live a lie to serve the country they love.
I was especially honored to deliver a message from the First Lady – a message that received a standing ovation from everyone in the room. As a part of her message, Mrs. Obama graciously thanked gay and lesbian service members and their families for their service:
Until very recently, gay and lesbian Americans had to serve in silence, but in spite of this tremendous obstacle, service members like you persevered. With courage and determination, you chose to serve and continue to exemplify what is best about the American spirit.
In closing my remarks, I took a few minutes to highlight a central theme that defines military service: “we are all in this together.” As we move past the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it is vitally important that our entire military community come together to address the challenges faced by wounded warriors and provide opportunities and access for returning service members.
In the months and years ahead, I am confident that all our service members will continue to bravely and proudly defend our country with integrity, professionalism, and respect.
Doug Wilson is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.