DAHLGREN, Va. – Gordon O. Tanner had mixed feelings about celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month only 10 days after the attack on the Pulse nightclub.
“We have a great deal to celebrate today,” Tanner told his audience at the second annual Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) sponsored LGBT observance.
Nevertheless, he recounted the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history that occurred at the nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
“I don’t feel much like celebrating because less than two weeks have passed since 49 young men and women were targeted and murdered with more than 50 more grievously wounded for spending the night out with friends and loved ones from the LGBT community,” said the U.S. Department of the Air Force general counsel. “It could have been any of us or it could have been one of our friends or family.”
Tanner – the event’s keynote speaker – named several victims who were killed in the attack, while recalling their lives, accomplishments, and aspirations.
“These were regular people, they were in fact part of us,” he said at the June 22 observance held at the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren base theater. “One of the victims was Army Reserve Capt. Antonio Brown.”
Brown, 30 years old, was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 383rd Regiment, 4th Cavalry Brigade, 85th Support Command, based in St. Louis. He was a member of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps while a student at Florida A&M University.
“We need to take time to grieve the loss and think about those we have lost,” said Tanner.” “It is also important that we take time to reach out to our broader community with allies and loved ones in small gatherings, and big organized events like this. I think it’s really important to thank those at Dahlgren who organized this event today, because this is part of the recovery process of what the country is going through. It’s through events like this that we can share common experiences and pause to think about the lives lost and the legacy that we can carry forward of these young women and men.”
Tanner – who is also the chief legal officer and chief ethics official for the Air Force in Washington, D.C. – reflected on the values and lessons that Americans can carry forward personally.
“Each of us shares values that our nation shares,” said Tanner, as he spoke to the military, government civilian, and defense contractors in attendance. “We can express those values through our work, here at home, and the way we live our lives every day – whether you are a member of the LGBT community, support someone who is, or an ally in our fight for equal rights and human rights – I am glad that you are here. I thank you for what you do.”
Tanner took a moment to relay his perspective directly to those in the LGBT community.
“As important as it is that we (in the LGBT community) get support from our families and our community, it’s equally important at this difficult time that we not build walls between ourselves and the general public,” said Tanner. “This country is not built on walls, it’s built on relationships, and we build those relationships one at a time. That’s what has made this country great and it’s what will make it continue to be the leader that it is. If we learned anything from remarkable successes we’ve had in advancing human rights in recent years, it is that we move forward when we reach outside our community and remind them that we are their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters, their co-workers and their fellow parishioners, and that we love our country and its ideals absolutely as much as they do – and that we’ve taken an oath to defend it.”
Established by Presidential Proclamation in 2000, LGBT Pride Month is held annually and recognizes the importance of diversity within our society as well as the many achievements of LGBT individuals. This year's theme is celebration, and calls Americans to eliminate prejudice and celebrate our diversity.
For service members, repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2011 allowed gay, lesbian and bisexuals to serve openly in the United States Armed Forces.
Eight days after the Dahlgren LGBT observance, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that transgender individuals can openly serve in the U.S. armed forces. The policy will be phased in during a one-year period. Effective June 30, 2016 - service members may no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged or denied reenlistment solely on the basis of gender identity. Service members currently on duty will be able to serve openly.
The new DoD transgender policy also establishes a construct by which service members may transition gender while serving, sets standards for medical care and outlines responsibilities for military services and commanders to develop and implement guidance, training and specific policies in the near and long-term.
In the words of President Barack Obama, "All people deserve to live with dignity and respect, free from fear and violence, and protected against discrimination, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, we celebrate the proud legacy LGBT individuals have woven into the fabric of our Nation, we honor those who have fought to perfect our Union, and we continue our work to build a society where every child grows up knowing that their country supports them, is proud of them, and has a place for them exactly as they are."
The president’s words, spoken before the events of June 12, are even more poignant in the aftermath of the attack.
“We are a stronger Navy and nation when we embrace, celebrate and take advantage of our differences and diversity,” said NSWCDD Commander Capt. Brian Durant in his opening remarks at the observance. “Our success, our Navy's success, demands the talents and hard work of a diverse workforce-comprised of men and women of all backgrounds and orientations – employees who don't have to hide who they are for fear of becoming outcasts.”
Durant quoted a close friend who spoke at a Navy ship commissioning in 2011: “The promise from Navy Leadership in this meritocracy is that any Sailor or civilian, regardless of background, race, gender or sexual preference has the opportunity to go as far as they can in this great Navy based on their work ethic, intelligence, aptitude and commitment."
The NSWCDD commander shared the text of his speech in a subsequent communique to the wider command, encouraging employees who could not attend the LGBT observance in person to view the video at their convenience via DDTV in the command’s internal website.
“We must embrace and take advantage of our differences and diversity to make us stronger,” said Durant in his all hands message. “We must be a meritocracy where we judge people by their performance, aptitude and work ethic, not by what we perceive to be their differences. This does not apply only to one group, it applies to all. But I stressed it at the LGBT observance because even today we see laws being enacted to allow discrimination and exclusion against this specific group. Such exclusion and discrimination of any group is unacceptable at NSWC Dahlgren.”
NSWCDD, a Naval Sea Systems Command warfare center division, is a premier research and development center that serves as a specialty site for weapon system integration. The command's unique ability to rapidly introduce new technology into complex warfighting systems is based on its longstanding competencies in science and technology, research and development, and test and evaluation.