WASHINGTON - The Associated Press
US President Barak Obama smiles as he addresses supporters in front of a giant US flag at a fundraiser at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, USA, 06 June 2012. The fundraiser was sponsored by the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) Leadership Council. EPA/MICHAEL NELSON
Last summer, gays in the U.S. military dared not acknowledge their sexual orientation. This summer, the Pentagon will salute them, marking June as gay pride month just as it has marked other celebrations honoring racial or ethnic groups.
In the latest remarkable sign of change since the military repealed its "don't ask, don't tell" policy requiring gays and lesbians to remain silent about their sexual orientation, the Defense Department will soon hold its first event to recognize gay and lesbian troops.
It comes nine months after repeal of the policy that forced more than 13,500 service members out of the armed forces.
Details are still being worked out, but officials say Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants to honor the contributions of gay service members.
"Now that we've repealed 'don't ask, don't tell,' he feels it's important to find a way this month to recognize the service and professionalism of gay and lesbian troops," said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman.
This month's event will follow a long tradition at the Pentagon of recognizing diversity in America's armed forces. Hallway displays and activities, for example, have marked Black History Month and Asian-Pacific American
Before the repeal, gay troops could serve but would be discharged if they revealed their orientation. At the same time, a commanding officer was prohibited from asking a service member whether he or she was gay.
Although some feared a repeal of the ban would cause problems in the ranks, officials and gay advocacy groups say no big issues have materialized aside from what advocacy groups criticize as slow implementation of some changes, such as benefit entitlements to troops in same-sex marriages.
OutServe, a once-clandestine professional association for gay service members, has nearly doubled in size to more than 5,500 members. It held its first national convention of gay service members in Las Vegas last fall, then a conference on family issues this year in Washington.
At West Point, the alumni gay advocacy group Knights Out was able to hold the first installment in March of what is intended to be an annual dinner in recognition of gay and lesbian graduates and Army cadets. Gay students at the U.S. Naval Academy were able to take same-sex dates to the academy's Ring Dance for third-year midshipmen.
Panetta said last month that military leaders had concluded that repeal had not affected morale or readiness. A report to Panetta with assessments from the individual military service branches said that as of May 1 they had seen no ill effects.