Pentagon celebrates Gay Pride Month

“It was a difficult time, and it was a painful experience for me personally,” Fanning said. “There were no other open LGBT appointees, and anyone serving openly in uniform was surely in the process of being discharged."

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Fast-forward two decades, and the Pentagon has successfully implemented the repeal of the ban on openly gay and lesbian service members with remarkably few problems.

Tuesday’s ceremony was the second gay pride event held at the Pentagon since the ban was lifted in 2011. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett also spoke.

Fanning noted that after a long and difficult debate over the law, he clearly saw the progress two years ago that enabled the repeal to be implemented at the Pentagon.

“I knew we had come a long way when we certified repeal, when it seemed that most people's reaction in the building was, ‘Haven't we done this already?’ ” he said.

Since being promoted to the top civilian Air Force job, Fanning said he’s received some negative attention, joking there was speculation about “what color I'll paint the planes, what designs I have on the uniforms.”

But he said that any negativity has been dwarfed by the outpouring of positive support he’s received.

“It reminds me that, as important as events like this are for our community, they're also important opportunities for our allies to identify themselves and to let us know they're right alongside us,” Fanning said.

Jarrett, who worked in the White House to repeal the law in 2010, said that it was “one of the most significant civil rights accomplishments of the president's career.”