Secretary of Defense Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE’s resignation under pressure is a setback to the effort to end the military exclusion of transgender service personnel. His past two predecessors, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta,  set the right path for inclusion of gay and lesbian service members and Hagel had the courage to continue their leadership and bring an end to the shameful transgender military exclusion.    

Preparing the Defense Department and the military branches for repeal of the odious 1993 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that allowed lesbian and gay service members military careers as long as they kept their sexuality, dignity and integrity in military closets, was one of former GOP Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ finest achievements. Gates served as secretary of defense from 2006, with President George W. Bush, to 2011 with President Barack Obama. 


In his memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, Gates, who describes himself as a “rock-ribbed” Kansas Republican, wrote he had reached the personal decision by 2010 that “repealing DADT  was the right thing to do” for the Defense Department. 

As director of central intelligence, Gates, under Bush 41, ended all restrictions that barred gays from CIA work, provided they were open about their sexuality and free from blackmail attempts. Gates performed a great service to the gay community by providing the necessary leadership at the Pentagon to help the military branches and commanders accept the inevitable repeal of DADT which came in December 2010. 

In his book, Gates wrote “every argument made about what men and women in uniform felt or thought about DADT, pro or con, was either based on assumption or was entirely anecdotal.” The secretary held firm with his troops and his military brass they had to prepare for DADT’s repeal by Congress. When it was finally abolished Gates wrote, “We had turned a page in history, and there was barely a ripple.” It was a smooth transition. 

The repeal brought relief to current and future gay and lesbian service members but provided no opportunity for transgender service members to proudly wear their country’s uniform. Transgender does not appear in the Gates book or in former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s memoir Worthy Fights. Panetta, a former Democratic congressman from California, followed Gates at the Pentagon.  

The Defense Department, under the brief leadership of another rock-ribbed Republican, former Nebraska Senator and Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel, continued to exclude transgender service personnel. Hagel, whose nomination for secretary of defense was foolishly opposed by the national LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans, had the courage to summon the leadership Robert Gates summoned while at the Pentagon and take action to prepare troops and Armed Forces commanders for a future military force inclusive of transgender service personnel. 

With Hagel now gone, it will take another strong secretary of defense to convince Congress of the eventuality of a trans inclusive military and explain why they should take prompt legislative steps to end discrimination against transgender troops. 

Former Secretary Hagel should be commended by the LGBT community for his courageous position on reviewing the trans exclusion, especially in opposition to a conservative Republican Congress hostile to most Obama initiatives for the LGBT community. Hagel had the commitment and leadership to maintain the transgender exclusion was not a permanent policy but a policy under continuous, serious review for reversal. 

If anyone could have influenced Congressional Republicans on the issue, it was Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran and hero. He might have been able to do for the transgender community, what President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Biden, bruised by Afghanistan, faces a critical test in Ukraine Is the US capable of thinking strategically? Juan Williams: GOP infighting is a gift for Democrats MORE has so far lacked the ability to do and end the military exclusion of transgender troops. 

President Obama will have to nominate another secretary of defense with strong military credentials to take on the controversial issue of the trans exclusion. Given congressional outrage over Obama’s executive order on immigration reform, multiple foreign policy failures and divisive White House personnel like Susan Rice, quick Senate approval of another defense secretary is unlikely and will likely postpone transgender military service even longer. 

A former diplomat, Patterson is a San Francisco-based writer and speaker. He blogs at