Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning Visits the 106th Rescue Wing
Decades after legislation began to suppress gay soldiers and five years after Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed, the military has appointed its first openly gay leader, Eric Fanning.



U.S. Army Appoints First Openly Gay Leader, Yay Progress!

Although Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy banning openly gay soldiers from serving in the military, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, the real suppression of gay soldiers began four decades earlier. It was in 1950 that President Harry S. Truman signed the Uniform Code of Military Justice–a piece of legislation that set up discharge rules for homosexual service members. In the sixty-six years since that initial piece of legislation, the United States has seen a drastic shift in public support for those in the LGBTQ community who serve in the military. In a landmark decision, on December 18, 2010, the Senate voted 65-31 to repeal the homophobic Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

Five years after the repeal, another historic step has been achieved. On Tuesday the Senate made the rare move of supporting President Obama and unanimously backed his appointment of Eric Fanning as secretary of the Army (and no, it’s not because they thought he was related to Dakota and Elle Fanning). The appointment was historic because Fanning has been openly gay since 1993, which makes him the first openly gay leader to serve in any branch of the military. In a statement following the news, the Human Rights Campaign said: “Eric Fanning’s historic confirmation today as Secretary of the U.S. Army is a demonstration of the continued progress towards fairness and equality in our nation’s armed forces.”

Eric Fanning's historic appointment makes him the first gay leader in a military branch.
Eric Fanning’s historic appointment makes him the first gay leader in a military branch.

Fanning’s path toward the appointment hasn’t been easy. Much like the forgotten streets in suburban Queens, his path was rocky and filled with political potholes, despite previously being the special assistant to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, acting secretary of the Air Force, and deputy undersecretary of the Navy. He was nominated eight months ago (nearly enough time to make a baby) but was blocked because of some old fashioned office politics. Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, opposed the nomination because prisoners from Guantanamo Bay–the physical reminder of our inhumane war on terror that refuses to go away–were set to be moved to maximum-security prisons in Kansas or other facilities in the U.S.

After a Pentagon official confirmed it wouldn’t happen anymore, Roberts went full “lol jk” and allowed the nomination to pass. Despite all the drama, the historic appointment of Fanning as a military leader will now be yet another reminder of how far the United States, and the LGBTQ community, has come over the past six decades.

Images via USAF and Reuters. 

Stay tuned to Milk for more historic LGBTQ moments. 

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