Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday personally thanked gay service members, as part of the Defense Department acknowledging June as Gay Pride Month.
The acknowledgement by Panetta comes nine months after the Obama administration repealed the military’s long-standing “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that kept gays from serving openly in the military.
The policy also forced more than 13,500 service members out of the military.
"As we recognize Pride Month, I want to personally thank all of our gay and lesbian service members, LGBT civilians and their families for their dedicated service to our country," Panetta said in a video message.
Panetta also said in the roughly two-minute video that he is committed to removing as many barriers as possible to making the military a model of equal opportunity.
The repeal of the "don't ask" policy was initiated under Defense Secretary Robert Gates. President Obama singed the repeal act in December 2010, and the law took effect in September 2011.
The Defense Department also is expected to hold its first event to recognize gay and lesbian troops. Details are still being worked out, but officials said 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"Now that we've repealed 'don't ask, don't tell,' he feels it's important to find a way this month to recognize the service and professionalism of gay and lesbian troops," said Navy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.
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