The story of a gay pride parade and the Defense Department

This past weekend thousands of people gathered on the streets of New York City to celebrate LGBT pride.

That usually wouldn’t mean much for the federal government. Except this year among those marching was Todd Weiler, the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs.

Weiler marched openly as a gay man, husband and high-ranking civilian DoD employee. While DoD’s civilian-side has not been as restrictive as the military in the past when it comes to gay employees, Wieler’s march is a testament to the growing LGBT tolerance in federal and popular culture.

Now as acceptance of transgender individuals has grown, Weiler helped in the formation of DoD’s new transgender policy.

“I am honored to have been on some of the working groups dealing with this issue,” Weiler said in a June 28 interview with Federal News Radio. “We’re being very methodical in looking at all the issues, the personal issues, the medical issues, the readiness issues involved and so we want to make sure we have it right before we come out with it.”

While Weiler would not say, the military is expected to lift its ban on transgender service members as soon as July 1.

But as transgender tolerance is growing in the military and federal government, Weiler said gay acceptance in those areas is now firmly entrenched.

“I was in the Army, I was an attack helicopter pilot in the first Gulf War and in those days I was very low key, very in the shadows like tens of thousands of others and millions over the years,” Weiler said. “Today, I don’t really look at it the same way I did in the ’90s or even the 2000s. Today I’m recognized more about what I do, not the fact that I’m gay.”

Of course it took time and small steps to get to where DoD is today. Weiler said he was in a leadership role in the Army during the creation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy that allowed gay people to stay in the military as long as they remained closeted.

“I had to implement ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ so that was quite a difficult experience for me, but I realized this was what [President Clinton] could get done and I will always remember the President standing in front of a large group of congressional leaders and military leaders and saying ‘Just be prepared. We are moving forward and it will happen.’ And he was right,” Weiler said.

Weiler said DoD has realized over time that it can’t just fish from one pond and expect to always get the best and brightest.

That’s part of the reason Defense Secretary Ash Carter has pushed the personnel reforms of the Force of the Future.

The reforms make the military more inclusive so DoD has a wider swath of people in which to find innovators, Weiler said.

The Force of the Future has gotten some pushback though from lawmakers concerned about the role of women in combat or the use of funds on personnel issues when readiness is waning.

Regardless of the criticism, Weiler said the reforms have been good for DoD.

“There is absolutely, as I look across this organization, there is not a thread of discrimination in the way that we recruit or retain our military or our civilian personnel and I’m just so proud to see that,”  Weiler said. “I think it’s just permeated throughout the community.”

Looking back at the parade in New York and taking in everything DoD and the U.S. has come to embrace, Weiler said the experience was “almost like tears in my eyes.”

“I felt so proud to be there and walk among all those people, so many people that have fought all their lives to get us to where we are. We were surrounded in that parade by folks that have been fighting 20, 30, 40 years on this issue and so I was just absolutely blown away and so honored to be there,” Weiler said.

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