In a video released to mark Pride month, the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta praised the contribution of gay men and women in the forces both before and after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

The US Department of Defense will officially mark pride for the first time, having repealed its ban on openly gay members of the military last year.

The law, known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military if they kept their sexual orientation a secret and forbade commanding officers from asking troops if they were gay.

Secretary Panetta released a video today “personally thanking” gay service members, civilians and their families for their service to the US.

He said: “Before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. And just like your fellow service members, you put your country before yourself.

“And now — after repeal, you can be proud of serving your country, and be proud of who you are when in uniform.

“The pursuit of equality is fundamental to the American story. The successful repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” proved to the Nation that just like the country we defend, we share different backgrounds, different values, and different beliefs — but together, we are the greatest military force in the world.

“It also reminds us that integrity and respect remain the cornerstones of our military culture. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force implemented the repeal with a focus on respect and individual dignity.

“As Secretary of Defense, I am very proud of how we implemented repeal. Going forward, I remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make America’s military a model of equal opportunity, to ensure all who are qualified can serve in America’s military, and to give every man and woman in uniform the opportunity to rise to their highest potential.

“Diversity is one of our greatest strengths. During Pride month — and every month — let us celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.”

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