Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has paid tribute to gay members of America’s armed forces in a speech to mark Pride month at the Pentagon.

It is the second year the Pentagon has held such an event after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), which prohibited gay troops from serving openly.

President Obama’s decision to appoint Mr Hagel as his second term defence secretary was initially met with controversy because of the former Republican senator’s 1998 comments about gay ambassador James Hormel and his previous support for DADT.

Ahead of his appointment Mr Hagel apologised for the “insensitive” remarks last December.

Here is Tuesday’s speech made by Mr Hagel at the Pentagon:-

This month brings the LGBT community together to take pride in themselves and their many achievements. Gay and lesbian service members and LGBT civilians are integral to America’s armed forces. Their ranks include senior leaders, like Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning, who will be here shortly, also, Brigadier General Tammy Smith, who last year became the first openly gay general officer in the United States military.

Our nation has always benefited from the service of gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, airmen, and coast guardsmen, and Marines. Now they can serve openly, with full honour, integrity and respect. This makes our military and our nation stronger, much stronger. The Department of Defence is very proud of its contributions to our nation’s security. We’re very proud of everything the gay and lesbian community have contributed and continue to contribute. With their service, we are moving closer to fulfilling the country’s founding vision, that all of us are created equal.

It has never been easy to square the words of our forefathers with the stark realities of history. But what makes America unique, what gives us strength is our ability to correct our course. Over more than two centuries, our democracy has shown that while it is imperfect, it can change, and it can change for the better.

All of us should take pride in the role the US military has played in this endeavour and continues to play. The military continues to fulfill this country’s promise. Our commitment to equality requires us to continue building a culture of respect for every member of the military, our society, and for all human beings.

In his second inaugural address, President Obama reminded us that, quote, ‘While freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by his people here on Earth.’ Securing those freedoms has required generations of patriots to fight for their fellow citizens, and it has demanded courageous leaders be willing to stand up for what they believe.

Today, we are joined by one of those leaders. Valerie Jarrett has been a trusted friend and adviser to President Obama for many years and a key adviser on LGBT issues. Valerie has been a strong supporter of our men and women in uniform and their families, and she has a lifelong commitment to social justice and to advancing equality and opportunity for all people.