16 Inspirational Voices for LGBTQ Equality in 2016: Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning

As 2016 comes to a close, there is no doubt that this year was difficult for many in the LGBTQ and allied community. After a year of such celebration and momentous progress in 2015, 2016 was a shocking wake-up call to many about the realities that LGBTQ people face. From the rise in anti-LGBTQ legislation to the horrific shooting at Pulse, from the incidents of anti-transgender violence to the election of a presidential ticket that threatened to undermine equality and justice, we know that our job is more important now than ever before.

However, through these difficult times, we witnessed countless moments of inspiration. Throughout the year, time and time again, we saw people stand up and do what was right. Whether they were celebrities, politicians, a friend or just an acquaintance, we saw people stand up for equality and inspire us all. Their stories made us cry, gave us hope and reminded us that love will conquer hate.  

This year, Eric Fanning made history when he was named the 22nd Secretary of the Army. Fanning is the first openly gay leader of a U.S. military service and is one of the highest ranking openly gay officials in the Obama Administration. His confirmation was an important step on the path to LGBTQ equality in the U.S. military. His nomination and confirmation came just five years after the historic end of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law that prohibited qualified LGB Americans from serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Fanning has served in senior leadership roles in multiple military departments, including as Undersecretary of the Air Force, and Acting Secretary of the Air Force, and Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy.

HRC praised President Obama when he nominated Fanning as Secretary of the Army in September of 2015 and worked closely with our allies to assure his Senate confirmation.

During an interview with The Today Show, Fanning spoke about his career, and being asked about his historic role as an LGBTQ trailblazer.

“I’ve gotten used to the fact that this is going to be a part of any time I get a new job or do something,” he said in an interview with The Today Show. “And when it first happened I was more bothered by it because I didn’t quite have the track record that people know now. And I wanted the focus on qualifications. Now I embrace it. It’s so important to so many people, I realize. And something I didn’t have 25 years ago.”

After the Pentagon last summer lifted its ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military, Fanning told a crowd in San Diego, “Today, when our critics say that the military is not a place for social experimentation, they may be right. But equality and inclusivity are not experiments. They are American values.” Thousands of transgender servicemembers are now able to serve their nation openly and with the respect they deserve.

Follow along with HRC’s blog in the coming days as we recognize the people who inspired us and gave us hope, courage and strength in 2016.