In an exclusive interview with The Today Show this morning, Eric Fanning reflected on becoming the first openly-gay leader of a U.S. military service and the highest-ranking, Senate-confirmed openly-LGBT appointed official.
“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 told host Matt Lauer. “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.”
Fanning was nominated by President Barack Obama in September and was finally confirmed last month.
“I feel a responsibility as secretary of the Army, not just because of the historical nature of the appointment because I’m gay,” Fanning said. “And I take that responsibility very seriously. I grew up in a military family. I have two uncles that went to West Point. And it was absolutely something that I considered, but wasn’t allowed to serve and so chose another route.”
Fanning’s nomination comes 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. His confirmation comes as the military is preparing to move forward to lift the ban on transgender service in the military.
“It is the best job that I have ever had — and an incredible honor,” Fanning added.
Fanning thus becomes the first openly gay leader of any U.S. military service — a milestone not lost on gay rights groups and coming five years after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which had prohibited gay and lesbian service members from being open about their sexuality.
“Eric Fanning’s historic confirmation today as Secretary of the U.S. Army is a demonstration of the continued progress towards fairness and equality in our nation’s armed forces,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., had held the nomination on hold over a dispute regarding Obama administration efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and possibly transfer detainees to the United States.
Roberts dropped his opposition after receiving assurances that detainees would not be transferred to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
Prior to the vote today, Roberts said, “He will be a tremendous leader as Army secretary and will do great by our soldiers at Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley.”
Politicians and advocacy groups alike celebrated the news:
Congratulations to Eric Fanning on historic appointment as the first openly gay @SECARMY. He’s capable, experienced & will lead with honor!
The Senate Armed Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over Fanning’s nomination, approved the nomination by voice vote nearly six months after President Obama announced his choice of Fanning as the next Army secretary.
The committee approves the nomination after it held a confirmation hearing for Fanning in January that went smoothly for the nominee. No member of the committee asked Fanning a question about his sexual orientation or objected to having an openly gay Army secretary.
Although the committee has approved the nomination, Fanning faces difficulties in obtaining confirmation by the full Senate. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) has placed a hold on the nomination, citing comments President Obama made about closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. A Roberts spokesperson told the Blade on Thursday the hold remains in place.
Fanning was nominated in September, but was designated “acting” Army Secretary when then-Army Secretary John McHugh retired in October.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters last week he raised concerns with the administration that Fanning serving as “acting” secretary without being confirmed violated the Vacancies Act.
“I wasn’t going to have a hearing while they were in violation of the law, that’s you know sort of fundamental in the way I do business,” he told reporters on Monday.
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) has threatened to block Fanning’s confirmation should the vote reach the full senate. Roberts plans to block the confirmation over President Obama’s intentions to close Guantanamo.
Fanning has previously served as Acting Army Secretary as well as chief of staff to the Secretary of Defense and Under Secretary of the Air Force.
Eric Fanning’s confirmation hearing is set for Thursday at 9:30 A.M.