In a video released moments ago, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta thanked gay and lesbian servicemembers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civilians and their families for their service and dedication to this country. This is a first that could not have happened without the full repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011. And lifting the 18-year ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military couldn’t have happened without President Obama’s determination get it done the right way.

As we recognize Pride month, I want to personally thank all of our gay and lesbian  service members, LGBT civilians, and their families for their dedicated service to our country.  

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.

It’s about time the sacrifices of out servicemembers, civilians and their families were recognized and applauded. Kudos to Panetta for his public display of gratitude.