Obama nominates first openly gay service secretary to lead Army

Obama Taps Eric Fanning as Next Secretary of the Army

U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Eric Fanning to become the next secretary of the Army, the White House said on Friday, paving the way for the first openly gay leader of a military service branch in U.S. history.

Fanning is currently serving as acting Army undersecretary, and previously worked as Air Force undersecretary and chief of staff to U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter. His nomination to the post must still be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

"Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role," Obama said in a statement. "I am confident he will help lead America's soldiers with distinction."

Carter called Fanning's nomination "an excellent choice" by Obama and said he hoped for a quick Senate confirmation.

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Obama nominates first openly gay service secretary to lead Army
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 03: US President Barack Obama speaks about climate change during an event in the East Room at the White House August 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama announced a major climate change plan aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the nation's coal-burning power plants. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Solar panels used to generate power outside an office building in Los Angeles, California on August 4, 2015. President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan to slash electricity-generated CO2 emissions was welcomed as a courageous step towards a lower-carbon future, but not yet enough to brake dangerous planet warming. Obama announced August 3 that power plant owners must cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW LONDON, CT - MAY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama gives the keynote address at commencement exercises at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on May 20, 2015 in New London, Connecticut. Obama used the occasion to speak about the dangers of global warming to both America and international security. This was the 134th commencement exercises at the prestigious academy. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

"Eric served as my first chief of staff at the Pentagon, and it has been a privilege over the course of my career to work alongside him and watch him develop into one of our country's most knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced public servants," Carter said in a statement.

Advocacy groups said the nomination of an openly gay man to lead a U.S. service branch was a significant sign of progress in protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals serving in the world's most powerful military.

The Pentagon updated its equal opportunity policy in June 2015 to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation, a change in policy which Carter announced at a gay and lesbian pride celebration.

That change brought the Pentagon's rules into conformity with the 2011 decision to end the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military only if they did not openly acknowledge their sexual orientation.

"The Department of Defense has been in a lot of ways a leader in LGBT rights, both in the Obama administration and in government in general," said Matt Thorn, interim executive director of OutServe-SLDN, an advocacy group for LGBT military personnel.

But LGBT individuals face lingering inequalities within the military, Thorn said. Same-sex spouses cannot accompany servicemembers for deployments to many overseas bases, such as those in Gulf countries, Thorn said.

The LGBT community is also awaiting the results of a study on the implications of lifting a ban on transgender individuals serving openly in the military, the results of which are expected towards the end of this year, Thorn said.

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