Senate Confirms First Openly Gay Leader of a U.S. Military Service

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Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Eric Fanning To Be Secretary Of The Army
Eric Fanning was confirmed unanimously.Photo: Alex Wong/2016 Getty Images

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate made history when it confirmed Eric Fanning to the position of Army secretary. As the New York Times reports, Fanning’s confirmation makes him the first openly gay person to hold that post — and the highest-ranking openly gay official ever at the Pentagon. Over the years, Fanning has held many senior positions in the military, including special assistant to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, acting secretary of the Air Force, and deputy undersecretary of the Navy. His confirmation vote was unanimous. 

President Obama nominated Fanning to the position back in September, but his Senate confirmation was put off thanks to (what else?) politics. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas refused to confirm Fanning until Obama’s administration assured him that reassigned detainees from Guantánamo Bay wouldn’t be sent to his state once the prison was closed. “My issue has never been with Mr. Fanning’s character, his courage or his capability,” Roberts reportedly said on the Senate floor. “He will be a tremendous leader.”

In a Defense Department statement in July, Fanning said he’s seen attitudes shift since he came out in 1993. “There is a much larger community out there that is looking for opportunities to show its support of us — that’s certainly been my experience as I’ve come out in my professional network, and it’s picking up steam,” he said. “It’s gone from tolerance to acceptance to embrace.”

And although gay-rights group leaders told the Huffington Post Fanning’s “sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on his ability to do his job; nor was it the reason for his nomination,” they’re nonetheless optimistic about the “tone of understanding and respect … throughout the armed services” that his appointment will inspire.