Outgoing Army Secretary Eric Fanning said in an interview Sunday that being openly gay motivated him to make the Army more inclusive and diverse.
Speaking with CBS News Sunday Morning, Fanning said that servicemembers accepted his appointment to the position of secretary of the Army because not only has the Army changed, but also the United States as a whole has changed.
“It is different now, not just in the Army,” Fanning said. “It’s different in the United States of America. Because people see the sun still comes up, the car still starts, the dog still needs to be fed or what have you. Nothing changed today because my neighbor, my son, my shipmate, whatever it is, came out.”
Faith Salie for CBS Sunday Morning asked Fanning directly if his being gay contributed to his focus on and push for more inclusivity and diversity in the Army.
“Absolutely. I know from my own personal experience how important it is to see someone that you can identify with in a leadership position, so that you can see yourself in that position,” he said.
As his last act in support of diversity, Fanning granted brigade-level commanders the authority to hand out religious exemptions to Sikhs and Muslims looking to wear beards, turbans or hijabs. Prior to the memo, Fanning had to personally grant the exemption. Once granted, accommodations are permanent, with few exceptions.
Fanning is less certain, however, of the future of diversity in the military.
“But I do know that it’s one thing to have a conversation about whether or not someone should be allowed to put on a uniform. It’s a very different conversation to say someone should no longer be able to serve,” Fanning said. “That’s a harder conversation to have. Progress is never completely linear. But it is hard to walk back on some of these things.”
Whether the Trump administration will continue allowing transgenders to serve openly or keep all combat roles open to women is an unanswered question, though Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, signaled intent to keep these progressive policies intact.
The question is really about Trump’s willingness to listen to Mattis at a time when the ideological rift between the two continues to grow.
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