Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Friday thanked gay and lesbian military members for their service, as the Pentagon prepares to mark June as gay pride month with an official salute.
Panetta said that with the repeal last year of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that prohibited gays from serving openly in the military, gays and lesbians can now be proud to be in uniform.
"Now you can be proud of serving your country, and be proud of who you are," Panetta said.
The defense chief also said he's committed to removing as many barriers as possible to making the military a model of equal opportunity.
Panetta's video message was part of a Pentagon salute to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender troops as the Pentagon joined the rest of the U.S. government for the first time in marking June as gay pride month.
It comes nine months after repeal of the policy that had prohibited gay troops from serving openly and forced more than 13,500 service members out of the armed forces.
On Friday, the Pentagon announced that its gay pride event -- the first of its kind -- will be held June 26 in the Pentagon. It will feature remarks by Jeh Johnson, the top Pentagon lawyer, as well as a panel discussion of the value of gay service and diversity, with gay and lesbian service members participating. President Obama, meanwhile, spoke to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender guests during a White House reception.