INDIAN OCEAN (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) held a command-wide observance ceremony in honor and support of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, June 22.
The observance covered the history of LGBT rights and related civil rights movements. The event was hosted by Essex's multicultural committee and featured several speakers, including Essex's commanding officer.
"We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual service members for their dedicated service to our country," said Capt. Pete Mantz, Essex's commanding officer. "The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remains a cornerstone to our military."
The history of LGBT community and culture dates back to the first recorded instances of same-sex love and sexuality of ancient civilizations. In 1994, the annual observance of LGBT History Month began in the United States, with the exclusion of military involvement.
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Scott Musolf, master of ceremonies for the celebration, said he never imagined that he would be able to see past the segregation between gay and straight service members in his seven years in the Navy.
"I'm proud and furthermore excited to have been a part of this celebration," said Musolf. "I never thought that I would talk about pride month and the LGBT community on a Navy ship that is currently forward deployed."
Military policy and legislation had previously prohibited gay individuals from serving, and subsequently from serving openly. In turn, a legislative policy was enacted in a 1993 bill that continued the ban under which LGBT individuals were prohibited from serving, but also prohibited investigation into a member's sexual orientation without suspicion. The new policy was known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and was seen as a compromise between the two political efforts.
The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010" created a future pathway to allow the LGBT community to serve in the military. This repeal would only take affect with sufficient certification that it would not harm military readiness, followed by a 60 days waiting period. In early 2011, military leaders began issuing training plans for the expected repeal of the ban. A court order on July 6, 2011, required the Pentagon to immediately suspend the ban, which the government complied with. Prohibitions were entirely ended in September 2011 after Congress voted to repeal the policy.
"The changes didn't surface right away when the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' took effect," Musolf said. "I still felt the same, but when it became law in September of 2011 it was a little more exciting. Marriage acts started taking place and individuals had the ability to get married if they so desired. That's when I saw the drastic changes start to take place."
Musolf is currently involved in the beginning of a new group formed onboard Essex: Gay, Lesbian and Supporting Sailors (GLASS).
"GLASS is for people who need a place where they can be themselves," he said. "We all have similar stories. It's all about having a support group when you have nowhere else to go."
Essex is currently deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.