By Capt. Steve Lewis , Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
/ Published September 20, 2021
Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones speaks at the virtual Congressional Equality Caucus Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Commemoration Event, held Sept. 20, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Erin Smith)
Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones commemorated the 10th Anniversary of the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy by participating in two virtual events sponsored by the White House and the Congressional LGBTQ+ caucus today.
Jones joined panels of fellow LGBTQ+ community members, veterans and ranking civilian leaders in the U.S. government to celebrate the progress made since the cancellation of DADT Sept. 20, 2011. After being confirmed as the Air Force’s under secretary in July 2021, she has worked to further strengthen diversity and inclusion throughout the department.
“The need for policies that ensure all service members can perform to their full potential is as critically important as any other thing we do as a department,” Jones said.
Jones, who once served as an intelligence officer and deployed to Iraq while the DADT policy was in place almost two decades ago, said she faced similar challenges as other Airmen during an era when disclosing their sexual orientation was prohibited. She reflected on an experience in ROTC just as her Air Force career was first starting out.
“I had to sign a piece of paper saying that I would not engage in homosexual behavior because DADT applied to me even as a cadet,” Jones said. “It became clear to me that an opportunity to get an education and serve our country all goes away just because we didn’t have leaders with the courage to say anybody ready and willing to serve their country should have the opportunity to do so.”
More than 13,000 individuals during the 17-year period when DADT was in effect have been discharged due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many of those LGBTQ+ veterans and their families were also ineligible for federal benefits, like healthcare and education, due to the nature of the discharge. Now, individuals who were discharged have the ability to receive assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity and opportunity for all. It was the right thing to do,” said President Joe Biden in an official statement released Sept 20. “Today, our military doesn’t just welcome LGBTQ+ servicemembers—it is led at the highest levels by brave LGBTQ+ veterans.”
Jones, the second highest ranking member of the department, now serves alongside fellow LGBTQ+ veterans like Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Shawn Skelly and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who were in the military under DADT.
She recently met with senior leaders from the Air Force and Space Force at a virtual town hall to discuss the findings of a review that studied disparities between genders and racial groups amongst both branches.
“This is not just about diversity or inclusion for diversity and inclusion sake, it’s because each of those things contribute to our readiness,” Jones said. “We need talent as diverse as the opportunities and challenges that we face as a country.”
Last Friday, Jones organized a meeting and group photo with LGBTQ+ Airmen and Guardians stationed at the Pentagon to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the repeal. She said she was surprised to see a number of junior-ranking service members who enlisted long after the DADT policy was repealed.
“That really warmed my heart because they knew they could now serve because of the repeal and bring their full selves to the mission,” Jones said.
While Jones fulfills her duties as the department’s under secretary and ensures the welfare of approximately 697,000 active duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian Airmen and Guardians and their families worldwide, she said she will continue to champion policies that rebuild trust, which directly impacts the department’s operational readiness.
“I’m ecstatic about where we are going, but we obviously have some work to do,” she said.